December 20, 2023 

The Weekly Fast Break: Milestones ahead of the holiday break

Statues, big wins and Huskies on the move

The hustle and bustle of this time of year can only mean one thing: The holiday break is almost upon us, with all the craziness that comes with it. From ugly Christmas sweaters to platters of baked goods to deciding which holiday movie to watch, there feels like no time to think, let alone watch a game. If you are driving around your favorite college campus this week, you will find more parking than normal and a lot less activity, but the lights in the basketball offices will be on.

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At The Weekly Fast Break, we know exactly what is cooking in those buildings — final gameplans for a few remaining games before the break, gift bags from the equipment room and a stern warning written on the whiteboard for all to see. It is the reminder from coaches that when you go home for a few days, you better not sit on your couch the entire time. Return ready to get after it or there will be no holiday joy in the gym.

This season we go by a simple rule that says you must believe that the loose ball you are chasing has your name on it. So, before you go home to see the family, give it your all or your coaches will be stealing a line from the Perry Como classic, “Frosty the Snowman”: “Let’s run and we’ll have some fun now before I melt away.”

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Hooping Huskies: For the first time since 2017, the Washington Huskies are ranked in the AP Top 25. The 23rd-ranked Huskies are 11-0 and have played all but three of their games at home this season, but it was a 60-55 win over Pac-12 foe Washington State on Dec. 10 that turned heads in the northwest. Third-year head coach Tina Langley’s team followed up that victory with a decisive 64-32 win over Saint Mary’s on Dec. 16.

Three Huskies are averaging double figures, but smothering defense has been the key to their success. Washington is ranked second in the nation in field goal percentage defense (30.9%) and fourth in 3-point percentage defense (21.5%).

How does Langley’s team respond to its new ranking? We will find out Dec. 20, when Washington travels to No. 19 Louisville for its last nonconference battle before diving fully into the final season of Pac-12 play.

500-win club: There are coaches at every level in the college game who seem to win no matter where they go. It takes time to build a program, recruit the right players and put themselves in a spot where people take notice. But any successful coach will tell you that it is not about them; it is about the players and people in the program that build a winner.

Ever so quietly, Virginia Tech head coach Kenny Brooks joined the 500-win club on Dec. 17 with a 84-59 win at Rutgers. Brooks spent 14 seasons at James Madison, building that program into a CAA powerhouse before taking over the Hokies’ program in 2016. Last year, Virginia Tech captured the ACC Tournament title on its way to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and the program’s first-ever trip to the Final Four.

A fun fact about Brooks: He was a student-athlete at James Madison, where he played for the legendary Lefty Driesell. He graduated from JMU in 1992 and took his first coaching job at his alma mater in 1993 as a part-time assistant for the men’s program.

Virginia Tech head coach Kenny Brooks clenches his fists and raises both arms upward. He gazes upward and walks in the direction of his bench.
Virginia Tech head coach Kenny Brooks, shown here during a Final Four game against LSU in 2023, joined the 500-win club on Dec. 17, 2023. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra | The Next)

Driving in style: There is no doubt that name, image and likeness (NIL) has changed the landscape of college athletics. Whether it is TV commercials, print advertisements or social media posts, student-athletes who want to engage in NIL are reaping the benefits. The data shows that female student-athletes can profit at higher rates than their male counterparts in many instances, yet there is still the reality that NIL dollars on campuses are being used to entice recruits and keep players from entering the portal in every sport. We see some schools being more proactive than others, and the impact that collectives are having is becoming a hot-button issue in every athletic department.

Earlier this month, the Utah Crimson Collective gave Utah men’s and women’s basketball players and gymnasts the opportunity to lease one of two brand-new luxury vehicles. As described in the agreement, both the lease and insurance costs of the vehicle will be covered by donors of the Crimson Collective so long as each athlete remains part of their respective Utah athletics program.

In the fall, scholarship athletes on the Utah football team were given the opportunity to lease a brand-new RAM truck. The deal was expanded to Utah’s two most popular women’s sports and is one of the largest NIL deals for women’s sports in the short history of NIL sponsorships. Whether you agree with all of this or not, no longer can anyone ask in Salt Lake City, “How did Alissa Pili get such a fabulous new car?”

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Poll watch: No. 1 South Carolina remains the unanimous choice atop this week’s AP Top 25 poll, receiving all 36 votes from the national media panel. The next 11 spots remained unchanged this week, including No. 10 Baylor, which is off to its best start under Nicki Collen, now in her third season in Waco.

No. 18 Marquette is up one spot, as is No. 20 Gonzaga. Washington, ranked for the first time since 2017 at No. 23, is one of six Pac-12 teams ranked this week, with Washington State and Oregon State receiving votes. TCU gives the Big 12 four teams in the Top 25, entering at No. 25 and ranked for the first time since 2020.

After a lopsided loss to Seton Hall on Dec. 18, UNLV dropped out of the poll.

TCU's Sedona Prince and Madison Conner look at each other as they stand near each other close to midcourt.
Impact transfers Sedona Prince (13) and Madison Conner (3) have TCU back in the AP Top 25 Poll for the first time since 2020. (Photo credit: Sharon Ellman)

Star power

Co-SEC Player of the Week Jessika Carter powered R/V* Mississippi State to two wins last week. The 6’5 center from Waverly Hall, Georgia, averaged 17.0 points, 15.5 rebounds, 4.5 blocks and 2.0 assists in over 34 minutes per game in victories over Jackson State and Memphis. In the latter, she finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds and tied a career high with six blocks. She has now turned in three straight double-doubles and is second among all active SEC players with 33 career double-doubles. Carter was Co-SEC Player of the Week with LSU’s Angel Reese.

Izzy Higginbottom has been named the Sun Belt Conference’s Player of the Week after helping Arkansas State to two victories last week. Higginbottom had a career-high 35 points in an 82-78 overtime win over North Alabama on Dec. That was the most points scored by an Arkansas State player since 2007. She added 10 points, six assists and five rebounds in the Red Wolves’ 74-59 win over Little Rock on Dec. 17. The junior guard averaged 22.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game while shooting 11-for-21 from the floor, 7-for-8 from 3-point range and 16-for-19 from the line.

The biggest difference in No. 12 Kansas State from last year to this year has to be the return of Ayoka Lee. The 6’6 center is back in the lineup after missing all last season with knee surgery and an extensive rehab, and she is looking more and more like the All-American who caused problems for teams across the country. Lee was named Co-Big 12 Player of the Week on Dec. 18 after scoring a season-high 36 points against North Florida in K-State’s 70-53 win. She shot 15-for-17 from the field and 6-for-6 from the line in 25 minutes. In a home matchup with Oral Roberts on Dec. 18, Lee broke the K-State record for career double-doubles, registering her 53rd with a 24-point, 21-rebound performance. Lee was co-Big 12 Player of the Week with Rori Harmon of Texas.

Get the brooms out in Birmingham because the UAB Blazers swept the American Athletic Conference Player and Freshman of the Week Awards. Mia Moore, a 5’6 redshirt sophomore guard, was named Player of the Week after posting her fifth double-double of the season with 21 points and 12 rebounds in the Blazers’ 69-54 win over South Carolina State. Moore was money from the free-throw line, going 12-for-13. It was her fifth time scoring 20 or more points this season, and she has now grabbed 10 or more rebounds in four of her last five games.

Jade Weathersby was tapped as Freshman of the Week after she had 15 points and six rebounds against South Carolina State. The 6’2 forward from Colorado has posted double figures in five of UAB’s last six games.

Star power set in stone

Women’s basketball has not always been as popular as it is today. There were decades where women and men worked tirelessly to set the standard that we see now as normal. From record crowds in arenas to record numbers watching game broadcasts, women’s basketball — and especially the college game — is at an all-time high.

On Dec. 17, a legendary coach and trailblazer was honored on the campus of Notre Dame, where she gave 33 years of service as the women’s basketball head coach. Muffet McGraw was enshrined with a statue outside of the Joyce Center — the first statue ever dedicated to a woman on the Notre Dame campus.

McGraw was the 13th female coach inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2017. During her career, she collected an impressive 936 career wins, 848 of those at Notre Dame. McGraw’s Fighting Irish teams made nine Final Fours and won two national titles. She coached one women’s basketball Hall of Famer, five Olympians, 20 WNBA players (10 currently in the league), 22 All-Americans and 36 players who earned all-conference recognition.

McGraw understood that building a fan base to support Notre Dame women’s basketball would be critical to its success, so she worked tirelessly to bring the community and campus to games. She wanted them to see what she already knew: that her teams would play hard, play with passion, and would win. In January 2001, the women’s team recorded its first-ever sellout in a matchup against UConn.

Not only has McGraw been an ardent promoter of women’s basketball, but she has also been an advocate for women in and out of the game. Her role as a mentor and leader of young women was never lost on her, and it’s something she’s passed on to other coaches and her former players.

Muffet McGraw stands on a ladder, smiling and holding up a net that has just been cut down in her right hand.
Former Notre Dame women’s basketball head coach Muffet McGraw is now enshrined on campus forever with a statue honoring her 33 years as head coach and two national titles. (Photo credit: ESPN Stats & Info on Twitter/X)

McGraw’s family, which includes her husband and son, was always present during her time as a coach, sharing in the greatest victories and most difficult defeats. McGraw was fortunate at a time when it was not always the norm to be at an institution that would commit the resources needed to build a women’s basketball powerhouse. Now, Notre Dame has honored her hard work and success with this statue.

The Irish are currently ranked No. 14 in the AP poll and handily beat Purdue 76-39 on the day of the unveiling. It was fitting to honor the woman who brought national prominence to South Bend, Indiana – while wearing fantastic high heels, no less.

Full-court press

As we each try to find the calmness in the holiday madness, we have just a simple request at The Weekly Fast Break. If you so choose, we hope that you spend quality time with family and friends. But when an annoying uncle or screaming cousin invades your space, go find a quiet corner and check out a few games — just know that there will be no contests from Dec. 23 to 26. (Check your local listings and broadcast schedule for times.)

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Dec. 20

Illinois vs. Arkansas

R/V* Washington State at Auburn

BYU at Missouri State

Florida at Michigan

R/V Mississippi State at Colorado State

Nebraska at Kansas

R/V Oregon State vs. R/V Texas Tech (Maui Classic)

Dec. 21

Drake at North Dakota

R/V Davidson at Charlotte

Oklahoma State at Oregon

South Dakota State at No. 21 Creighton

Dec. 22

Belmont at No. 13 Ohio State

Bowling Green at No. 16 Indiana

* Receiving votes

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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