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Ohio State-Louisville clash kicks off top-25 basketball binge

Jacy Sheldon and Ohio State will face Hailey Van Lith and Louisville in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. (Joseph Scheller/The Columbus Dispatch) Basketball Ceb Wbk Tennessee Tennessee At Ohio State

The ACC and Big Ten are two of the top conferences in college basketball this season, so it should come as no surprise that the 15th (and final) ACC/Big Ten Challenge boasts several highly-anticipated matchups.

The event brings four matchups between ranked opponents to our screens this week for your binge-watching pleasure — plus another matchup between two unranked but undefeated teams that also deserves attention.

Just Women’s Sports spotlights the top five games taking place over the next two days.

No. 4 Ohio State at No. 18 Louisville

7:30 p.m. ET Wednesday, ACC Network

The stakes are high for both Ohio State and Louisville.

At No. 4 in the AP Top 25, Ohio State is in elite company, behind just three historic programs in South Carolina, Stanford and UConn. The Buckeyes started the season with a win over then-No. 5 Tennessee, but the Vols have since fallen out of the poll completely. A win over Louisville would prove that Ohio State belongs among the best of the best.

Louisville is battling what coach Jeff Walz referred to as a “Jekyll and Hyde” persona. One game the Cardinals show up, and the next, they don’t. The Cardinals’ best win came over a Texas team playing without Rori Harmon, and since then they were upset by Gonzaga and South Dakota State. A win over Ohio State would get them one step closer to being the team we expected to see this season.

Headlining the matchup are guards Jacy Sheldon (Ohio State) and Hailey Van Lith (Louisville). The two point guards serve as their teams’ driving forces, playing with high-energy and grit. Van Lith is averaging 21.2 points per game, 4.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists, while Sheldon contributes 14.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game for the Buckeyes.

But the post matchup between Olivia Cochran and Rebeka Mikulasikova is likely where this game will be won. Louisville’s Cochran is yet to make the kind of sophomore to junior jump that people expected, averaging 8.3 points and 7.3 rebounds – similar to her numbers in the previous two seasons. Mikulasikova, on the other hand, has gone from 9.4 points per game to 17.7, while also recording 6.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.5 steals per game.

Louisville will need Cochran to step up this season if they want to make a deep run in March, and this could be the perfect game for her to break out.

Virginia at Penn State

7 p.m. ET Wednesday, ESPN+

These two unranked programs are both undefeated and fighting for national attention – Virginia is even among the teams getting AP votes.

Virginia’s best win so far came on Nov. 26, when the Cavaliers topped Minnesota, while Penn State was tested by Toledo on Nov. 25, coming away with a 60-59 win thanks to two free throws from Leilani Kapinus with 0.9 seconds remaining.

Penn State has been slowly building since Carolyn Kieger took over as coach in April 2019. During her first three years at the helm, the Nittany Lions improved their record every season. Senior guard Makenna Marisa leads the way this year, with 16.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game. Marisa is underrated because Penn State hasn’t made much noise in the Big Ten, but she is one of the league’s top guards and will be a handful for Virginia to defend.

Virginia is a team fueled by transfers who are taking well to first-year coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton, who joined the program after three successful seasons at Missouri State. Camryn Taylor, in her second season with the Cavaliers, leads the team with 13.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Mir McLean is thriving after transferring from UConn in the middle of the 2021-22 season, putting up 10.4 points and 9 rebounds per contest for a near double-double every game.

But the biggest change for Virginia this season has been the addition of Sam Brunelle, who has nearly doubled her production after transferring in from Notre Dame. She went from 6.8 points per game to 12.8 in her first season as a Cavalier.

No. 20 Maryland at No. 7 Notre Dame

6:30 p.m. ET Thursday, ESPN2

Maryland already has played two ranked opponents so far this season, losing to South Carolina and defeating Baylor, while this will be the first real test of the year for undefeated Notre Dame.

Eight games into the season, I’m still not sure how I feel about this Terrapins squad. The lopsided 81-56 loss to South Carolina wasn’t a fair test, as Diamond Miller missed the game with an injury. Then, Miller was unstoppable in the 73-68 win over No. 17 Baylor with 32 points and 10 rebounds.

But less than a week later, the Terps were upset by DePaul, 76-67. In that game, Miller finished with just 11 points and 5 rebounds, which leads me to the following early-season thought: Maryland goes where Diamond Miller goes. The team has plenty of talent, but so far, Miller has been the player to propel them to a win — or a loss.

The game against Notre Dame offers a good opportunity for someone else to step up against top competition – say, Princeton transfer Abby Meyers, who was the team’s best player against South Carolina with 21 points, or sophomore guard Shyanne Sellers, who is averaging 11.9 points per game. It would go a long way for the confidence of the Terps to get an upset over Notre Dame with someone other than Miller taking on a big offensive role.

Notre Dame has been balanced in its attack through the first eight games of the season. Olivia Miles is the driving force for the Irish with her 16 points, 6.7 assists per game and elite playmaking skills, but Notre Dame has plenty of other weapons. Sonia Citron and Dara Mabrey provide two polished scoring options, while players like KK Bransford and Maddy Westbeld are just scratching the surface of their potential.

After playing six unranked opponents to start the season, playing Maryland will allow coach Niele Ivey to see where her team is really at when it comes to top competition.

No. 6 North Carolina at No. 5 Indiana

6 p.m. ET Thursday, Big Ten Network

Indiana will be missing Grace Berger, who is out indefinitely after being injured against Auburn. That’s a big blow for the Hoosiers, both for morale, and overall skill, as Berger is arguably their best player. But both Indiana and North Carolina are playing great basketball right now, and this could be the best game of the ACC/ Big Ten Challenge.

North Carolina has won its last three games, including a statement victory over No. 5 Iowa State, after falling behind and mounting comebacks. But Indiana is too good and too deep to let that happen. North Carolina will need to come out strong on the road at a rowdy Assembly Hall if the Tar Heels want to beat Indiana.

Without Berger, forward Mackenzie Holmes will be the focal point of the Hoosier offense. The 6-3 senior averages 20 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, while shooting an incredibly efficient 76.6% from the field. Holmes will be a challenge defensively for the Tar Heels, who are a guard-oriented team.

Against Iowa State, North Carolina limited the majority of their opponents’ offensive weapons, but Stephanie Soares still had success in the paint, with 19 points and 12 rebounds. To stop Indiana, the Tar Heels will have to do a better job on Holmes.

On defense, the Hoosiers will have to contain North Carolina’s guards, starting with Deja Kelly. The junior drives her team’s offense with 17.8 points and 4.4 assists per game, but Kelly is a volume shooter who makes just 36% of her attempts. If Indiana can force her into difficult shots, they may be able to slow down the UNC attack.

Expect big contributions from Alyssa Ustby, Eva Hodgson and Kennedy Todd-Williams for North Carolina, and from Sara Scalia, Yarden Garzon and Sydney Parrish for Indiana. There’s no shortage of weapons in this game.

No. 12 NC State at No. 10 Iowa

8:30 p.m. ET Thursday, ESPN2

NC State has played a relatively easy schedule to open the year, other than a Nov. 20 contest against UConn. That game went about as poorly as possible, as NC State fell 91-69, allowing Azzi Fudd to score 32 points and Aaliyah Edwards and Lou Lopez-Senechal to each finish with 20. NC State will be looking for a much better defensive performance against Iowa.

Iowa is also coming off a loss to UConn, though that game ended with a much different feeling. The criticism for Iowa last season and through the start of this one has been the lack of offensive balance. It’s been a two player show between Caitlin Clark and Monika Czinano — that is, until the loss to UConn.

Clark led the Hawkeyes with 25 points against the Huskies, but Kate Martin had a breakout game, finishing with 20 points and going 6-6 from the 3-point line. McKenna Warnock finished with 14 points and Gabbie Marshall added 10,

The only thing missing for Iowa was production from Czinano in the paint. She averages 17.3 points per game, but UConn held the fifth-year senior to just eight points. The Hawkeyes will likely make it a point to get the ball inside early, and NC State should expect Czinano to bounce back.

Clark will be the focal point for the Wolfpack defense, and they can’t afford to let her have a monster game like Fudd did on Nov. 20. Offensively, NC State has a trio of weapons: Guard Diamond Johnson leads the team with 13.6 points per game, while 6-0 shooting guard Jakia Brown-Turner and 6-2 forward Jada Boyd contribute 10.3 and 10.7 points, respectively.

The Wolfpack are also waiting for a breakout game from Saniya Rivers, who transferred after her freshman season at South Carolina. She was the No. 3 recruit in the class of 2021. Rivers is a polished scorer who is set to be a star at NC State. Right now she’s coming off the bench and contributing 5.7 points per game, but the sophomore is capable of much more.

Caitlin Clark dunks on Michael Che in surprise SNL appearance

(Julia Hansen/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Caitlin Clark made a surprise appearance on “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend, which quickly went viral.

The Iowa star showed up on the show’s Weekend Update segment to playfully call out Michael Che’s history of making jabs at women’s sports.

It started when Che joked that Iowa should replace Clark’s retired No. 22 “with an apron.” 

When Clark entered, Che said that he was a fan. But Clark wasn’t convinced – especially not when co-host Colin Jost brought the receipts of Che’s jabs.

“Really, Michael? Because I heard that little apron joke you did,” she said, before making him read some jokes of her own in retaliation. Clark finished her segment by shouting out the WNBA greats that came before her. She then got in one final dig – bringing Che a signed apron as a souvenir. 

When Che promised to give it to his girlfriend, Clark delivered her last playful dig of the night.

“You don’t have a girlfriend, Michael,” she said.

Afterward, SNL castmember Bowen Yang told People that the 22-year-old and teammates Gabbie Marshall, Kate Martin and Jada Gyamfi – who joined her at Studio 8H – “were so cool.”

“She's so charming and witty,” Yang said. “They were just the most stunning, noble people.

“Athletes just have this air about them. They know they're amazing. I mean, these are people who have numeric attachments and values to their performance. That's something that comedians never have.”

Portland Thorns, in uncharted territory, start NWSL season winless

Portland has started the season winless through four games for the first time. (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

The Portland Thorns continue to struggle to start the NWSL season, falling 2-0 to the North Carolina Courage over the weekend to remain winless through their first four games. 

It’s uncharted territory for Portland, who has never started the NWSL regular season without a win in four games before.

Following the loss, defender Becky Sauerbrunn voiced her frustrations with the start. 

“It’s hard to find a lot of encouraging things, but what I find encouraging is that people are frustrated,” she said. “People are pissed off that we’re not doing well. We care, and I think that’s really important.” 

She also added that while the team will reflect individually, “there’s going to be no finger pointing.”

“We’re going to look at ourselves and figure out what we should have done, or I should have done better,” she said. “There is a list of things that I could have done better, and I’m going to make sure I know every single thing and watch this game back.”

The Thorns currently sit at the bottom of the league table with just one point, having allowed 10 goals – tied for the worst in the league. They’ve yet to lead in a match. And as questions grow, attention turns to head coach Mike Norris. 

Norris is in his second year as head coach of the club after leading the team to a second-place finish in the regular season last year. When asked about the possibility of pressure growing after the unprecedented start, Norris said that the pressure has been there “from day one.”

“I cannot be driven by my day-to-day and the longer vision of the pressure of the job,” he said. “We’ve got a belief in how we want to play, how we operate. We’ve got to stick with the process of that. While we do it, we have to review and see what is working, what’s not working.

“I’ll be showing up for the team and being there for what they need from me as we approach getting back together as a group next week.”

Maria Sanchez reportedly requests trade from Houston Dash

Mar 23, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Dash forward Maria Sanchez (7) warms up before the match between Racing Louisville and Houston Dash at Shell Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Maria Sanchez, who signed one of the biggest deals in NWSL history just four months ago, has reportedly requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

ESPN was the first to report the news, which was confirmed by multiple sources.

In a statement to ESPN, the team said: “​​Maria Sanchez is under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the Dash worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. At the time, it was the largest contract in NWSL history – something that was eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

The winger was a restricted free agent in the offseason, meaning that Houston could match any offer from another team and retain her rights. Should the team trade Sanchez, her contract would remain as it has been signed with the league. That limits the number of teams that could take on her contract. 

In three starts with the Dash this season, Sanchez has zero goals and an assist. The Dash are 1-2-1 through four games and have allowed a league-worst 10 goals.

The team hired a new coach, Fran Alonso, in December. Earlier this year, former goalkeeper coach Matt Lampson was fired for violating the league’s Coach Code of Conduct and Anti-Fraternization policy. 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close at midnight ET on Friday.

Canada beats U.S. Hockey 6-5 in thrilling World Championship win

UTICA, NEW YORK - APRIL 14: Team Canada raises the Championship Trophy after winning The Gold by defeating The United States in OT during the 2024 IIHF Women's World Championship Gold Medal game at Adirondack Bank Center on April 14, 2024 in Utica, New York. (Photo by Troy Parla/Getty Images)

Canada got its revenge on Sunday, winning the 2024 IIHF Women’s World Championship and taking down the U.S. in a 6-5 overtime classic.

Marie-Philip Poulin, a longtime star for Canada, got her first two goals of the tournament, while Danielle Serdachny had the game-winner. 

"I hate to say you're not trying to rely on it, expect it, but I know I've grown to expect it," Canada coach Troy Ryan said of Philip-Poulin. "Tonight was just a whole other level. I could see in her eyes every time we called her name that she was ready to go. It's just special."

The win came after Canada lost 1-0 to the U.S. in the group stage of the tournament. On Sunday, the two teams met for the 22nd time in 23 tournaments in the gold medal game – and the action between the two teams delivered. 

Among those scoring for the U.S. were Megan Keller, Alex Carpenter, Hilary Knight, Laila Edwards and Caroline Harvey. Julia Gosling, Emily Clark and Erin Ambrose had the other three goals for Canada, giving them their 13th World title after falling to the U.S. in last year’s title game in Toronto. 

This year’s game was held in New York, and it was the second-highest scoring final between the two teams. The U.S. won a world championship 7-5 in 2015. 

"Oh man, that feels good to win it on U.S. soil," Canada goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens said after the game. "We owed it to them and owed it to ourselves to win that one."

Canada also denied Knight a record 10th World Championship win, although she did become the most decorated player in women’s world championship history with 14 medals. After the game, Poulin gave Knight a hug on the ice. 

"We just said 'that was unbelievable,'" Poulin said.

U.S. coach John Wroblewski echoed the sentiment that it was an outstanding game after being asked about ending the game on a power-play after leaving too many players on the ice. 

"Instead of talking about the isolated events of tonight's game, I think that normally that's an interesting storyline,” he said. “But I think the entity of an amazing 6-5 game is an amazing hockey game that took place."

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