09 Jan

Caitlin Clark, Iowa catch fire late to avenge Kansas State loss

The first month of the 2023-24 women’s college basketball season is almost over, and the action isn’t slowing down any time soon. South Carolina and UCLA have been holding strong, but not everyone is experiencing smooth sailing.

UConn is struggling to find consistency because the Huskies haven’t been able to shake the injury bug that has been disruptive for a few seasons. Coach Geno Auriemma’s latest nightmare was losing junior guard Azzi Fudd for the rest of the 2023-24 campaign. Amid all the chaos, UCLA was able to get the program’s first ever win against UConn on Friday.

Another noteworthy matchup in Week 3 was Iowa’s redemption game against Kansas State. There are more exciting games coming this week, including a rematch from the 2023 Final Four as No. 9 Virginia Tech will battle No. 7 LSU.

Here are some of the top moments from the past week, as well as some of the main storylines and games to watch over the coming days.

Bucket of the week: Zoe Brooks, NC State
NC State entered the top five in the AP Top 25 poll after a 78-60 win over then-No. 2 Colorado on Saturday. The Wolfpack starters have been solid this season, leading the team to a 7-0 record including a big win against UConn earlier this month. However, the talent goes well beyond NC State’s starting five.

Zoe Brooks is still a freshman, and she has been a solid player off the bench. She recorded seven points against Colorado, but the stat sheet didn’t show her full potential. Here she is using her patience and footwork to drain a contested turnaround jumper over Colorado’s Jaylyn Sherrod, a 2023 Pac-12 All-Defensive Team selection.

Just IMPRESSIVE by @zoebrooks35 🤩

Catch the second half live on ESPN+. pic.twitter.com/g30Ndmbuyo

— NC State WBB 🐺🏀 (@PackWomensBball) November 25, 2023
Stop of the week: South Carolina
The Gamecocks have been outstanding offensively by reaching 100 points in four of their first five games this season, but they are still playing the elite defense Dawn Staley’s teams have been lauded for. South Carolina held Mississippi Valley State to just eight made field goals during the Gamecocks’ 101-19 win on Nov. 24.

That was their largest margin of victory since Staley became South Carolina’s head coach in 2008. It was also the fewest points the Gamecocks have ever allowed in program history.

South Carolina currently leads the nation in blocks per game (12.4). The team recorded 15 rejections against MVS, with Kamilla Cardoso getting five of them. Cardoso also registered her fourth double-double of the season with 14 points and 10 rebounds.

Esto de Kamilla Cardoso 🥵🔥 pic.twitter.com/Q1SbqcA23J

— Manu Fresno (@Maanuf96) November 24, 2023
Game of the week: No 16 Kansas State vs. No. 5 Iowa
Kansas State handed the Hawkeyes their first loss of the season earlier this month, but Iowa got a chance at redemption in the Gulf Coast Showcase final on Sunday. The Hawkeyes walked away with a 77-70 victory, but the final score doesn’t quite show how close the game really was.

By halftime, Kansas State only trailed 39-38 and the beginning of the third quarter was tight. The Hawkeyes started pulling away, but Kansas State’s Serena Sundell made a statement just before the quarter ended with this buzzer-beating jumper:

Buckets of sunshine from @serena_sundell ☀️#KStateWBB x @GCShowcase pic.twitter.com/Y6QQI884HO

— K-State Women’s Basketball (@KStateWBB) November 27, 2023
Kansas State found a 68-67 lead with 2:44 remaining in the fourth quarter, but Lisa Bluder’s squad turned up the heat to avoid another loss. Kate Martin and Caitlin Clark scored the next 10 points for Iowa, while the defense held the Wildcats to only field-goal make, a layup from Sundell.

A total of 10 lead changes occurred throughout the game. Clark led all scorers with 32 points, while Ayoka Lee and Sundell led Kansas State with 18 points each.

“Kansas State is obviously a great team, and it feels really good to get the redemption win,” Bluder said in her postgame press conference.

Biggest storylines from Week 3
UConn’s Azzi Fudd out for the season
UConn guard Azzi Fudd suffered a non-contact injury during practice on Nov. 14. Eight days later, the program announced the diagnosis was a medial meniscal tear and an ACL tear in her right knee, which will keep her out for the rest of the season.

“We’re all just so upset for Azzi,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “She worked hard to be healthy for this season, and it’s unfortunate when you put in a lot of hard work and have a setback like this.”

LSU’s Angel Reese, Kateri Poole miss Cayman Islands trip
Angel Reese and Kateri Poole did not join the Tigers for the Cayman Islands Classic this past weekend. Reese has now missed four games this season for undisclosed reasons. Poole had at least been on the bench for all the other games, until this trip. LSU coach Kim Mulkey has not given much of an explanation, saying she wants to keep it private.

“I’m going to protect my players, always,” Mulkey said on Nov. 20 after LSU’s win over Texas Southern. “It’s like a family. If you do some disciplining of your own children, do you think we’re entitled to know that? That’s a family in that locker room.”

UCLA beats UConn for the first time
The No. 2 UCLA Bruins entered Friday’s matchup against UConn with an 0-7 all-time record in the matchup. However, this has been a strong season for Cori Close’s team, and they made a statement by beating then-No. 6 UConn for the first time in program history. Not even a 31-point performance by former national player of the year Paige Bueckers was able to prevent the Huskies’ second loss of the 2023-24 campaign.

“Obviously so much respect for UConn and the program they have become … but we really were confident that if we executed the game plan, we were going to win,” Close said.

UCLA has a deep roster with five players averaging double figures in scoring. Friday was Kiki Rice’s turn to shine, as the sophomore guard recorded 24 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists against UConn.

Top clips from tonight’s 𝘁𝗼𝗽 𝟭𝟬 𝘄𝗶𝗻 in the Cayman Islands!#GoBruins pic.twitter.com/9DeHazquss

— UCLA W. Basketball (@UCLAWBB) November 25, 2023
USC’s JuJu Watkins keeps shining
Freshman sensation JuJu Watkins currently leads the undefeated Trojans with 26.2 points per game while shooting 50% from the field and 50% from 3-point range. In the first five games of her college career, Watkins already has three 30-point games, tying a USC freshman record previously set by Lisa Leslie and Paula McGee. Her most recent performance was 31 points, 12 rebounds and three assists against Penn State.

Watkins has been named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week in each of the first three weeks of the season. With her help, the Trojans were ranked No. 6 in the latest AP Top 25 poll, giving the program its best ranking since 1994.

Trojans improve to 5-0 ✌️

JuJu Watkins scores 31 points to lead No. 8 USC over Penn State. Highlights ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/DnDYEW7wSv

— Pac-12 Conference (@pac12) November 23, 2023
Interesting stats
The Gamecocks don’t lose at home: South Carolina’s 101-19 win over Mississippi Valley State on Friday was the Gamecocks’ 45th consecutive home win, which ties a program record. Dawn Staley’s squad has a chance to break the record when it hosts Morgan State on Dec. 6 at 9 p.m. ET.
Caitlin Clark reaches another record: The Iowa guard registered her 40th 30-point game against Kansas State. This tied her with Detroit Mercy’s Antoine Davis for the most 30-point games in Division I college basketball over the past 25 years.
Matchups to watch:
(all times Eastern)

No. 18 Notre Dame vs. No. 20 Tennessee | Wednesday, 5 p.m. | ESPN2: The Fighting Irish and Lady Vols will be facing each other in the inaugural ACC/SEC Challenge. These are two teams that made it to the 2023 Sweet 16 and have carried that momentum into this season. Although Tennessee holds a 22-8 advantage in their all-time series, Notre Dame has won eight of the last 10 meetings.

No. 1 South Carolina vs. No. 24 North Carolina | Thursday, 7 p.m. | ESPN: This battle in Chapel Hill will also be part of the ACC/SEC Challenge. Since 2000, the Tar Heels have registered a 7-4 record against their rival Gamecocks. However, South Carolina has grown into a powerhouse, and Dawn Stalely’s team has been blowing opponents out of the water this season. North Carolina suffered back-to-back losses in the Gulf Coast Showcase, and they’ll face an even greater challenge in South Carolina’s suffocating defense and outstanding offense.

No. 9 Virginia Tech vs. No. 7 LSU | Thursday, 9 p.m. | ESPN: Both teams returned star players from last season, and this will be a rematch from the 2023 Final Four in which LSU took down Virginia Tech and went on to win the national title. LSU’s leading scorer and rebounder from last year, Angel Reese, has been away from the team. But even if Reese doesn’t suit up Thursday, the Tigers still have plenty of talent to give the Hokies one of their toughest non-conference challenges. Virginia Tech’s Elizabeth Kitley and Georgia Amoore will need big games if they want a redemption win.

No. 11 UConn vs. No. 10 Texas | Sunday, 3 p.m. | ABC: The Huskies have a talented roster but haven’t found consistency yet. They suffered their second loss of the season against UCLA, then bounced back with a 71-63 win over Kansas the next day — although coach Geno Auriemma wasn’t 100% content and admitted his team is struggling. However, it’s important to point out that a struggling UConn team is still a tough challenge for anyone, and this will be Texas’ first ranked opponent of the season.

No. 16 Ohio State vs. No. 20 Tennessee | Sunday, 5 p.m. | ESPN: This will be the Lady Vols’ second ranked opponent this week. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes’ only other meeting with a ranked team was their season opener, which resulted in an 83-74 loss to USC. Ohio State has been taking care of business since then, but they’ve still been dropping in the rankings. A win against a solid team like Tennessee is what the Buckeyes’ resume needs.

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