January 31, 2024
The Weekly Fast Break: Grind it out time
Hidalgo shines for Irish; Evans elevates North Dakota State
As the calendar turns to the shortest month of the year this week, we find ourselves face-to-face with the last five to six weeks of the college basketball regular season. It also means that the very grind that is this time of year can start to wear you down. Coaches are confirming their confirmation for which airport terminal to go to for the flight home while the overworked student manager is praying the postgame meal she ordered arrives at the arena before the bus leaves. Off days are spent with players dunked in ice baths to get their legs back and trainers handing out cough drops like it is Halloween. When you spend this much time together trust us – the germs are on overdrive. At The Weekly Fast Break, we know that this time in the season can really start to drag out.
It is when you sleep more in hotel beds than your own and would do anything for a meal that did not come in a box. But then you remember that in just six weeks or less, almost everyone in college basketball will be fighting for their postseason lives and a coveted berth in the NCAA Tournament. So, no matter how tough it was to get up for class today or how sore your knees were at practice, there is no room for let up. Just when you think you can take a day or even a moment off, someone else in a gym across the country is outworking you.
Now is the time to do what you need to do because while February may be the month of valentines, but it can also break your heart. It is time to believe that the loose ball you are chasing has your name on it so that this season can stay on track. Your goals are in front of you, not behind you – it is time to make the most of it.
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Fortifying The Beaver Dam: Holding strong at home is key to any team’s success and #18 Oregon State has made Corvallis a very difficult place to play. The Beavers registered back-to-back victories over top 20 teams, including their first win over a Top-5 team since 2019. On Jan. 26, OSU beat then #3 Colorado 68-62, led by 16 points each from freshman Donovyn Hunter and junior Talia von Oelhoffen. The Beavers scored 34 of their 68 points in the paint and survived 19 turnovers caused by the Colorado defense. On Sunday, Jan. 28, OSU destroyed then-#16 Utah 91-66. Five Beavers scored in double figures, led by sophomore Raegan Beers (20 points) and another outstanding performance by Hunter, the 6’ freshman. Her 17 points and 10 assists is the first points-assists double-double by an OSU freshman since 1993-94. Head coach Scott Rueck and his team will have a few days to rest and prepare as they next take their winning ways on the road to in-state rival Oregon on Feb. 4.
Last Call & Splash Wins in the Magnolia State: We all struggle with the forces of social media in our lives, for the arguments it creates to the now AI-generated false narratives that can exist. But there are those moments where we stop and simply say “that is awesome!” and we got two of those recently from down south in Mississippi.
On Jan. 28, R/V Mississippi beat Tennessee for the first time since 2017, 80-75. The duo of Marquesha Davis and Kharyssa Richardson led the way for Mississippi, each posting 20-plus point games. Afterwards, head coach Yolette McPhee-McCuin not only lauded praise on her team for their performance, but on the fans who were in attendance. In what only was a stroke of genius and fun, Coach Yo put on her X account that she was buying drinks for any student who showed their ticket stub from the Tennessee win at a local Oxford establishment. She was thanked by students on social media and even posted a photo of herself with the tab. It takes a village to celebrate a big win and “hotty totty, gosh almighty” they did just that.
The energy that head coach Sam Purcell brings to his R/V Mississippi State program is unmatched, from his pregame speeches with his team to his videos on social media platforms urging Bulldog fans to pack the stands. Purcell, in his second season in Starkville, got the sellout he was angling for on Jan. 29, with over 9,000 fans giving Mississippi Sate a huge home court advantage to take down #9 LSU 77-73. Senior Jerkaila Jordan led the way with a game-high 24 points, including a perfect 3-for-3 from the three-point line. Afterwards, Purcell shared in his postgame press conference that a little wager had been made with his three daughters prior to the matchup with LSU. When asked what they would want if the Bulldogs got the big W over the defending national champions, the youngsters said a pool. There is no doubt Purcell will be smiling while he dials up a pool company in Starkville right after he makes his recruiting calls this week.
Big 12 Super Bowl Party: Super Bowl LVIII is set, and it will be a rematch of the Kansas City Chiefs against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, Feb. 11. It is always exciting to see where players and coaches got their start and what interesting connections we can find between the teams. There is a heavy Big 12 Conference flavor to this year’s matchup, with both starting quarterbacks and head coaches hailing from Big 12 schools. The Chiefs have Patrick Mahomes from Texas Tech at QB1 while the 49ers will be led by a not-so-irrelevant Iowa State Cyclone, Brock Purdy. Kansas City head coach Andy Reid played football at BYU from 1978-80 while San Francisco’s Kyle Shanahan spent time as a backup receiver at Texas in the early 2000’s.
The Big 12 is generating a lot of buzz from these famous alumni and from its women’s basketball teams. Four programs are ranked in the AP Top 25 this week with one team receiving votes. The conference boasts two of the six Division I teams with at least four wins against AP Top 25 opponents this season – Baylor and Kansas State. The Big 12 also has six of the top 30 teams in average home attendance so far this year, with Purdy’s Iowa State ranking fifth nationally with over 9,800 fans/game.
Poll Watch: #1 South Carolina stays squarely in the top spot of this week’s AP Top 25 poll, with #2 Kansas State, who has one 15 straight games, moving up two places for their best ranking in program history. #7 UCLA dropped five spots after going 1-1 last week. The biggest move was made by #18 Oregon State who bolted up seven places with a huge week of wins while Florida State drops out of this week’s poll after a 42-point loss to Duke. #25 Princeton is on a 10-game winning streak and is back in the Top 25. While wins keep piling up for most teams, some are seeing more losses, with #20 Utah and #24 UNC both sporting six L’s in their overall records.
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North Dakota State sophomore Elle Evans was named the Co-Summit League Performer of the Week, the first of her career. She helped power NDSU to an 85-52 win over St. Thomas on Jan. 25 to improve to 5-1 in conference play. The 6’3 native of Edwardsville, Illinois recorded a career-high 29 points on 7-for-7 shooting from three and 9-for-14 from the field. Evans also hit all four of her free throw attempts to go along with a game-high three blocks. Her 7-for-7 effort from beyond the arc equaled two other Division I players for the most makes without a miss this season. Center Brooklyn Meyer from South Dakota State shared this award with Evans this week. Fun fact – the two super sophomores will square off on Feb. 3 when their teams meet in Fargo, North Dakota.
The Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Week award went to Mia Davis from San Diego State after she helped her team to two victories last week. The 6’0 guard averaged 12 points/game and went 7-for-10 from three in wins over Utah State and Boise State. In the Aztecs’ 76-62 win on Jan. 24 over Utah State, Davis dropped a career-high 18 points, 17 of which and five of her made-threes came in the second half.
After a pair of stellar performances, including one on primetime television, Notre Dame freshman sensation Hannah Hidalgo was named ACC Rookie of the Week for the nineth time this season. Hidalgo’s numbers were outstanding as she averaged 28.5 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists in Notre Dame’s pair of ranked matchups against Syracuse and UConn. She had a game-high 34 points in the Jan. 27 win at No. 8 UConn where she finished 14-for-24 from the field to go with 10 rebounds and six assists against the Huskies. The Haddonfield, New Jersey native broke the Fighting Irish program record for 30-point performances by a freshman with three.
North Carolina A&T’s Jordyn Dorsey was named the CAA Player of the Week after helping her team to two wins. Dorsey averaged 18 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists/game and shot on 50% from the floor. In their win over Campbell on Jan. 26, she matched a career-high with 21 points, going 8-of-16 from the floor while adding a team-best five rebounds in the 73-51 road victory. The junior guard paced the Aggies again on Jan. 28, scoring a game-high 15 points with four rebounds and four assists as North Carolina A&T tallied its sixth straight win, defeating Elon 56-42. Dorsey has led the Aggies in scoring during every game of their six-game winning streak. She has reached double figures in 15 games this season, including seven in a row.
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Ask any coach and they will tell you it is hard to put the brakes on your conference schedule for a non-conference matchup, especially one that pits two ranked teams against each other. On Saturday, Jan. 27 then #15 Notre Dame traveled to #8 UConn in what was an old nostalgic BIG EAST battle in Storrs. Both teams have been dealt blows to their lineups throughout the year and neither has much depth off the bench. Notre Dame found themselves down 12 in the first half but strung together a 26-5 run to close the first 20 minutes with defensive stops and controlling the pace of play by withstanding a UConn run.
Each team played just seven players the entire game, with three Irish playing all 40 minutes – senior Maddy Westbeld, freshman Hannah Hidalgo and junior Sonia Citron. Citron drew the assignment of containing UConn star guard Paige Bueckers, denying her catches when possible and being active on the ball when she had it in her hands the entire night. With the game tied 60-60, Notre Dame put their foot and the gas and did not let up, outscoring the Huskies 22-7 over the last nine minutes of the game. UConn could not stop Hidalgo who got to the paint at will off the dribble drive from high ball screens and simply blowing by defenders with no defensive help in sight. She was able to score herself (34 points on the night) and finding open shots for Westbeld, Citron and Natalija Marshall when they needed it the most.
The Irish scored 46 points in the paint and had 12 from offensive rebounds. While UConn shot 43% from the field for the game, they hit just four three-point shots and struggled to turn their defense into easy offense. Notre Dame head coach Niele Ivey said afterwards in her post-game comments that her team has been learning to finish games and play with poise through other teams’ runs. She used the word “fearless” when describing her freshman point guard Hidalgo. The attack mentality was there from the jump for both teams, but the Irish were able to finish the job.
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FULL COURT PRESS
We all have those mornings when we stumble out of the house for work, get in our cars and kick ourselves because we need gas. We race to fill up at the local convenient store, only to see our favorite team’s coach doing the same thing. If they are scowling, then last night’s defensive performance was not enough to get a key win. If they say “hi” and give you a big wave, then you know they are happy to be home from their road trip with a W. Every week presents its own set of challenges – tough opponents, injuries to overcome and long trips away from home. So, when you see your coach next week at the gas station, be sure to read their face just like a stingy defender looking for a steal (check your local listings and broadcast schedule for times):
#2 Kansas State at R/V Oklahoma
Florida Gulf Coast at Bellermine
New Mexico at San Jose State
R/V Marquette at #22 Creighton
R/V Penn State at Minnesota
Wyoming at R/V UNLV
Virginia at #17 Virginia Tech
#21 Syracuse at #16 Louisville
R/V Mississippi State at Kentucky
R/V Fairfield at Rider
R/V Mississippi at Vanderbilt
#1 South Carolina at Auburn
South Dakota State at North Dakota State
#24 UNC at #5 NC State
#12 Texas at #13 Baylor
UCSB at UC Davis
#20 Utah at Washington
Stony Brook at Hofstra
Murray State at Belmont
Yale at #25 Princeton
R/V Oklahoma at Oklahoma State
Iowa State at UCF
Rhode Island at Duquesne
James Madison at Marshall
Green Bay at Cleveland State
#23 West Virginia at BYU
#3 Iowa at Maryland
South Dakota State at South Dakota
Drake at Northern Iowa
#10 Indiana at #8 Ohio State
#21 Syracuse at Boston College
R/V Mississippi at #1 South Carolina
#2 Kansas State at #12 Texas
#6 Colorado at Washington
#7 UCLA at #4 Stanford
#18 Oregon State at Oregon
Florida A&M at Jackson State
#16 Louisville at #5 NC State
Portland State at Eastern Washington
#22 Creighton at Xavier
Texas Tech at #23 West Virginia
Nebraska at Michigan
Written by Missy Heidrick
I am a former shooting guard at Kansas State and spent almost 20 years working in Higher Education and Division 1 athletics. I am currently a basketball analyst for television and radio, contributing correspondent at The Next, WBB Naismith Award board of selectors member and run my own consulting business. I am a proud mother of two and wife to a patient husband who is almost as big of a sports junkie as I am!