Welcome to The Next: A basketball newsroom brought to you by The IX. 24/7/365 women’s basketball coverage, written, edited, and photographed by our young, diverse staff, dedicated to breaking news, analysis, historical deep dives, and projections about the game we love.
Subscribe to make sure this vital work, creating a pipeline of young, diverse media professionals to write, edit and photograph the great game, continues, and grows. Paid subscriptions include some exclusive content, but the reason for subscriptions is a simple one: making sure our writers and editors creating 24/7/365 women’s basketball coverage get paid to do it.
On Christmas Day, Duke’s women’s basketball team announced that it was opting out playing the remainder of its schedule this season, following a decision made by the players that was supported by the university’s higher-ups.
So, Kara Lawson’s first season on the job ended with a 3-1 record. But she and her staff haven’t stopped working toward building Duke into a contender.
Since the Blue Devils canceled the rest of their season, they’ve picked up a pair of crucial commitments.
The first came on New Year’s Day, when Nyah Green announced she was transferring to Duke from Louisville. Green is a former McDonald’s All-American and will have four years of eligibility with the Blue Devils.
Lawson’s second pick-up in the recruiting game happened Wednesday morning. Ashlon Jackson, a highly-touted 2022 guard from Hardin County, Texas, announced she was coming to Durham to be part of the “Kara Era.” Jackson called her commitment the moment she had waited for “since the sixth grade.”
ESPN has tabbed Jackson as the 22nd best player in her class, giving Lawson a pair of top 25 commitments for 2022. Fellow Duke commit Shay Bollin — a 6’3 forward from Massachusetts — is ranked as the 19th best player in the class. Jackson is 5’10 and ESPN calls her an athletic and versatile guard who can “exploit mismatches,” push the tempo and be an “offensive threat from beyond the arc.”
Notably, Jackson picked Duke over some of the current contenders in the sport. Her final five choices also included UConn, Stanford, Oregon and Louisville.
While Duke will have to wait until 2022 for Jackson and Bollin to arrive, Green will be able to help them when the 2021-22 season begins. A 6’1 guard, she entered the transfer portal just before the holiday break on Dec. 17.
Like Jackson, Green hails from Texas and was also a big-time recruit. ESPN had her as the 12th-best player in the 2019 class and she chose Louisville over Baylor, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Green redshirted as a freshman, but played in a few games early on this season for Jeff Walz’s Cardinals. In a season-high 16 minutes in Louisville’s blowout win over DePaul, Green tallied six points, four rebounds and an assist. Her final appearance for Louisville came on Dec. 9, when she played one minute against Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The next time we see Green, she’ll be wearing a Blue Devils uniform.
As of Wednesday, there are currently four ACC programs on-pause due to positive COVID-19 tests or contact tracing measures: N.C. State, Pitt, Syracuse and UNC. The ACC has remained flexible with its schedule, and recently announced a flurry of updates.
Jada Boyd is back in the mix for No. 3 N.C. State after missing four games due to a knee injury. The sophomore forward came off the bench in the Wolfpack’s 84-75 win over Georgia Tech on Thursday and scored a career-high 26 points to go along with 10 boards and two assists in 23 minutes of action. On Sunday, in a 76-57 victory over Boston College, Boyd had 10 points and eight rebounds in 19 minutes. For her efforts, she was named ACC Player of the Week on Monday.
Miami notched its highest shooting percentage of the season (46.5%) in its 80-71 win over Clemson on Sunday. Endia Banks finished with 20 points, six rebounds and three assists. The Canes also out-rebounded the Tigers, 45-32.
Louisville head coach Jeff Walz after the Cardinals’ 97-46 win over Bellarmine on Saturday: “I thought we moved the ball much better today. We got it below the free throw line, we made the defense get flattened out, and then we made some quick passes, which is what we have to continue to do.”
Walz also expressed an interest in working out a home-and-home deal with Bellarmine, making them an annual opponent. The two schools are separated by less than five miles.
In Louisville’s second non-conference game this past weekend, Dana Evans scored a career-high 29 points to power the No. 2 Cardinals over UT Martin, 96-91. Kianna Smith added 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting with five rebounds. Louisville remains undefeated with an 8-0 record.
2022 prospect Acacia Hayes has narrowed her choices for college down to eight schools, three of which are in the ACC: Clemson, UNC and Georgia Tech. Hayes is a 5’7 guard from Murfreesboro, Tennessee who has a four-star ranking from ESPN.
Elise Williams has graduated from high school early and has joined Wake Forest. Williams, a 5’9 guard from Raleigh, was ranked as a three-star prospect and as the 43rd-best guard in the 2021 class by ESPN. She is on Wake’s active roster and could play Thursday vs. Miami.
Here’s what Duke men’s player Wendell Moore had to say about the Duke women’s team canceling its season: "I could say for us, we haven't really talked about it much. That was a decision that they made as a team and they felt it was the decision that was best for them. We stand behind them 100 percent. We support our girls' team. It's a hard time, so they had to make a tough decision to better their program."
During the holidays, Syracuse announced an addition to its women’s basketball staff, officially bringing aboard former player Erica Morrow as a full-time assistant coach. Morrow played for Quentin Hillsman from 2007-2011 and was the Orange's second all-time leading scorer when she graduated.
Games this week
There are a few contests on Thursday that might tell us a bit more about the cluster of ACC teams in the middle of the standings.
Can Notre Dame win its third straight game and begin to live up to its preseason hype? A road victory over a tough Boston College team would be impressive for Niele Ivey’s Irish. Keep an eye on rookie Maddy Westbeld, the 6’3 forward who was named ACC Freshman of the Week. She combined for 26 points, 12 boards and four assists in Notre Dame’s wins over Miami and Georgia Tech.
Is Clemson really as good as its 8-2 record? We might find out when they host a Georgia Tech team that’s lost two straight games. The Tigers are 21st in the country in total rebounds per-game (45.1) and are holding opponents to an assist-turnover ratio of just +.51, which is 22nd best in the nation, according to HerHoopStats. If Clemson wins, it might be due to Kendall Spray, one of the ACC’s best shooters who is knocking down 40.5% of her three-point attempts this season.
Virginia Tech looked very strong in non-conference play, but the Hokies have struggled a bit in ACC play, falling to Notre Dame and Florida State. Their toughest test yet is Thursday at 8 p.m., when they host No. 2 Louisville. The key match-up here might be in the paint. If there’s one spot where Louisville lacks depth, its in the post. Olivia Cochran and Elizabeth Dixon will have their hands full trying to stop Elizabeth Kitley, last season’s ACC Freshman of the Year. The 6’5 Hokie is averaging 18.8 points, 12 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per-game. She ranks 26th in the nation in win shares and has the ninth-most rebounds in the country. Kitley’s teammate Aisha Sheppard told The Next earlier this season: “In my opinion, there’s nobody that can guard her.”