January 10, 2023
The Weekly Fast Break: Tigers and Bears on the move in SEC, Big 12
A week full of Big 12 and SEC flavor
We live and breathe college basketball here at the Weekly Fast Break. But because we also love all things college sports, college football is a close second on the list. The passion of the fans and the amazing plays on the field makes college football such an exciting experience. The season ended last night with the College Football Playoff (CFP) National Championship game played at soggy SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. The reigning national champions, Georgia of the SEC, were looking to repeat against the underdog TCU Horned Frogs from the Big 12. It was a dominant performance by the Bulldogs who put their foot on the gas and never let up, coasting to a 65-7 win.
In honor of the two conferences represented in the last college football game of the season, this week’s column has a Big 12 and SEC flavor to it. It will be feisty like the fans, talent-laden like the teams and challenging from start to finish, so you cannot take a single possession off – your playing time depends on it.
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A Pirate Salute: The SEC has been enjoying another year of great success across all sports, but it has also dealt with tragedy and loss. Mike Leach, head football coach at Mississippi State passed away in December, leaving a department and campus jolted by his loss. As someone who always seems to know that the college community is bigger than just one sport or game, South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley and her top-ranked Gamecock squad paid tribute to the late coach on Sunday. South Carolina wore “Swing Your Sword” shirts to honor Leach, who was a trailblazer as a coach, a teacher of the game, a lover of history and full of great quotes and stories. The Bulldogs were swinging their sword in Starkville on Sunday and kept the game close, but South Carolina was too much down the stretch, winning 58-51.
No Hibernating in Waco: Winter is the time when most bears check out for a few months, curl up and sleep in the warmth of their dens. The #18 Baylor Bears are not dozing, and Nicki Collen’s squad is wide awake. Baylor is up the polls after beating two ranked Big 12 opponents on the road to move to 3-0 in conference play. They won at #19 Oklahoma 81-70 on Jan. 3 and then beat #23 Kansas 75-62 in Lawrence. This was the first time that the Bears had two consecutive top-25 wins on the road in program history. Both wins were a team effort, but it was the sharp-shooting efforts of guard Sarah Andrews* that was the difference. The junior was 8-for-17 from the three-point line in the two wins and finished with impressive stat lines in both. She had 30 points, three assists and zero turnovers against OU and then put in in 40 minutes against the Jayhawks to finish with 27 points and four assists. The Bears are on the move – beware where you walk.
*Andrews was named Big 12 Player of the Week on Jan. 9
Tiger Tales: #5 LSU is one of four remaining undefeated teams in the country (along with fellow SEC member #1 South Carolina) and they both sit at 4-0 to start league play. The Tigers have beaten their four SEC opponents by an average of 27 points, including ripping apart Texas A&M on Jan. 5, 74-34. Sophomore Angel Reese continued her string of dominating performances with 26 points and 28 rebounds against the Aggies, following it up with another double-double (26 points and 13 boards) in the Tigers’ 67-48 win over Kentucky. LSU is off to their best start in school history and heads next to Missouri on Jan. 12 for a Tiger showdown. The ones that hail from Baton Rouge are hunting for their next win, so beware which path you cross.
Blue Haze of Ws: Whether they are getting up and down the floor on offense or locking down opponents on defense, (R/V) Middle Tennessee is lighting up the competition and people are taking notice. The Blue Raiders are 12-2 on the year, 5-0 in Conference USA, with four players averaging double figures on the season. 6’ Redshirt senior transfer Kseniya Malashka leads the way with 16.3 points/game and 6’0 junior Courtney Whitson leads MTSU on the boards with 8 per game. Head Coach Rick Insell’s squad can score (75.6 points/game) but it is their defense that keeps teams flustered. They allow just 56.9 points/game and cause over 17 turnovers/game. Next up for the Blue Raiders is a rematch with Rice at home on Jan. 11. MTSU won the first matchup 74-68 in Houston in December, and they will be looking to send the Owls back home feeling blue to stay undefeated in conference play.
Poll Watch: South Carolina stays at #1 in the AP Poll, with Stanford (16-1) in at #2 and undefeated Ohio State rounds out the top three spots. UConn is up to #4 and LSU breaks into the top five, up 2 spots to #5. #10 Utah suffered their first loss of the year at Colorado and dropped 2 spots, while #13 Virginia Tech is down four spots after their loss 11-point defeat at Miami. Illinois is in at #23, cracking the AP Poll for the first time in 23 years. The Illini were 7-20 a year ago and now sit at 14-3. #25 Villanova is also back in this week, while fellow Big East rivals St. John’s and Creighton fall out of the Top 25, both still receiving votes.
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Whether it is on the gridiron or the hardcourt, stars always shine brightest when their numbers are called. A triple-double will get you a spot in our lineup anytime. Texas’ sophomore sensation Rori Harmon missed early games for the Longhorns because of injury but having her in the lineup has been a key piece to the Longhorns starting strong in Big 12 play. Harmon played all 40 minutes in Texas’ win at TCU on Jan. 4 (81-69) and stuffed the stat sheet with 17 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. The Longhorns stumbled in their next game, falling at Oklahoma State 86-82 on Jan. 7 but with Harmon firing on all cylinders, Texas continues to be a handful for Big 12 foes.
Consistency in conference play is the sign of an experienced player who is ready to impact the game every night. Fifth-year senior transfer Brittney Smith of Georgia was the perfect example of how being efficient and consistent can help your team get important wins. Smith had 17 points on 6-for-10 from the field in the Bulldogs win over Kentucky on Jan. 5 (64-40) and then hung 22 points on 7-for-14 shooting on the Florida Gators in a road victory, 82-77. The Dawgs will be looking for three in a row when they host Ole Miss on Jan. 12 in Athens.
Any coach or former player will tell you that records are meant to be broken. It means that the next great talent is leaving their mark on the basketball program and institution. This will not be the last time we talk about Ashley Joens of Iowa State, but the fifth-year senior is breaking Cyclone records at a pace only a five-star cornerback can keep up with. Joens is now the career record holder for games played, total points, points per game, double-doubles, field goals made, field goals attempted, 3-pointers made, and free throws made. She sits on the doorstep to break more career records before the year is complete, but the preseason Big 12 Player of the Year is focused right now on her team’s success. #15 Iowa State is 2-1 in league play and hosts K-State on Jan. 11.
With the CFP title game looming, it was only fitting that an old Big Eight Conference match-up on Sunday was also a preview of a possible Big 12/SEC matchup in two years. #15 Iowa State traveled to #19 Oklahoma, and it was a war to the very last possession. We know that Iowa State’s Bill Fennelly had a great gameplan drawn up to attack OU, but that went in the trash can behind his bench early in the first quarter. 6’6 junior post Stephanie Soares left with an injury after just two minutes and would not return the rest of the game, changing the look of their line-up and how they would defend the Sooners.
There were 25 lead changes in the game and while both teams love to shoot the three (each hit 10 in the game) it was the penetration to the rim and post touches that kept it close. Iowa State was 23-for-26 from the free throw line but the Sooners posted 36 points in the paint. The last two minutes of the game was textbook execution by both squads and understanding time and possession. OU took the lead with seven seconds remaining on junior Skylar Vann’s drop step layup. The Cyclones called timeout, advanced the ball, and got star Ashley Joens a baseline layup on the side out-of-bounds play. The Sooners defended without fouling, corralled the rebound and made two free throws. Iowa State had one last look at a three to tie that did not go in and OU gets their second conference win of the season, 82-79.
This was another great conference matchup we expect to go down to the wire. Iowa State did announce on Monday that Soares will miss the remainder of the season with an ACL injury. The rematch between these two ranked teams is set for Jan. 28 in Ames – mark your calendars now.
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SHOT CLOCK VIOLATION
The struggles of #4 UConn have been well documented this season – season-ending injuries to star players, injuries keeping players out of the lineup for multiple games and illness that has struck the coaching staff are just a few on the list. Through all of this, the Huskies have won six straight games, but the situation has reached a more dire stage. Their game on Jan. 8 against DePaul was postponed based on Big East Conference protocol that states conference schools must suit up seven scholarship players for any game. After two more players were injured in the Huskies win over Xavier on Jan. 5, UConn would have had only six scholarship players available.
Injuries are part of the game. However, what comes of the postponed game or games from here on out is a larger matter for the Big East to manage. UConn is set to play at (R/V) St. John’s on Wednesday, Jan. 11 and announced late Monday that they will have seven players available to meet the conference standard. However, the earlier postponement and any more to come not only effect UConn but also their opponents. When will the game be rescheduled? Will it mean the teams will have a week later in the season with more games shoved into them? How will this effect travel and other arrangements already in place for other conference games? And most importantly – what is in the best interest of the student-athletes?
We hope that the Big East will not only look to help UConn in rescheduling but also heavily weigh the needs and schedules of the opponent(s) who have been affected by this. We also send our wishes to the head Husky, Coach Auriemma, for his return to the sidelines. The game will miss him while he is recovering and putting his own well-being first, a decision we give the utmost respect to.
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FULL COURT PRESS
If last night’s CFP National Championship game proved anything, it is that sometimes one player can be the different between a win or a loss, but it takes a team to bring home hardware. Conference play is sweeping college basketball and as we get outstanding individual performances, the teams that play together as a unit are starting to stand out. Rivalry games and soon-to-be new conference foes are lining up this week – here are some games of interest to watch, not just in the Big 12 and SEC, but all over the country (check your local listings for game times and broadcasts):
Jan. 10 – #17 Michigan at Purdue
#23 Kansas at Texas
UCF at Houston
Jan. 11 – Northern Iowa at Drake
Fordham at George Washington
Rice at (R/V) Middle Tennessee
#4 UConn at (R/V) St. John’s
Oklahoma State at #18 Baylor
Jan. 12 – #9 Maryland at #6 Indiana
#5 LSU at Missouri
(R/V) Louisville at #13 Virginia Tech
St. Mary’s at Santa Clara
Tennessee at Texas A&M
BYU at Loyola Marymount
Ole Miss at Georgia
Jan. 13 – Drexel at Hampton
Arizona State at #10 Utah
#2 Stanford at #8 UCLA
Washington at #21 Oregon
Jan. 14 – Harvard at Columbia
Michigan State at #17 Michigan
(R/V) St. John’s at #25 Villanova
South Dakota at South Dakota St.
Tennessee State at Tennessee Tech
#23 Kansas at #19 Oklahoma
#3 Ohio State at Nebraska
#20 Gonzaga at Portland
Jan. 15 – Boston College at Virginia
Georgia at Tennessee
#14 Arizona at #10 Utah
#18 Baylor at West Virginia
#11 NC State at #22 UNC
#16 Duke at Georgia Tech
#15 Iowa State at Texas
Alabama at Ole Miss
Loyola-Chicago at Rhode Island [WATCH ON PLAYBACK WITH US!]
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!