February 21, 2024 

The Weekly Fast Break: Prepare to be the best

Caitlin Clark and South Carolina, but also Jordyn Jenkins and Lex Therien

Legendary Alabama football coach Bear Bryant once said “it is not the will to win that matters – everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.”  For many of us, we could most likely apply this quote to our daily lives at some point, personally and professionally. In the world of sports, we see this reality every day as we watch world-class athletes perform at their best, winning individual titles or helping their team capture a world championship. But what is at the heart of Bryant’s quote is what most never see and what you only hear about in tall tales of athletes perfecting their crafts – the preparation.

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On Feb. 15, Iowa’s Caitlin Clark broke the NCAA scoring record on an extra deep three-point shot (three of her 49 coming on that make against Michigan for the night) cementing her in the history books as one of the best in the women’s game. Clark has taken college basketball by storm, with her unconscious ability to shoot and playmaking skills, all the while with a smile and intense fire to win. But what we here at The Weekly Fast Break appreciate most about Clark is knowing that these skills did not just magically appear. It is the thousands of hours of work since she was old enough to dribble a ball, on her own or with a friend or parent rebounding, that set her up for success now. The will to become a Division I basketball player was just the first part of this story and because of the blood, sweat and tears behind the scenes, the next amazing chapters are still to be written.

Over the next several weeks as this college basketball season dashes to the postseason, we will celebrate record-setting performances across the country. We will see programs set new season win totals and players break rebounding records that were untouchable before. Those achievements would not have been possible without the will to prepare to win and be great. So as the final regular season games pop up on the calendar, remember to believe that the loose ball you are chasing has your name on it. If you want to win, then you must do the little things to make it possible.

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SEC Dominance: #1 South Carolina went into their game on Feb. 18 at home against Georgia looking not only for a win, but a decisive one that would break the record for the longest SEC winning streak in conference history. The Gamecocks started slowly and were trailing at half, but head coach Dawn Staley and her team made the necessary adjustments against the Bulldogs’ zone in the second 20 minutes to capture a 70-56 win. Senior Kamilla Cardoso had 16 points and 16 rebounds to lead the way for South Carolina who remains the only undefeated team in the country, women’s or men’s (25-0). They are 12-0 in SEC play and now have won 43 straight conference regular-season games.

UConn head coach Geno Auriemma smiles on the sidelines during the Huskies' game against Southern Connecticut State on Nov. 4, 2023 at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn.
UConn head coach Geno Auriemma now trails fellow women’s college basketball legend Tara VanDerveer of Stanford on the all-time wins chart in the men’s or women’s Division I ranks. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra/The Next)

Climbing the Charts: Last monthwhen Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer became the winningest head coach in Division I college basketball, men’s or women’s, we knew there was a possibility that the top two spots on that chart could be women’s coaches this season. On Feb. 19, #15 UConn head coach Geno Auriemma passed Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski for second-most wins by a head coach with the Huskies’ 73-53 win over #21 Creighton. What is remarkable is that all of Auriemmma’s wins (1,203 as of Feb. 21) have come at UConn, a testament to the program and tradition he has built in Storrs. It has been about not only wanting to win but preparing to win for the players that have walked through the UConn locker room doors, starting with his first season in 1985-86. Many of his 1,203 wins came from six undefeated seasons, two streaks of 90 or more wins, and 11 national championships, the most of any coach in the sport’s history. This season, the Huskies have probably felt more like a MASH unit at times considering all the injuries, but their talent and attention to detail continues to rival anyone in the country. Auriemma and his team are 23-5 and sit atop the BIG EAST standings. How the season will end up is a mystery, but we know the race to be the all-time winningest coach will be a tight one between two of the best women’s basketball coaches of our time.

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Poll Watch: If you feel like the games the past few weeks are leaving you on a never-ending loop of a roller coaster ride, you are not alone. This week’s AP Poll has us on a ride of both smooth track and twisting like no other. The first six spots remain the same, including #1 South Carolina holding strong as the unanimous choice for the top line. #8 Virginia Tech is up four places after two wins last week and #9 Oregon State is up two spots after a split of home games. The Beavers beat now-#12 UCLA and dropped their first game at home all season to #7 USC, who has won six straight. #22 West Virginia is up two spots but staring down a tough week with two ranked teams on deck – at #10 K-State and #24 Baylor at home. Princeton stays at #25 this week as the Tigers have won 15 straight games. UNLV and Fairfield continue to stay strong on the outside looking in – could the Rebels and Stags break in soon? We wait and see. 

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The Princeton Tigers, led by senior Kaitlyn Chen, have won 15 straight games and are in the AP Poll for the fourth week in a row at #25. (Photo credit: Hunter Martin)

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They cleared the roads for a sprinting haul at UTSA for a sweep of American Athletic Conference weekly awards this week. The Roadrunners have the AAC Player of the Week in senior Jordyn Jenkins who averaged 20 points and 5.5 rebounds against two of league’s top teams in Tulsa and North Texas. She exploded for 29 points and four rebounds against North Texas in just 24 minutes in UTSA’s road win on Feb. 18, 66-63. Freshman Aysia Proctor picked up her third AAC Freshman of the Week award after scoring in double-figures in both games for last week for the Roadrunners, averaging 13 points/game. In the win over first-place North Texas, the 5’8 guard from Schertz, Texas scored 16 points, while dishing out two assists. 

Eastern Washington is 11-2 in Big Sky Conference action and a big reason for their success as of late has been the play of guard Jamie Loera. The 5’9 graduate student was named Player of the Week after leading the EWU offense by averaging 18 points and 5.5 rebounds in two key road victories, she had a season-high 21 points in the Feb. 17 win over Weber State and logged 39 minutes on the floor. No stranger to conference accolades, Loera was named Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year last season after transferring to EWU from Arizona State.

This week’s Mid-American Conference Player of the Week went to Quinesha Lockett, a fifth-year senior guard from Toledo after a dominating performance that helped the Rockets defeat arch-rival Bowling Green 88-68 on Feb. 17. In the Battle of I-75 at Bowling Green, Lockett posted a season-high 26 points and added seven rebounds, a career-tying seven assists and three steals. She scored 19 of her 26 points in the second half, connected on 9-of-19 from the field and 7-of-8 from the free throw line. This is the first weekly conference honor for her this season and the fifth in her career. Lockett, who hails from Omaha, Nebraska currently has 2,262 career points which ranks her second all-time at UT and ninth among active Division I players in career scoring.

Lex Therien, a junior forward at Loyola Maryland, was named Patriot League Player of the Week after a record-setting performance on Feb. 18. Therien, a native of Marlton, New Jersey, scored a career-high 44 points and broke a Patriot League single-game record with 21 made field goals, in her team’s 93-76 win over Lehigh. She connected on 21-of-25 from the field to break the previous single-game high of 16 made field goals shared by Army’s Kelsey Minato, Bucknell’s Molly Creamer, and Holy Cross’s Amy O’Brien. Her 44 points is a Greyhounds’ program record and five shy of Minato’s single-game League record of 49, which was set in 2014. Therien’s 21 made field goals are the most field goals made in a game in Division I this season.

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While most film breakdowns are going to be about the X’s and O’s of a game that give us a snapshot of why someone won or lost, today’s is a reflection on an event that was long overdue. On Sunday, Feb. 18, the Baylor University community welcomed back two-time AP National Player of the Year Brittany Griner to Waco for the first time since her senior season 11 years ago. Griner’s return to where she won individual awards, set numerous records, and led the Bears to an undefeated national title in 2011-12 was long overdue. For years there has been an undercurrent of chatter about why former Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey did not welcome Griner back or why the university and athletic administration did take the lead on recognizing her. 

When Nicki Collen, a veteran WNBA coach, took the reins of the program three seasons ago, she was very vocal about how Griner was part of the legacy of Baylor women’s basketball and should be treated as such. Fast forward to this past weekend and Griner’s legacy now hangs in the rafters of Foster Pavilion. No one has worn No. 42 since she left Baylor and Griner’s jersey is the seventh to be retired by the program. Phoenix selected Griner No. 1 overall in the 2013 WNBA draft, and she has been a six-time All-Star while spending her entire career with the Mercury. She is also a two-time Olympic gold medalist. Griner was the center of an international-relations crisis when she was detained in Russia for 11 months in 2022 and released back to the United States in a high-profile prisoner swap.

The festivities for Griner seemed to be exactly what was needed to honor a generational-type talent who impacted the Baylor program in many ways. In addition to the emotional pregame ceremony, there were gatherings with donors and friends of the university, time spent with the current players and coaches, jumping in for reps in practice and even an appearance at the end of the halftime dunk contest for Baylor students with her own throw down. It was very reminiscent of her days dominating Big 12 opponents on the floor. Griner and Collen even visited the newest residents of Waco, Judge Indy and Judge Belle, the American black bear cubs that live in the Baylor Bear Habitat in the heart of the campus. 


This return to Waco was a long time coming for Griner, who graduated with her degree from Baylor in 2019. We salute Collen, the women’s basketball program and the administration for making it happen. If the smiles and emotions we saw on her face can tell us anything, it seemed like Brittany Griner was happy to be back in a place she can definitely call home.

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Even though February is the shortest month in our calendars, this time of year for college basketball teams can drag on to feel like March will never get here. Coaches will tell you their teams are tired, players are battling fatigue and very sore muscles, and staff members are trying to predict what the travel will need to be for the postseason conference tournament. So, while the coaches grab an extra cup of coffee on the way to practice and players stretch just a tad bit longer each day, never lose sight of where we are headed – the final stretch of the 2023-24 regular season. Who is ready for that gut check? (Check your local listings and broadcast schedule for times):

Feb. 21

#22 West Virginia at #10 Kansas State

Michigan State at Purdue

R/V Saint Joseph’s at VCU

LaSalle at Richmond

Kansas at #24 Baylor

R/V UNLV at Wyoming

Marshall at Texas State

Feb. 22

#2 Ohio State at Penn State

Duke at #17 Syracuse

R/V Fairfield at Siena

#18 Utah at #12 UCLA

UC Irvine at UCSB

Northern Arizona at Eastern Washington

Feb. 23

Arizona at #3 Stanford

#11 Colorado at #7 USC

#9 Oregon State at Washington State

Feb. 24

#24 Baylor at #22 West Virginia

#25 Princeton at Columbia

Marquette at Xavier

Wofford at Mercer

South Dakota State at St. Thomas-MN

Colorado State at Utah State

BYU at Iowa State

North Dakota at North Dakota State

Minnesota at Nebraska

#16 Gonzaga at Pepperdine

Feb. 25

#13 LSU at R/V Tennessee

Illinois at #4 Iowa

Maryland at #2 Ohio State

#10 Kansas State at Kansas

#1 South Carolina at Kentucky

#18 Utah at #7 USC

Belmont at Murray State

Northern Iowa at Drake

#6 NC State at Duke

Feb. 26

#11 Colorado at #12 UCLA

Norfolk State at Morgan State

Mississippi at Missouri

Feb. 27

Cleveland State at Youngstown State

#14 Indiana at Northwestern

East Carolina at North Texas 

Written by Missy Heidrick

I am a retired Kansas State shooting guard 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, Locked on Women's Basketball podcast host, 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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