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JWS’ NCAA Top 25: Olivia Miles, Notre Dame surge to No. 3

Olivia Miles is fifth in the nation with 7.2 assists per game, tying her with Iowa’s Caitlin Clark (Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Once again, the top two teams in the JWS college basketball Top 25 remain intact. South Carolina and Stanford are the teams to beat, but the rest of the rankings got a shake-up this week.

Kansas and Virginia make their first appearances, while Notre Dame jumps two undefeated teams for the No. 3 spot. Let’s evaluate where the top teams stand before the holiday break. You can find our last top-25 rankings here.

1. South Carolina (11-0)

2. Stanford (11-1)

Cameron Brink, Hannah Jump and Haley Jones are one heck of a trio, and they make this Stanford team hard to top. They have three completely different but effective games, all of which were clicking in a 77-70 win over Tennessee on Sunday. Brink had 21 points, 17 rebounds and six blocks to lead the way, while Jones and Jump recorded 19 points each. The Cardinal were down 58-53 heading into the fourth quarter, but the No. 2 squad didn’t panic. Instead, they chipped away at the deficit and closed out the game on a 24-12 run to seal the victory. Maturity will help this team down the stretch, and the win was indicative of their ranking.

3. Notre Dame (9-1)

The AP poll still has Notre Dame at No. 5, but a 63-52 win over Virginia Tech on Sunday cemented my belief that Notre Dame deserves the No. 3 spot. I’d previously considered moving the Fighting Irish over Ohio State and Indiana, and this week’s win convinced me — strangely enough because Notre Dame looked flat-out bad for most of the contest. Even at its worst, Notre Dame showed it is still good enough to beat another top-10 opponent. In crunch time, the Irish didn’t let their previous mistakes define the game. Olivia Miles had a near triple-double (16 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists), and Notre Dame ended the game on a 23-9 run to secure the win.

4. Ohio State (11-0)

5. Indiana (11-0)

6. UConn (8-2)

7. North Carolina (9-1)

8. NC State (11-1)

9. Virginia Tech (10-1)

10. Utah (10-0)

The Utes have won in a lot of different ways this season, from blowouts to two-point victories. In their one win over a ranked opponent on Nov. 16, they scored a whopping 124 points against Oklahoma and showed how dangerous this team can be. Offensively, they average 93 points per game with a roster full of scorers. Alissa Pili leads the team with 20.7 points per game, followed by Gianna Knnepkens and Jenna Johnson with 14.4 and 12.6, respectively. Then, Kennedy McQueen and Issy Palmer each average 10 points per game, while Teya Sidberry and Dasia Young come in at just under seven. That all adds up to a balanced squad that’s hard to beat — and fun to watch.

11. UCLA (11-1)

12. Iowa (9-3)

13. Iowa State (8-2)

14. Arkansas (13-0)

The Razorbacks haven’t played the toughest schedule, but an undefeated record and wins over Kansas State and Creighton are enough to draw attention. The bottom half of these rankings are a mess, with a lot of solid teams in consideration. Arkansas (No. 17 in the AP Poll) slides into my top 15 after going on the road Saturday and beating Creighton. The Razorbacks led for most of the contest and weathered every Creighton run. Samara Spencer led the way with 26 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the 3-point line, and UConn transfer Saylor Poffenbarger recorded a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Arkansas has two tough upcoming matchups against AP No. 16 Oregon and No. 10 LSU.

15. Maryland (9-3)

16. LSU (12-0)

17. Oregon (9-1)

18. Kansas (10-0)

A 77-50 victory over then-No. 12 Arizona on Dec. 8 thrust Kansas into the rankings, but there is a lot to like about this Kansas team aside from the upset win. The Jayhawks have one of the most cohesive offenses in the country. They run everything through center Taiyanna Jackson but don’t discriminate when it comes to making the extra pass and taking the best available shot. They understand how to use their spacing and lanes to attack the hoop, which makes for a smooth offense with a lot of contributors. And when they need a basket, the Jayhawks still have a go-to scorer in Jackson. That’s the perfect recipe for offensive success.

19. Gonzaga (11-2)

20. Michigan (10-1)

21. Creighton (8-2)

The Bluejays have wins over South Dakota State, Nebraska and Villanova — all of whom were ranked when they played — and another over a solid Drake team. But with losses to AP No. 25 St. John’s and No. 21 Arkansas, it’s hard to know what to make of this squad. They have all the tools for another deep run in the NCAA Tournament, but right now they only seem to show up part of the time. Their next two games are against Stanford and UConn, which should provide a much clearer picture.

22. Arizona (9-1)

The Wildcats have a lot to work out. They shot well in a 75-54 win over Baylor on Saturday (47.5 percent from the field and 50 percent from beyond the arc), but a lot of that had to do with the Bears — who are not a top-25 team in my mind — not defending the ball well. Arizona had open shots and they knocked them down, but there wasn’t a lot of flow to the offense as players still appear to be figuring out their roles.

I was, however, more impressed with their defense. The Wildcats held Baylor to 32.8 percent shooting from the field and 25.1 percent from long range, while forcing 19 turnovers. They never allowed Baylor to get comfortable, and their defense led to 18 fast-break points. Running the floor after creating turnovers is a clear strength of this team. Now, they have to find more rhythm in the halfcourt.

23. Oklahoma (9-1)

24. Marquette (9-2)

25. Virginia (12-0)

The last spot on this list is always a toss-up for me. This week, I considered St. John’s, Villanova, Tennessee, Baylor and Kansas State, but the undefeated Cavaliers have earned the spot thanks to consistent performances. Minnesota and Penn State have been their toughest opponents so far, but UVA will have the chance to prove itself in a tough ACC slate against teams like Virginia Tech, NC State, North Carolina and Notre Dame. I don’t expect UVA to stay undefeated, but they are capable of an upset or two.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

Alyssa Naeher’s goalkeeper jersey sells out in less than three hours

uwnt goalie alyssa naeher wears jersey on the field with club team chicago red stars
USWNT star keeper Alyssa Naeher's new replica NWSL jersey was an instant success. (Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time in the NWSL's 12-year history, fans can now buy their own goalkeeper jerseys. And while replica goalkeeper jerseys representing all 14 NWSL teams hit the market on Wednesday, some didn't stick around for long. 

Fans across women's soccer have long vocalized their discontent over the position's lack of availability on social media, often comparing the shortcoming to the widespread availability of men’s goalkeeper jerseys. And as the NWSL has grown, so has demand — and not just from those in the stands. 

"To have goalkeeper kits available for fans in the women’s game as they have been for so long in the men’s game is not only a long-awaited move in the right direction, it’s just good business," said Washington Spirit goalie Aubrey Kingsbury in an team press release. "I can’t wait to see fans representing me, Barnie [Barnhart], and Lyza in the stands at Audi!"

Business does, in fact, appear to be booming. Alyssa Naeher’s Chicago Red Stars kit sold out less than three hours after the league's announcement. Jerseys for other keepers like DiDi Haračić, Abby Smith, Michelle Betos, Katelyn Rowland, and Bella Bixby aren’t currently available via the Official NWSL Shop, though blank goalkeeper jerseys can be customized through some individual team sites. Jerseys start at $110 each.

"This should be the benchmark," said Spirit Chief Operations Officer Theresa McDonnell. "The expectation is that all players’ jerseys are available to fans. Keepers are inspiring leaders and mentors with their own unique fan base who want to represent them... I can’t wait to see them all over the city."

Simone Biles talks Tokyo Olympics fallout in new interview

gymnast simone biles on a balance beam
Biles' candid interview shed light on the gymnast's internal struggle. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Decorated gymnast Simone Biles took to the popular Call Her Daddy podcast this week to open up about her experience at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, revealing she thought she was going to be "banned from America" for her performance.

After Biles botched her vault routine due to a bout of the "twisties," she withdrew from the team final as well as the all-around final in order to focus on her mental health. She later reentered the competition to win bronze in the individual balance beam final.

In her interview with podcast host Alex Cooper, Biles admitted to feeling like she let the entire country down by failing her vault attempt.

"As soon as I landed I was like 'Oh, America hates me. The world is going to hate me. I can only see what they’re saying on Twitter right now,'" she recalled thinking. "I was like, ‘Holy s---, what are they gonna say about me?'"

"I thought I was going to be banned from America," she continued. "That’s what they tell you: Don’t come back if not gold. Gold or bust. Don’t come back."

Widely regarded as the greatest gymnast of all time, Biles has hinted at a desire to join her third Olympic team in Paris, though her participation won't be confirmed until after the gymnastics trials in late June. She holds over 30 medals from the Olympic Games and World Artistic Gymnastics Championships combined, and if qualified, would be a sure favorite heading into this summer’s games.

Caitlin Clark reportedly nearing $20 million+ Nike deal

Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever poses for a portrait at Gainbridge Fieldhouse during her introductory press conference
WNBA-bound Caitlin Clark is said to be closing in on a monumental NIke deal. (Photo by Matt Kryger/NBAE via Getty Images)

Caitlin Clark is reportedly close to cementing a hefty endorsement deal with Nike.

The Athletic was the first to break the news Wednesday evening, commenting that the deal would be worth "eight figures" and include her own signature shoe. On Thursday afternoon, the publication tweeted that the deal would top $20 million, according to lead NBA Insider Shams Charania. Both Under Armour and Adidas are said to have also made sizable offers to the college phenom and expected future WNBA star.

The new agreement comes after Clark's previous Nike partnership ended with the conclusion of the college basketball season. She was one of five NCAA athletes to sign an NIL deal with the brand back in October, 2022. 

Considering Clark's overwhelming popularity and Nike's deep pockets, the signing's purported value doesn't exactly come as a shock. New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu’s deal with the brand is reportedly worth $24 million, while NBA rookie and No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama’s deal is rumored to weigh in at $100 million. And in 2003, LeBron James famously earned $90 million off his own Nike deal. 

Clark’s star power continues to skyrocket, with the NCAA championship averaging 18.9 million viewers and the 2024 WNBA Draft more than doubling its previous viewership record. Following the draft, Fanatics stated that Clark's Indiana Fever jersey — which sold out within an hour — was the top seller for any draft night pick in the company’s history, with droves of unlucky fans now being forced to wait until August to get their hands on some official No. 22 gear.

In Wednesday's Indiana Fever introductory press conference, the unfailingly cool, calm, and collected Clark said that turning pro hasn’t made a huge impact on how she’s conducting her deals.

"If I’m being completely honest, I feel like it doesn’t change a ton from how I lived my life over the course of the last year," she said. "Sponsorships stay the same. The people around me, agents and whatnot, have been able to help me and guide me through the course of the last year. I don’t know if I would be in this moment if it wasn’t for a lot of them."

Star slugger Jocelyn Alo joins Athletes Unlimited AUX league

softball star jocelyn alo rounds the bases at an oklahoma sooners game
Former Oklahoma star Jocelyn Alo has signed with Athletes Unlimited. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Former Oklahoma slugger Jocelyn Alo has signed on with Athletes Unlimited and will compete in the AU Pro Softball AUX this June.

The NCAA record holder in career home runs (122), total bases (761), and slugging percentage (.987), Alo was originally drafted by the league in 2022 but opted instead to join the newly debuted Women’s Professional Fastpitch

Alo currently plays for independent pro softball team Oklahoma City Spark, with team owner Tina Floyd reportedly on board with her recent AUX signing. AUX games are scheduled for June 10-25, while the Spark's season will kick off June 19th. Alo will play for both. 

Among those joining Alo on the AUX roster are former James Madison ace pitcher Odicci Alexander and former Wichita State standout middle infielder Sydney McKinney.

According to Alo, the decision to play in the Athletes Unlimited league was fueled by her desire to propel women's sports forward as well as provide more exposure to a sport that's given her "so many opportunities."

"Not only to challenge myself more, but just for the growth of the game," Alo said, explaining her reasoning to The Oklahoman. "I genuinely believe that professional softball can be a career for girls."

Joining AUX is also one more step in her plan toward representing Team USA at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

"I’m constantly thinking about how can I do these little things right in these four years to prepare me for the biggest stage of softball," she told The Oklahoman. "I definitely want to play in the Olympics, for sure."

Alo further expressed enthusiasm in the hope that the rise of other women’s sports, like women’s basketball and the NWSL, will push softball’s professional viability even higher.

"We’re seeing the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) get their stuff going, I see the WNBA starting to get hot," she continued. "I feel like the softball community is like, 'All right, it’s our turn and it’s our turn to just demand more.'"

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