November 29, 2022
The Weekly Fast Break: Bruins, Huskies on the rise
This week's must-watch games
Every year, the pace of the college basketball season is fast and furious. There is non-stop action from tip-off of the first non-conference game with surprises aplenty (hello, UCLA Bruins!) to when we close the season with confetti at the Final Four. Only one team takes hardware back to its campus to celebrate a national championship, but it is the journey that makes each season special and unique.
Where will this season take us? How do we keep track of who’s hot and who’s not? Which upsets will send poll voters on a frantic search for player rosters? The playbook is packed with in-bounds plays but no easy buckets. That’s why we are launching The Weekly Fast Break at The Next. Each week we will dissect the landscape of women’s college basketball and breakdown what we see on and off the court.
Some weeks the shot fake will get us, or it might be an unbelievable ‘and-one’ that takes a game from a loss to a W. No matter the opponent, it is time to get up and down, so please stretch, warm up and remember – playing time is earned, so hit the outlet pass and let’s go!
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What makes the Thanksgiving holiday week so manageable is our ability to balance the vast amount of food we eat with a healthy dose of college sports. From college football to college basketball and rivalry games that divide families at the dinner table, there was great action all week long. Coaches say all the time that early holiday tournament wins and losses help their team down the stretch – we will see if this holds true. Here are a few highlights from a great week of women’s college basketball.
Battle 4 Atlantis Champs – #15 UCLA Bruins: The Bruins played their games before turkey time and made a statement for everyone to see. Wins over South Dakota State and then-ranked Tennessee put them in the finals against surging #24 Marquette. The Golden Eagles themselves knocked off #22 Texas and #23 Gonzaga to advance and it took an extra five minutes of overtime for the Bruins to capture the title, 66-58. UCLA was just 3-for-18 from three-point range but still won, powered by double-figure performances from freshman guard Kiki Rice and 6’4 forward Gina Conti. Senior Charisma Osborne was named tournament MVP after huge games against SDSU and Tennessee.
Hot Huskies: After drubbing then #13 NC State 91-69 at home on Nov. 20, UConn went west to the Phil Knight Legacy tournament in Portland, OR. The Huskies proceded to dismantle Duke 78-50 and then held off #10 Iowa, 86-79. This game put two of the nation’s top guards on display, Iowa’s Caitlin Clark and Azzi Fudd of UConn. Clark finished with 25 points, 17 coming in the first 20 minutes but it was the second half by Fudd that swung the momentum. She was 7-for-7 in the third quarter from the field and finished with 24 points. The Huskies are now 5-0 and have beaten three top-10 teams to start the season.
Second-Half Heels: #6 North Carolina needed surges in the second half of both games in the Phil Knight Invitational to capture the crown and move up in the polls. UNC beat #19 Oregon 85-79 with all five starters scoring in double figures. They then rallied back from 17 points down to beat #8 Iowa State 73-64. The first 20 minutes saw the Cyclones run textbook offense and fluster the Tar Heels on defense, but the second half was a different story. UNC knocked down clutch shots when needed, led by junior Deja Kelly, who dropped 22 points in the second 20 minutes. She finished with 29 total, on her way to the tournament MVP.
Flamboyant Hokies: Did you know that a group of flamingos is called a flamboyance? Whether they knew that or not, #9 Virginia Tech got their group firing on all cylinders at the Baha Mar Hoops Pink Flamingo Championship to bring home two decisive wins. The Hokies beat two SEC teams, Kentucky (82-74) and Missouri (73-57) and then returned home to pounce on Longwood, 89-28. Kenny Brooks’ team stays undefeated at 6-0 and up two spots in the AP poll.
Back in Action: Sophomore sensation Rori Harmon made her season debut for #22 Texas over the weekend, helping the Longhorns beat Princeton 74-50 at home. Texas had a rough three-game stretch early in November without Harmon who has been out due to an injury. She logged 23 minutes and scored 11 points against the Tigers in her first action back. Her return brings a spark on the defensive end but also a much-needed lift offensively for a team that can use her scoring punch.
And let’s tip our hat to Princeton for going on the road to Austin. Their challenging non-conference schedule will only help the Tigers on the path for another Ivy League title.
Poll Watch: #16 Utah is up one spot in the polls and sits at 6-0, after also getting two wins at the Baha Mar Hoops Pink Flamingo Championship. Michigan moves up five spots to #17 in this week’s AP poll and beat #21 Baylor 84-75 to win the Gulf Coast Showcase. The Big East Conference has four teams in the AP Top 25 this week – UCONN, Creighton, Marquette and Villanova.
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While junior guard Deja Kelly was named ACC Player of the Week, #6 North Carolina would not have won the Phil Knight Invitational without fellow junior Alyssa Ustby. The 6’1 junior had 19 points and 8 rebounds vs. Oregon and then a solid 14 points and 9 rebounds in the win over Iowa State. Ustby battled the Cyclones on the glass and was a defensive stopper on key possessions late that propelled the Tar Heels to their come-from-behind win.
No Naz Hillmon this season for #17 Michigan? No problem when 6’3 forward Emily Kiser logs 39 minutes and registers her second double-double of the year in an 84-75 win over #20 Baylor. Kiser had 26 points (10-13 from the field) and 13 rebounds. The graduate student is as solid as it gets for the Wolverines in the frontcourt.
6’6 transfer Stephanie Soares of #8 Iowa State was named the Big 12 Player of the Week for her marquee performances at the Phil Knight Invitational. The two-time NAIA Player of the Year has made an immediate impact for the Cyclones, giving them another scoring and rebounding weapon along with being a rim protector. She led the Big 12 during the week with averages of 21.0 points, 11.5 rebounds and 4.0 blocks per game in their games against Michigan State and UNC.
Senior forward A’Jah Davis of Northern Illinois was named MAC Player of the Week as she led her team to three wins and extended the Huskies record to 6-0 to start the season. Davis averaged a double-double (17.7 points and 12 rebounds) in her team’s wins over Detroit, Navy and Richmond. Her 20 points and season high 14 rebounds helped guide NIU to a come-from-behind win over Richmond, 67-64.
Santa Clara’s Tess Heal, a 5-10 freshman guard, earned her third consecutive WCC Freshman of the Week honor as she helped her team to three double-digit wins last week. Heal, who hails from Australia, averaged 16.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4 assists per game and shot a blistering 60.6% from the field. She had 23 points in Santa Clara’s 71-58 win over Washington, the first time the Broncos have beat Washington in 21 years.
#6 UNC vs. #20 Oregon in the Phil Knight Invitational on Nov. 24 was as good of a game that I have seen yet this season of two teams running their offense to get high-percentage shots. Both programs use systems that rely on movement without the ball, screening action to penetrate or make the next pass and they run the floor in transition.
UNC got the best of Oregon, 85-79 with a great performance by redshirt senior Eva Hodgson, who was 5-7 from 3-point range and finished with 21 points. Her clutch shots from behind the arc were because of her movement without the ball and her teammates finding her off penetration and in transition. Making the next pass to go from a good to a great shot helped the Tar Heels advance past Oregon and then beat #8 Iowa State in the PKI championship game.
SHOT CLOCK VIOLATIONS
Two things stood out from this past week that will get you a turnover on the The Weekly Fast Break stat sheet.
First, the debacle that was the Las Vegas Invitational at The Mirage Hotel & Casino. What was billed to be the same game-day set up that was used for Athletes Unlimited at that location did not pan out. Games were played in a ballroom with no true spectator seating, limited security, and a lack of on-hand medical personnel. This was extremely evident when Auburn’s Kharyssa Richardson fell hard to the floor and had to leave their game against Colorado State. There was over a 40-minute delay while waiting for medical personnel to arrive at the ballroom, and it pushed back the start time of the next game. Tournament officials may have thought that the bright lights of Vegas would mask the alternate set-up, but it did not. Things will have to change dramatically for teams to come to this holiday tournament in the future.
Second, the ejection of multiple Georgia Bulldogs in their game against VCU at the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands. Four Georgia players were ejected after a scuffle started with senior Jordan Issacs shoving two VCU players in the first quarter. A fifth Bulldog was ejected in the fourth quarter, Chloe Chapman, after kicking a VCU player while both were down on the floor. The SEC did rule that Chapman was suspended for the next game against Seton Hall on Nov. 26, which Georgia lost 86-80. It was their first loss of the season. Things can get heated on the floor, but players need to be smarter.
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FULL COURT PRESS
While most people get plenty of time to rest and recover after traveling, the college basketball season is ruthless, so you must sleep fast and be ready for the next game on the court. The ACC/Big Ten Challenge is here giving us plenty of great matchups and some conference battles as well. Here are few games to keep your eyes on this week (check your local listings for game times and broadcasts):
Nov. 29 – #15 UCLA at #1 South Carolina (Come watch with us on Playback!)
Nov. 30 – (RV)Virginia at Penn State (ACC/Big Ten Challenge)
#4 Ohio State at #18 Louisville (ACC/Big Ten Challenge)
Dec. 1 – #6 North Carolina at #5 Indiana (ACC/Big Ten Challenge)
#20 Maryland at #7 Notre Dame (ACC/Big Ten Challenge)
Nebraska at #9 Virginia Tech
#12 NC State at #10 Iowa (Come watch with us on Playback!)
Dec. 2 – #13 Creighton at #25 Villanova (Big East matchup)
South Florida at #22 Texas
Dec. 5 – #12 NC State at Georgia (Come watch with us on Playback!)
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!