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College basketball: Top five games to watch in opening week

Diamond Miller and Maryland are ready to compete in the Big Ten tournament. (Greg Fiume/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

The 2022-23 college basketball season will hit the ground running.

The first games tip off Monday, and the opening week features several marquee matchups — including a must-watch battle between No. 1 South Carolina and No. 17 Maryland. Just Women’s Sports has five games you won’t want to miss.

Monday, Nov. 7: No. 21 Creighton vs. No. 23 South Dakota State

Kick off the week with a mid-major matchup between two experienced top-25 squads.

Creighton burst onto the scene during last year’s NCAA tournament when Lauren Jensen’s 19 points and go-ahead 3-pointer knocked out No. 2 seed Iowa in the second round. The Blue Jays made a run to the Elite Eight as a tournament darling. Meanwhile, South Dakota State narrowly missed March Madness but went on to win the NIT, topping Seton Hall in the championship.

Rising juniors Lauren Jensen, Morgan Maly, Molly Mogensen and Emma Ronsiek were Creighton’s top four scorers last season, and now they have high-level experience to go with their offensive prowess. Expect the same style of play they showed in 2021-22, with everyone on the floor shooting 3-pointers – 41% of the Bluejays’ point production came from long range last year.

South Dakota State is in a similar position, returning four of its starters (who also happen to be their top four scorers). After winning the NIT, the Jackrabbits are hungry to prove themselves — and to earn a March Madness bid. Starting the season with a win over No. 21 Creighton would put them on the right path.

Tuesday, Nov. 8: No. 5 Tennessee vs. No. 14 Ohio State

There’s no easing into the season, as Tuesday boasts another top-25 matchup. Tennessee and Ohio State were both Sweet 16 teams last year, and though their seasons technically ended the same way, they were viewed through different lenses.

Injuries and inconsistency kept the Vols from reaching their full potential, while the Buckeyes made a surprise splash, winning the Big Ten regular season and reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2017. Tennessee will look to redeem itself this year, while Ohio State’s goal is to prove it has staying power.

Vols fans are rejoicing at the return of leading scorer (16.2) and rebounder (9.4) Jordan Horston, who was injured during the NCAA tournament. Tuesday’s contest will also give the Tennessee faithful their first non-exhibition look at top transfers Rickea Jackson and Jasmine Powell.

The Buckeyes will once again be led by guard duo Jacy Sheldon and Taylor Mikesell, who return for their senior seasons. The two combined to score just under half of Ohio State’s total points last season, averaging 19.7 and 18.6 points per game, respectively. The Buckeyes should also expect a jump from 6-4 forward Rebeka Mikulasikova, who provides a post presence for the team, averaging 9.4 points and 5.0 rebounds per contest last season.

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Ohio State seeks to prove it has staying power in the 2022-23 season. (Adam Cairns/USA TODAY Sports)

Wednesday, Nov. 9: No. 12 North Carolina vs. Jackson State

I’m still thinking about Jackson State’s near 15-over-2-seed upset of LSU in last season’s NCAA tournament. It marked what I anticipate to be the beginning of Jackson State’s rise on the national level. And the way the Tigers play against No. 12 North Carolina on Wednesday will give us an idea of just how quickly the JSU program will reach that potential.

As for UNC, the Tar Heels have their own potential to live up to, with an NCAA tournament run that ended with a close contest against eventual champion South Carolina – the Gamecocks ended up winning 69-61 in the Sweet 16.

Last season, Jackson State coach Tomekia Reed scheduled a tough slate of non conference opponents, and it paid off. When conference play came around, the Tigers cruised to an 18-0 SWAC record and a conference tournament title to earn their March Madness bid. This season is no different. After taking on UNC, the Tigers play teams like Texas, UCLA and Oregon State.

UNC will once again be led by Deja Kelly and Alyssa Utsby, one of the top guard duos in the country. Now juniors, Kelly (16.5 points per game) and Utsby (12.9) have experience to go with their talent. Third leading scorer Kennedy Todd-Williams also returns for the Tar Heels.

Friday, Nov. 11: No. 1 South Carolina vs. No. 17 Maryland

Any time the defending national champs are playing, it’s must-see TV.

The Gamecocks are starting the season with a challenge in No. 17 Maryland, a team that looks very different to last season. The Terrapins both won and lost in the transfer market, losing top players in Ashley Owusu and Angel Reese but gaining several replacement players, headlined by Abby Meyers (Princeton) and Lavender Briggs (Florida). Meanwhile, South Carolina looks virtually the same as it did during last season’s title run, meaning a repeat is possible.

South Carolina will be anchored once again by reigning POY and DPOY Aliyah Boston. Three other starters also return, with Destanni Henderson the only departure – she was drafted by the Indiana Fever. Sophomore guards Raven Johnson and Bree Hall should be able to contribute in her place. And as good as Henderson is, don’t expect the Gamecocks to miss her too much. There’s plenty of talent to fill the gap.

Maryland is full of new faces this season, but expect a familiar one to lead the charge. After an impressive sophomore season where she averaged 17.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, Diamond Miller was plagued by injuries in 2021-22, and never reached full strength. Now, she’s back to her true form and ready to anchor this Terrapins squad.

Friday, Nov. 11: No. 24 Princeton vs. Villanova

Princeton is another team that made waves in last year’s NCAA tournament, upsetting No. 6 Kentucky in the first round before falling 56-55  to No. 3 Indiana. The Tigers were solid all season, going 14-0 in Ivy League play. They are expected to win their conference again this season.

Villanova, on the other hand, is a team that’s likely feeling a bit slighted by not appearing in the AP Top 25. The Wildcats are receiving votes, though, and a win over Princeton would quickly get them into the rankings.

The Tigers lost top scorer Meyers to the transfer portal, but their No. 2 and 3 scorers return in Julia Cunningham and Kaitlyn Chen. Chen in particular is someone to get excited about. Her athleticism and shot-creating ability are more akin to a Power Five player than an Ivy Leaguer.

As for Villanova, everyone knows the name Maddy Siegrist by now. The senior forward was second in the country last season in scoring, averaging 25.3 points per game. Her creativity scoring the ball is key for the Wildcats, as opponents – starting with Princeton – will make it their mission to slow down the senior.

2023 MVP Breanna Stewart Drops 31 Points in Liberty’s Huge Win Over Fever

breanna stewart and jonquel jones of the new york liberty celebrate win over indiana fever
Stewie and the Liberty dominated the court throughout Thursday's Fever home opener. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

The New York Liberty dominated Indiana on Thursday night, winning by a whopping 36 points in the Fever's home opener. 

A sold-out crowd of 17,274 was in attendance to watch as star rookie Caitlin Clark finished the 102-66 defeat with nine points, seven rebounds, and six assists. It’s the first time since January 2021 — her freshman season at Iowa — that Clark's been held to single-digit scoring. 

"The physicality is definitely up there... I'm easily pushed off screens," she told reporters after the loss. "The game seems a little fast for me right now. The more I play and the more comfortable I get, it's going to slow down a little bit. It will be easier for me to make reads, see things develop."

The Fever were outscored by a combined margin of 57 points in their first two games — the largest two-game point deficit in WNBA season-opening history, according to @ESPNStatsInfo.

"We've got to get to a level of toughness," Fever coach Christie Sides in her own postgame remarks. "When things are going south on us, we're not stopping the bleeding."

"I have great perspective on everything that happens," Clark added. "It was the same in my college career. There were some moments that were absolutely amazing. And there were some moments I was not happy with how I played and how my team performed. That's just life, that's just basketball."

Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu, who herself experienced a rocky rookie season following a much-hyped college career, offered up some insight on the matter.

"In this league, there are tough defenses all centered around not letting you get the ball, trapping, not letting you score," Ionescu said. "There were many factors that played into what was a tough first season for me in the league, but it helps you be able to figure it out. You have to have those experiences."

But it was reigning league MVP Breanna Stewart that truly stole the show, racking up 31 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, three steals, and two blocks on the night.

"In general, I just wanted to come out more aggressive coming off of last game," Stewart said after putting up the 24th 30-point game in her career.

Stewart she also commended the fans inside Indianapolis's packed Gainbridge Fieldhouse, noting that she hopes that level of support to continue across the WNBA.

"This is how you want every game to be and when it's a sell-out crowd, it gives you a similar playoff atmosphere feel," she said. "People want to be a part of this and the thing now is to continue to sustain it, continue to take the momentum that we have and turn it into something more."

WNBA Commissioner Admits to ‘Faulty’ Charter Rollout

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert at 2024 wnba draft
Cathy Engelbert at the 2024 WNBA Draft in New York. (Cora Veltman/Sportico via Getty Images)

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert admitted to a "faulty rollout" of the new charter travel initiative on Thursday, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Ahead of Tuesday's season opener, it was announced that the only teams flying private this week would be Indiana and Minnesota. The announcement came mere days after the league made a new charter flight program for all WNBA teams public. At the time, they said it would be implemented "as soon as we have the planes."

But as two teams out of 12 chartered to their first games of the season, others like the Atlanta Dream and Chicago Sky were forced to fly commercial.

A town hall meeting between Engelbert and the players was held in response to the confusion. Everything from the league's new media rights deal to private travel was covered in the meeting, with players submitting their questions ahead of time. Sky center Elizabeth Williams told Sun-Times reporter Annie Costabile afterwards that cross-country flights were prioritized.

"Flights that are across the country like [the Lynx] going to Seattle, crossing multiple time zones, or flights that usually require a connection, those were the priorities," Williams said. "That’s why New York didn’t go to DC with a charter, but Minny goes to Seattle."

What’s unclear under that metric is that the Atlanta Dream played the Los Angeles Sparks on Wednesday, which could technically be classified as a cross-country flight. 

On Tuesday, rookie forward Angel Reese shared a photo on her Instagram story lamenting the league's use of commercial flights.

"Just praying that this is one of the last commercial flights the Sky has to fly," Reese posted. The team still has at least three commercial flights awaiting them in the near future.

"Obviously, I think all teams should be able to get chartered," Reese told the Sun-Times. "But I know moving forward... going in the right direction, being able to have some teams [chartering] is cool. Within the next weeks, everybody will be flying charter, which will be really good."

On Thursday, Lindsay Schnell of USAToday Sports confirmed that the league intends to have all teams on charter flights by May 21st.

Brazil Wins Bid for 2027 Women’s World Cup Host

fifa womens world cup trophy on display
The FIFA Women's World Cup trophy on display in Bangkok after Brazil was announced as the 2027 host country. (Thananuwat Srirasant - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Brazil has been named the host for the 2027 Women’s World Cup, with FIFA announced early Friday. 

The decision came after a vote at the 74th FIFA Congress in Bangkok, with Brazil earning 119 votes to the joint European bid’s 78. 

This will be Brazil’s first time hosting the Women’s World Cup, with the country having hosted the men’s World Cup twice before in 1950 and 2014. It will also be the first Women’s World Cup held in South America. The tournament will follow the same 32-team format as the 2023 WWC in Australia and New Zealand.

Brazil winning the bid was not entirely surprising after FIFA issued a report just last week, stating that the Brazilian bid had pulled ahead as host following technical inspection. After evaluation, Brazil was given a score of 4.0 out of 5, compared to the 3.7 awarded to the Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Brazil ranked higher in a number of key areas, including stadiums, accommodations, fan zones, and transport infrastructure. Though considered to be a frontrunner, the US and Mexico withdrew their joint bid prior to the technical inspection period, saying they would instead focus their efforts on 2031.

On Friday, Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) president Ednaldo Rodrigues called it a "victory." 

"We knew we would be celebrating a victory for South American women's soccer and for women," he told reporters. "You can be sure, with no vanity, we will accomplish the best World Cup for women."

"We are working on a transformation, not only for the country but for the continent," added bid team operational manager Valesca Araujo.

Brazil intends to use 10 of the venues utilized at the 2014 men’s World Cup, including holding the final in Rio de Janeiro on July 25th. The CBF's proposal outlines that the 2027 tournament run from June 24th through the end of July. Last summer’s World Cup began at the end of July and concluded on August 19th.

Another notable element of Brazil's newly unveiled plan to grow of the women’s game is that "all [men’s] clubs wishing to take part in high-level national and continental competitions must now provide a structure for a women’s team." While the definition of "structure" was not specifically identified, the country has set targets with CONMEBOL to help increase the number of women’s club teams in the country.

In last week's inspection findings, FIFA noted that selecting Brazil as the next WWC host could "have a tremendous impact on women's football in the region."

Chelsea Eyes Weekend Finale With WSL Title in Sight

chelsea players celebrate win against tottenham in the wsl
Chelsea beat Tottenham on Wednesday, moving to the top of the table in an effort to win departing coach Emma Hayes some silverware. (John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images)

Chelsea did what they needed to do on Wednesday in order to make Saturday's slate of season-ending WSL fixtures interesting: Beat Tottenham.

The Blues are now number one in the league, with an edge over Manchester City on goal differential thanks to an eight-goal outing against Bristol City last week. 

Yesterday's result tees up a league finale for the books as Chelsea looks to send coach Emma Hayes off with another trophy to add to her cabinet. The Blues will play FA Cup winner Manchester City at Old Trafford on Saturday, while City is away at Aston Villa.

"We will be leaving nothing on the pitch, we will be giving everything and no matter what the result is," Chelsea midfielder Erin Cuthbert said after Wednesday's win. "At least we can look each other in the eye and say we gave everything."

It makes for a thrilling end to Chelsea's Emma Hayes era, as the decorated WSL coach will take over the USWNT in June. And it comes after Hayes all but conceded the title race early this month after Chelsea fell to Liverpool 4-3.

"I think the title is done," Hayes said at the time. "Of course, mathematically, it's not, but I think the title is done. Our job between now and the end of the season is to keep pushing until the end, but I think it will be very difficult.

"We will never give up. But the title is far from us; it's not in our hands. I think City are deserving, their consistency has put them in that position. Of course, we will go to the end, but I don't think the title will be going to us this year."

Be it mind games or Hayes truly thinking her team was that far off, her words lit something in Chelsea. Their following two performances showed the team’s determination to have a shot at some silverware.

As for Saturday's schedule, Hayes believes her team is facing the "tougher of the two games."

"It's a fitting finale for me, being my final game," she told BBC Sport. "As I said to the players if someone gives you a second chance in life, make sure you don't need a third one. We're in the position we want to be in, and we'll give it everything on Saturday no matter what."

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