December 13, 2023 

The Weekly Fast Break: An Eras Tour

'It was rare, Caitlin Clark was there'

There is nothing better than creating our own karma which allows us to weave sports and everyday life together. It is the wins and losses, the fearless battles, and the performances that are deemed timeless that gives us a snapshot of how every week of the college basketball season can turn our worlds upside down – and then back around again. The week’s edition of The Weekly Fast Break is inspired by a true generational talent, the 2023 Time Magazine Person of the Year. Taylor Swift may not be your favorite performer, musician, songwriter, shrewd businesswoman, humanitarian, or political advocate. Yet the qualities we see in her are the same ones that we see every day in the faces of women’s college basketball.

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Fierce competitors, primetime performers, dedicated teammates and shrewd coaches who put everything on the line when they take the stage – our favorite basketball courts across America. We have said that our motto this season is to believe that the loose ball you are chasing has your name on it, so we cannot sit back and dwell on a tough loss or a rough shooting night.

In Swift’s song, The Man, she writes “they’d say I hustled, put in the work; they wouldn’t shake their heads and question how much of this I deserve”. So, it is time to get back in the gym and get after it. Are you ready for it?


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TIP-OFF

Unlike Any Others in Their Era: Records are made to be broken, but some may never be touched. On Dec. 6, Iowa superstar Caitlin Clark became just the 15th player in Division I women’s basketball to eclipse 3,000 points against their in-state rival, Iowa State. The 6′ senior guard reached 3,000 points in her 110th career game, the second fastest in NCAA Division I history behind Patricia Hoskins of Mississippi Valley State in 1985-1989. Clark also became the first player in Division I, women’s or men’s, to record at least 3,000 points, 750 rebounds and 750 assists. What other records are on the horizon for the Iowa Hawkeye? Whichever ones are broken this season, we know Clark will do it in style.

UConn’s Paige Bueckers has been lighting up opponents since she returned this season for the Huskies, including 26 points against #25 UNC in the Hall of Fame Showcase on Dec. 10. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra for The Next)

#17 UConn might not be out of the woods sitting at 6-3 on the year, but with a healthy Paige Bueckers on the floor, the Huskies are finding their way. The junior dropped 26 points against #25 UNC in her team’s 76-64 win on Dec. 10 in the Hall of Fame Showcase and scored her 1,000th career point versus the Tar Heels. She tied Maya Moore as the fastest Huskies to 1,000 points as they both reached the milestone in their 55th career games. Next up for Bueckers and her team is a date with #18 Louisville in Hartford on Dec.16. Bueckers was named Big East Player of the Week on Dec. 11.

Look What You Made the Bruins Do: Even though the bright lights of Los Angeles can be blinding at times, the #2 UCLA Bruins seem to be handling the spotlight just fine. Sitting at 9-0 with key wins over Princeton, #17 UConn, at Arkansas and most recently #22 Florida State, head coach Cori Close could not have written this song any better to start the season. The Bruins beat the Seminoles on Dec. 10 in the Hall of Fame Showcase 95-78 behind 22 points (YES 22), 18 rebounds and four blocks by sophomore Lauren Betts along with five others who hit double figures. Betts, the 6’7 center from Centennial, Colorado is leading the nation at 77.8% from the field. Next up for Betts and company is a tussle with #12 Ohio State on Dec. 18 in Columbus where UCLA hopes ‘it feels like one of those nights’ to stay undefeated and move to 10-0.

Rising Reputations: The Sun Belt Conference (SBC) has always been known to have a host of tough mid-major women’s programs each season, and this year is no different. As of Dec. 12, the league has three teams ranked in the Collegeinsider.com Mid-Major Top-25 Poll with one other receiving votes (Louisiana-Monroe). The latest poll features #12 Southern Miss (7-1), who suffered their first loss on Dec. 10 in a 2-point loss to Memphis 69-67. They are back in action Dec. 20 for a two-day tournament in Fort Meyers, Florida. #11 James Madison is 7-3 after a recent win over William & Mary and will be at Maine on Dec. 17. #10 Old Dominion is undefeated at 8-0 after a 57-53 comeback win at Delaware on Dec. 7. Up next for the Monarchs is a road game at VCU on Dec. 17. Is the SBC positioning itself to be a multi-bid conference to the NCAA Tournament? It is too early to tell but one of these teams could fill a blank space next to their league’s automatic qualifier in March.

You Need to Calm Down: This week has been somewhat quiet in the world of the AP Poll, with the top 11 spots remaining unchanged. Four programs rose at least one spot in the poll, with #23 UNLV (9-0) and #24 Miami (8-0) breaking into the Top 25 for the first time this season. Washington State and Penn State both dropped out this week while #25 UNC hangs on by their sparkly Air Jordans at 6-4 to remain in the poll this week.

An ironic note relating to this week’s poll – Dec. 13 is Taylor Swift’s birthday, and she has declared 13 as her lucky number for a multitude of reasons. There is no #13 in the AP Poll this week. Kansas State and Ohio State, in their Lavender Haze and Red shades respectively, are tied at #12 with 498 voting points each. 


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STAR POWER

For the third time this season, Jailyn Banks of Belmont has been named Missouri Valley Conference Freshman of the Week. The 5’9 guard led the Bruins in the scoring with 16 points in their 70-51 home win over rival Lipscomb in the 77th Battle of the Boulevard. Banks has scored in double figures in seven of her first nine games at Belmont. She is second on the team in scoring so far this season, averaging 13.6 points per outing.

West Virginia’s JJ Quinerly is one of the Big 12 Conference’s most explosive guards and with a recording-setting performance on Dec. 10 found herself as the Big 12 Player of the Week. (Photo credit: Scott D. Weaver/Big 12 Conference)

One of the most dynamic guards in the Big 12 Conference is junior JJ Quinerly of (R/V) West Virginia. Quinerly is playing for her third head coach in three seasons yet amid all that uncertainty and change, she has only gotten better on the court. Quinerly was named Big 12 Player of the Week after scoring 22 points in the Mountaineers’ 83-65 win over then-No. 25 Penn State on Dec. 4. She followed up that effort with her fourth consecutive 20+ point game, scoring 25 against Delaware State on Dec. 10. Against the Hornets, the Norfolk, Virginia native became the first West Virginia player with 25 points, eight rebounds, 12 assists and seven steals in a game, and is just the second Division I player to accumulate those totals since 1999. 

Natalie Potts captured her third weekly honor this season when she was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week on Dec. 11. Potts, the 6’2 forward from O’Fallon, Missouri, averaged 10.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and two blocks in helping Nebraska to two wins last week. In a victory over UNC Wilmington on Dec. 5, Potts posted 11 points, eight rebounds and two blocks in just 21 minutes of work. She then followed that up with 10 points and five rebounds in the Huskers’ 80-74 win at Michigan State to secure Nebraska’s first Big Ten victory of the 2023-24 season.

Utah forward Alyssa Pili (35) holds the ball and looks to pass during a game at the Huntsman Center. A referee stands and signals behind her.
Reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year Alissa Pili has been on fire for #11 Utah with back-to-back 30-point performances.
(Photo Credit: Utah Athletics)

With a season-ending injury to #11 Utah guard Gianna Kneepkens, the Utes are asking even more of senior Alissa Pili and the 2023 Pac-12 Player of the Year is delivering all too well. Pili was named Pac-12 Player of the Week after she had back-to-back 30-point performances. She dropped 31 in a 74-48 win over St. Joseph’s and then posted a career high 37 points in Utah’s 78-69 loss in the Hall of Fame Showcase on Dec. 10 to #1 South Carolina. Her 37 points on 15-for-23 from the floor against the Gamecocks was the most points scored in a game by any player in the Pac-12 this season. Pili currently ranks fourth nationally in scoring (24.6 points/game) and second in field goal percentage (72.1%).


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SHOT CLOCK VIOLATIONS

On Monday, Dec. 11, Eastern Michigan University’s Vice President/Director of Athletics Scott Wetherbee announced that the university had made a change in its women’s basketball head coaching position Effective immediately, Fred Castro would no longer be the head coach of the Eagles program.

“I would like to thank Coach Castro for his leadership and commitment to our women’s basketball program and the Eastern Michigan community over the last eight years,” Wetherbee said. “We wish him and his family the best in their future. “

Castro became the ninth head women’s basketball coach in school history in May 2016. He compiled an overall record of 80-129 with a 40-84 record in MAC play. He had two winning seasons at the helm of the program. Prior to getting the head job at Eastern Michigan, Castro had served as an assistant for three seasons at the University of Washington, and before that was an assistant at Tulsa, Albany, and Mercer. He spent one year as an advanced scout for the Minnesota Lynx. He began his coaching career working as a volunteer assistant and then video coordinator for former head coach Sherri Coale at Oklahoma.

Eastern Michigan has started the 2023-24 season 1-7 and is currently on a five-game losing streak. Their lone win came against SIUE on Nov. 18. Assistant Coach Ke’Sha Blanton will lead the team on an interim basis for the remainder of the 2023-24 season. The next game for the Eagles will be Dec. 15 against IUPUI.

This situation is one that you hate to see happen, especially because of the toll it will take on the players and everyone associated with the program. However, the question to be raised to AD Wetherbee and university administration is why now? If Castro was “on the hot seat” why was a change not made prior to the beginning of this season? Why did it take the 1-7 start and not the body of work from previous years to deem a change necessary? If additional reasons come to light of other issues on or off the court, then so be it, but as of right now, this decision seems to be based on the results of the current season. Are we not well past the time in women’s college basketball where we do not tolerate programs being run into the ground year after year with little to no success where it will be very difficult to convince anyone then to take over the program and start from scratch? We hope that Eastern Michigan gives these women’s basketball players the right amount of support moving forward. We also hope that the administration sets their sights during their search on an individual that can rebuild the Eagles’ program where it can be respectable and successful.

FULL COURT PRESS

As we mentioned last week, finals have come to most campuses around the country which means student-athletes are hustling from practice to study sessions to tests and back, with little rest to be had. But it is time to shake off the exhaustion and be ready for the last of the non-conference games, early conference matchups and rivalry battles before a short holiday break. Grab your favorite scarf and cardigan and snuggle in for some great action this week (check your local listings for game times and broadcasts):

Dec. 13

Rutgers at Princeton

#20 Creighton at #19 Marquette

#5 Texas at Arizona

Dec. 14

Houston at UTSA

Dec. 15

Portland at #9 Stanford

R/V Colorado State at Long Beach State

Dec. 16

#18 Louisville at #17 UConn

#23 UNLV at Seton Hall

Villanova at St. John’s

Dec. 17

Purdue at #14 Notre Dame

Temple at LaSalle

#22 Florida State at Drexel

UTSA at Oregon

#20 Creighton at Drake

Arizona at Arizona State

Dec. 18

Florida Atlantic at UCF

#2 UCLA at #12 Ohio State

Evansville at #15 Indiana

UNC Wilmington at R/V Davidson

Oral Roberts at #12 K-State

Dec. 19

Air Force at Clemson

SLU at Illinois State

#25 UNC at Oklahoma

R/V Texas Tech at Tulsa

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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