February 14, 2023 

The Weekly Fast Break: Big games & big win for South Carolina

Gamecocks stay unbeaten, milestones pile up

One of these weeks, we will not be surprised by the outstanding games we see, the rivalries that make our blood pressure rise or the individual performances that seem to transcend everything we have watched up until now. Sometimes it is simply the difference between one made basket and a “no call” that completely shifts the hardwood underneath us. It is what makes college basketball so special.

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Sunday was Super Bowl LVII, the battle of two dynamic quarterbacks who led their teams to the pinnacle of the NFL season. The passion of the fans and the pageantry of the day makes it one of the most special events in all of sports. It is also an outstanding display of skill, athleticism, and masterful coaching to achieve one of the most coveted titles – Super Bowl champs.

The Weekly Fast Break is always in awe of those that are masters of their sport. We tip our cap to the Kansas City Chiefs for winning this year’s Super Bowl and bringing joy and celebration to thousands of fans in KC and beyond. We are less than one month from Selection Sunday, and so we warn you – the feelings of joy and heartache are coming. But if you get distracted for even a day, you will miss the games and moments that lead up to the pinnacle of the college basketball season. Our advice is to rest when you can, get in the training room for treatment and never skip a meal – you must be ready when coach calls your number down the stretch.

FILM ROOM

We start this week in the film room to break down what was one of the most anticipated matchups of the 2022-23 season – #1 South Carolina hosting #5 LSU. This game was billed as the pre-show to the Super Bowl and for all intense and purposes, it did not disappoint, especially if you are a Gamecock fan. The defending national champions fed off the energy of a sold-out home crowd to burst to an 18-2 start and never trailed once in their 88-64 win. In what was a game of runs, LSU had their own, but every time the Tigers looked to claw back in the game, South Carolina had an answer.

Five Gamecocks hit double figures, including an 18-point, 13-rebound performance off the bench by 6’7 junior Kamilla Cardoso. Her production gave Dawn Staley’s team a 34-15 advantage in bench points. Aliyah Boston finished the game with 14 points and nine rebounds, but it was her defense early that made a statement. Boston drew the assignment on multiple possessions to shut down sophomore sensation Angel Reese of LSU and she answered the call. Reese not only dealt with foul trouble (two in the first quarter) but was frustrated all day by the crowds she drew every time she had a touch. Reese finished the game with 16 points and four rebounds, making this the first game of the year she did not have a double-double. She also finished with zero offensive rebounds, a stat she leads the nation in this season.

This game showcased how integral South Carolina’s depth is to their success. Cardoso gave the Gamecocks a lift on offense and as a rim protector, cleaning up the defensive glass (10 of her 13 boards). Senior guard Zia Cooke posted 17 points in 34 minutes, attacking the LSU defense off the bounce both to the middle and on the baseline to finish at the rim. Fellow senior Brea Beal was not only a defensive stopper Sunday for Dawn Staley but added 11 points, seven rebounds and four assists, including a key 3-point make at the end of the third quarter, squashing any LSU momentum going into the final 10 minutes. If there was one thing South Carolina struggled with Sunday, it was free throw shooting. As a team they were just 16-for-28 for the game, 7-for-17 in the first half alone, leaving too many points out there and a crack for LSU to stay in the game.

The Tigers were led by senior guard Alexis Morris, who finished with 23 but on 11-for-29 from the field. That kind of volume shooting may work against other SEC foes, but not the No. 1 team in the nation. LSU will have to find more balance and bench help if they meet the Gamecocks again in the SEC Tournament. In the meantime, South Carolina continues to set the bar not only in their own league, but across the country – the reigning national champions have a roster stacked with talent that is going to be hard to beat.

TIP-OFF

Big 12 Boom: On Feb.9, the Big 12 Conference announced that it has agreed in principle to terms with Oklahoma and Texas to leave the league following the 2023-24 athletic year, one year earlier than originally announced. In July 2021, OU and Texas announced they would be leaving the Big 12 for the SEC, a move that rippled throughout college athletics and continues today. The largest sticking point has always been financial compensation, which was finally agreed upon this month. While it is still subject to final approval from the OU and UT governing Boards, the compensation to the Big 12 for the early withdrawals of the two schools totals $100 million in foregone distributable revenues.

 “As I have consistently stated, the Conference would only agree to an early withdrawal if it was in our best interest for Oklahoma and Texas to depart prior to June 30, 2025,” said Commissioner Brett Yormark in a released statement. “By reaching this agreement, we are now able to accelerate our new beginning as a 12-team league and move forward in earnest with our initiatives and future planning.”

Commissioner Brett Yormark said back in October 2022 at Big 12 women’s basketball media day that an OU/Texas exit would only happen if it was good for the league. Fast forward four months and the time is now right. (Photo credit: Big 12 Conference)

In July 2023, four new teams will join the Big 12 – BYU, Central Florida, Cincinnati, and Houston, which means there will be 14 teams in the league competing during the 2023-24 season. The Big 12 will now be positioned to cross multiple time zones and create a foothold in new geographical areas for recruiting and fan bases. Scheduling in the Big 12 next year will be a bit of a nightmare but then OU and Texas will leave, returning the league to its original moniker – 12 institutions. The addition of the four new members has the potential to grow the Big 12’s in women’s basketball, especially if they each continue to elevate their programs. Past successes at the mid-major level by BYU, Houston and most recently Central Florida bode well for enhancing the strength of the conference and its national profile.

The move to the SEC for OU and Texas will not be as simple as many believe. The SEC continues to be one of the top leagues in the nation and was on full display Sunday with the matchup of unbeatens, LSU at South Carolina. What adjustments will each program have to make in recruiting? Will in-state talent, especially in Oklahoma, want to play in a conference that is more east-coast based than one rooted in the Midwest and closer to home? Will traditional rivalries, such as Bedlam (OU vs. Oklahoma State) continue? Many believe not, a by-product of a move motivated by money and exposure. The dollars will undoubtedly flow to both institutions in the years to come as they enter the SEC. Many can only speculate if the exposure comes to fruition specifically for these two women’s basketball programs. 

Commissioner Yormark and the Big 12 held all the cards when it came to an early exit for OU and Texas, making no indication that it would happen before 2025. In the end, the conference was able to wait for the best hand possible and now moves forward, a welcomed royal flush for many in Big 12 country.

Rebels Running Fast: For the first time in 29 years, UNLV finds themselves sprinting past the competition and ranked in the AP Top 25 Poll. They enter this week at #23 sitting at 24-2 and 14-0 in the Mountain West Conference (MWC) with four league games left on the schedule. Head coach Lindy La Rocque, a Las Vegas native herself, is in her third season at the helm of the Running Rebels and has quickly energized the program around a tough-minded mentality built with local talent. 6’1 junior center Desi-Rae Young, also from Las Vegas, leads the team in scoring and rebounding, averaging a double-double on the season and in conference play. Next up for UNLV is a Feb. 16 home game against San Jose State, yet another test to stay unbeaten in the MWC and on the national radar.

Poll Watch: The battle of the unbeatens left just one – #1 South Carolina who stays at the top of the AP Top 25 poll for the 34th consecutive week. Indiana stays at #2 with two of the six Pac-12 teams in the poll rounding out the top four – #3 Stanford and #4 Utah.  #6 UConn falls two spots this week after its loss to (R/V) Marquette while #21 Colorado continues its climb in the Top 25, up four spots after four straight wins. NC State and South Florida drop out this week, but USC is in at #25, ranked for the first time since 2016.


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STAR POWER

There can be record-low temperatures sweeping across the state of Iowa but that does not slow down veteran coaches from setting career records of their own. Iowa State Head Coach Bill Fennelly, the dean of the Big 12 coaches, got his 750th career win Monday night with a 66-61 victory over #17 Texas. The 22nd ranked Cyclones snapped a seven-game losing skid to the Longhorns and now in his 36th career season Fennelly joins an elite group. He is the 27th NCAA women’s basketball head coach to reach the milestone of 750 and one of nine active coaches in the game today. Fennelly is also the 13th head coach to get the total at the Division I level, with his first 166 career wins coming at Toledo.

#22 Iowa State snapped a three-game losing streak beating #17 Texas Monday night in Ames, IA to get Head Coach Bill Fennelly his 750th career win. (Photo Credit: Scott D. Weaver/Big 12 Conference)

Just over ninety minutes northeast of Ames, the Northern Iowa Panthers are 17-6 on the season and 12-2 in the Missouri Valley Conference, currently tied for first place. Head Coach Tanya Warren, now in her 16thseason at UNI, reached two career milestones of her own over the weekend. The Panthers beat Valparaiso 83-60 on the road Sunday to give Warren her 300th career win, all at the helm of the UNI program. She also set the MVC record for the most games coached at 507. Warren’s squad is back in action this week on Feb. 16 at when they take on Illinois State at home, a battle for sole first-place in the MVC.

We said it a few weeks ago, but almost every time Villanova senior Maddy Siegrist steps on the floor, there is a chance for another record-setting performance. On Feb. 11 she did that, becoming the Big East Conference’s all-time leading women’s basketball scorer during her team’s 99-65 win over Seton Hall. Siegrist went 20-for-26 from the field to set a new single-game record with 50 points. The previous Big East single-game scoring record of 43 points was first achieved by Louisville’s Angel McCoughtry in January 2009, before Creighton’s Jaylyn Agnew matched the total in March 2020. Siegrist’s 50-point performance is the most by a Division I player, men’s or women’s, this season. She was named Big East Player of the Week, the 16th time in her career, which you guessed it – sets another conference record.

Villanova senior Maddy Siegrist gets a shot up against two Creighton defenders.
Villanova senior Maddy Siegrist is now the all-time leading scorer in the history of Villanova basketball and the Big East Conference.
(Photo Credit / Villanova WBB Twitter Page)

#21 Colorado has won four straight Pac-12 games and senior guard Jaylyn Sherrod has been a key piece to their success, earning this week’s Pac-12 Player of the Week honors. The Birmingham, AL native tied her career high of 27 points on Feb. 10 in a come-from-behind win at home over Washington State 71-68. Sherrod scored 15 of her 27 points in the fourth quarter, going 5-for-5 from the field. She then had eight points and six assists in the Buffaloes’ 65-43 win over Washington on Sunday. Sherrod currently is top 30 in the nation in total assists and assists per game and currently leads the Pac-12 in steals per game. 

FULL COURT PRESS

We are bearing down on the end of the regular season and dozens of conference races are still up for grabs. Some teams are holding on to a one-game lead in the standings while others are deadlocked, looking to breakout and position themselves as an option in the Field of 68. Not only is it about winning a regular season title but positioning your team with a good seed for the post-season conference tournament. If you were concerned about missing an important game on Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14), no worries – cupid gave us the night off, so you can focus all your energies on your valentines. But be sure you get back in the game the next day because we are barreling towards the end where we are going to have our share of happy and broken hearts (check your local listings for game times and broadcasts):

Feb. 15 – Creighton at #6 UConn

                 #14 Villanova at St. John’s

                 (R/V) South Florida at UCF

                 (R/V) Marquette at Providence

                Michigan State at Purdue

                UC-Santa Barbara at UC-Irvine

Feb. 16 – Siena at Iona

                Syracuse at #24 Florida State

                UMass at (R/V) Rhode Island

                #9 Duke at #11 Virginia Tech

                (R/V) Louisville at #10 Notre Dame

                Wofford at East Tennessee St.

                #19 UNC at (R/V) NC State

                Mississippi State at Missouri

                #12 Michigan at #2 Indiana

                Ole Miss at #5 LSU

                Stephen F. Austin at Utah Tech

Feb. 17 – #4 Utah at #18 Arizona

                #25 USC at #3 Stanford

Feb. 18 – #7 Iowa at Nebraska

                 Morgan State at Norfolk State

                 (R/V) Oklahoma State at Texas Tech 

                 SMU at (R/V) South Florida

                 Princeton at Yale

                 BYU at San Francisco

                 #22 Iowa State at Baylor

Feb. 19 – Purdue at #2 Indiana 

                 Davidson at UMass

                 Arkansas at Georgia

                Colorado at # Arizona

                Georgia Tech at # Florida State

                # Oklahoma at Kansas

                Belmont at Missouri State

                Penn State at Illinois

                #1 South Carolina at Ole Miss

                West Virginia at # Texas

                 Washington State at #7 Utah

                 #19 Florida State at #11 Virginia Tech

                Miami at #9 Duke

                #16 Oklahoma at Kansas State

                Houston at #24 South Florida

                Northern Iowa at Valparaiso

                Oregon at #18 UCLA

                Syracuse at #10 Notre Dame

                Auburn at Alabama

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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