December 20, 2022 

The Weekly Fast Break: Rising Razorbacks and holiday cheer

College basketball's sprint to the holiday break

The lights are twinkling outside, the candles are burning slowly inside, and the holiday festivities are pushing us straight into week four of The Weekly Fast Break. Some of us will travel to visit family and friends while many will stay right where we are, enjoying the holiday madness from the comfort of home. Maybe there will be an intense game of 3-on-3 with your aunts in the driveway or a spicy hand of gin rummy in the kitchen to claim family bragging rights.

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Our only request to ease the stress of the season is not to reach on defense – no one likes a black eye in the family photos. No matter what brings out the competitive spirit of those at your holiday gathering, just remember – we earn our playing time here so please play “D” with your feet, not your hands!


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TIP-OFF

Rising Razorbacks: No one was quite sure what to make of Arkansas to start the 2022-23 season, including head coach Mike Neighbors. But as SEC play inches closer and closer they have steadily been raising their profile and winning along the way. #17 Arkansas is 13-0 and coming off a quality road win at #21 Creighton, 83-75. Four players currently average double-figures, led by sophomore guard Samara Spencer (16.5 points/game). 6’2 UConn transfer Saylor Poffenbarger and 6’5 Jersey Wolfenbarger have given the Razorbacks a dependable frontcourt duo. Arkansas will be tested on the floor before they get their fill of holiday cheer at home – #16 Oregon on Dec. 20 and either #3 Ohio State or South Florida on Dec. 21 at the San Diego Invitational.

Tall Amongst the Trees: #2 Stanford continues to cast a large shadow across women’s basketball with a team that seems to get better and better each game. The Cardinal were challenged all day on Sunday by Tennessee, who had a five-point lead going into the fourth quarter. Stanford proved to be too much for the Lady Vols, outscoring them 24-12 in the fourth quarter. Three starters ended the day in double figures, led by junior Cameron Brink’s double-double (21 points and 17 rebounds). Senior guard Hannah Jump played all 40 minutes and finished with 19 points. Stanford must rest quickly as they host #21 Creighton on Dec. 20 and then open Pac-12 play with Cal in Maples Pavilion on Dec. 23. 

Bluegrass Battle: Even for a true basketball junkie, the stat sheet from the Murray State at Kentucky game was not a thing of beauty. A grinding, physical game ended in a 51-44 victory for Murray State, giving the Racers (6-2) their first victory over Kentucky since 1973. The win is also the first for the Racers over a current “Power 5” team since beating TCU in 1988. Just two players for each team hit double figures and both squads registered double-digit turnovers. The Racers ultimately won the game at the free-throw line, going 10-for-16 while the Wildcats were just 2-for-4 on the night. It may not have been pretty, but it was a signature win that Murray State can hang their hat on for this year.

One in, One Out: Have you ever been excited to go to a “holiday pop up” restaurant that plays Let it Snow on a loop and offers mistletoe martinis? But then the hostess tells you they are full, so it’s ‘one in, one out’? That excitement and disappointment wrapped in one is what we continue to see on the injury front in women’s basketball. We had players make their recent return, some with an immediate impact for their team. #9 UConn had point guard Nika Mühl (concussion) and forward Dorka Juhász (broken thumb) back for their 85-77 win over Florida State on Dec. 18. #24 Baylor welcomed back forward Aijha Blackwell this week after missing one month with a lower leg injury. Her minutes have been limited in two games of action, but small spurts show the impact player she can be for the Bears as the season goes on.

Unfortunately, the outgoing line continues to have players in it. Senior guard Ashley Owusu is out indefinitely for #8 Virginia Tech after surgery to repair a broken finger. And just when you thought Texas was going to have a full roster to play together, stellar sophomore Aaliyah Moore suffered an ACL injury and will miss the remainder of the season. We send holiday wishes to all those dealing with injury and illness across women’s basketball for a speedy recovery.

Poll Watch: For the second week in a row, the top 5 spots remain the same with South Carolina holding down #1 and Notre Dame staying at #5. LSU moves up one spot to #10 and the biggest mover of the week is #17 Arkansas, up four spots. After a 21-point loss to #18 Arizona, Baylor drops six spots but stays in the Top 25 at #24. Coming in at #25 this week is St. John’s who has matched their best start in school history at 11-0. The Red Storm are back in the AP Poll for the first time since 2015.

STAR POWER

In the vein of “if you build it, they will come”, when you have great women’s basketball on display, fans want to see it in person. #8 Virginia Tech lost at home to ACC rival #5 Notre Dame Sunday, 63-52, but a great record was set. The biggest crowd since 2008 attended the game in Blacksburg (over 4,200 fans) – we always like to celebrate that kind of star power on display.

It does not happen often for a player to single-handedly outscore an opponent by herself, so that accomplishment will land you in our star watch. On Dec. 15, #24 Baylor beat Tennessee State 93-27 behind an outstanding performance by their 6’1 freshman Darianna Littlepage-Buggs. The Edmond, OK native had 30 points and 11 rebounds, becoming the first Big 12 freshman to outscore an opponent by herself since 2009. Her numbers also made her the first Division I player to outscore another Division I opponent by herself this season.

Senior guard Aleah Nelson of Temple was named American Athletic Conference Player of the Week after a record-setting performance helped the Owls beat Duquesne 66-60 on Dec. 16. Nelson scored 33 points, including her 1,000th career point, in the win. The 33 points is the most by any Owl since 2019 and is the second highest in The American this season. She also made seven three-pointers in the game, tied for the most in The American this season.

#14 Iowa State has star talent up and down the roster but the engine that makes the Cyclones go is junior Emily Ryan. The 5’11 point guard currently leads the Big 12 in assists and has a 2.92 assist-to-turnover ratio through 10 games. On Dec. 18, she played 39 minutes and had a near-miss triple double with 16 points, 10 assists and 9 rebounds in Iowa State’s 74-62 win over then #25 Villanova. 

“Emily is the person on our team that is the calm one,” Cyclones head coach Bill Fennelly told reporters following the game. “Everyone else gets a little excited. I think what happens is you look for someone else to do something. And there’s always the one that says ‘yeah, I’ll do it.’ She gets us in the right situations. And she’s what point guards are supposed to be about and I wouldn’t trade her for anyone in the country.”

Emily Ryan and Bill Fennelly of Iowa State speak to the media at Mohegan Sun Arena after the Cyclones defeated Villanova, 74-62 on Dec. 18, 2022. (Howard Megdal photo)

There is no question that one of the biggest reasons for LSU’s rise to #10 in this week’s AP Poll is 6’3 sophomore transfer Angel Reese. Reese has had a double-double in each of the 12 games the Tigers have played so far, and you guessed it – they are 12-0. Her performance at the Maui Jim Maui Classic was one for the record books last week. She had 30 points and 13 rebounds in the win over Montana State and followed that up with a 25-point, 20-rebound showcase in the Tigers’ dominating win over Oregon State, 87-55.

After leading Florida Gulf Coast (9-2) to a 69-63 road win at Kentucky Sunday, fifth-year senior guard Sha Carter was named Atlantic Sun Conference Newcomer of the Week. Carter, a transfer from Walsh College, played 34 minutes and led the Eagles with 16 points and 6 assists.  The 6’ guard converted a critical three-point play late in the fourth quarter to put FGCU up for the remainder of the game and give the Eagles their fifth win in six games. 


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FILM SESSION

When the women’s college game went to four quarters of action to match the international format, it took some of us a while to adjust. Four ten-minute quarters has a different game flow to it than the traditional twenty-minute halves. Sunday, Dec. 18 was full of marquee matchups, and many had a fourth quarter that was integral to big wins down the stretch. Here is a breakdown of how important that last 10-minute stanza can really be:

#18 Arizona beat #24 Baylor 75-54 in Dallas at the Pac 12 Coast-to-Coast Challenge, outscoring the Bears 17-12 in the 4th quarter. Baylor was just 5-for-17 from the field and went 1-for-2 from the free throw line. Arizona caught fire and went 6–for12 (50% from the field) and 3-for-6 from the free throw line. The simple math of getting stops and making shots gave the Wildcats a clear path to victory.

Sophomore Sonia Citron & #5 Notre Dame used a huge 4th quarter to win on the road at #8 Virginia Tech. (Photo credit: ND Athletics)

#5 Notre Dame went to Blacksburg, VA to square off with ACC foe #8 Virginia Tech, escaping with a 63-52 win. The Hokies were up 43-40 after three quarters and then the Fighting Irish took over. Notre Dame outscored Virginia Tech 23-9 in the fourth, going 9-for-15 from the field and locking in on defense to give up just four made field-goals in the last ten minutes. The Hokies were 0-for-5 from three-point range and missed their only two free throw attempts of the quarter. Games are 40 minutes long, and this proves yet again that no lead is safe in ACC play after just three quarters.

FULL COURT PRESS

This is the final push before a short holiday break from games, at least for a couple of days. If you are running through your channel list Dec. 24-26, just know that game action will be on replay. We do recommend any Saturday Night Live holiday shows to fill the void. Here are some games of interest through Dec. 23 (check your local listings for game times and broadcasts):

Dec. 20 – Troy at Belmont

# 16 Oregon vs. # 17 Arkansas (San Diego Invitational)

#19 Michigan vs. #6 UNC (Jumpman Invitational in Charlotte, NC) (WATCH WITH US ON PLAYBACK!)

#21 Creighton at #2 Stanford

Dec. 21– LaSalle at (R/V) Villanova

Seton Hall at #9 UCONN

Colorado at (R/V) Marquette

#18 Arizona at UT-Arlington

#20 Kansas at (R/V) Nebraska

Louisville at DePaul

Florida vs. #23 OU (Jumpman Invitational in Charlotte, NC)

Dec. 22 – Drake at #14 Iowa State

Dec. 23 – Cal at #2 Stanford    

Howard Megdal contributed reporting to this story.

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!

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