College basketball season is finally here. And after the first day of games, fans have plenty to talk about. From Angel Reese to Hailey Van Lith, here are five things that caught my eye on opening day:
Several players kicked off the 2021-22 season with career-highs, including Reese, who dropped 31 points against Bellarmine in her first game with LSU. She also grabbed 13 rebounds for a double-double.
The Maryland transfer fit right into the Tigers’ offense, and she didn’t need to dominate the ball to put up her huge numbers – a great sign for LSU – as she went 11-for-14 from the floor in the 125-50 win. Reese also was solid on the defensive end, where she had two blocks and a team-high four steals.
Meanwhile, for Virginia Tech, all eyes were on another Maryland transfer in Ashley Owusu, but Cayla King stole the show.
The senior guard set a program record with nine 3-pointers for a career-high 33 points. She went 9-for-16 from beyond the arc (56.3%), leading her team to a 101-45 win over Mount St. Mary’s.
King has been a strong shooter throughout her career with the Hokies, and she made 39.9% of her attempts last season. And while she probably won’t make nine 3s again this year, having her as an outside threat is a great tool alongside Elizabeth Kitley, who dominated in the paint with 18 points, 9 rebounds and 6 blocks.
Aside from Reese, four more players who are new to their respective squads caught my eye Monday, starting with Abby Meyer at Maryland.
The guard led Princeton last season with 17.9 points per game, guiding the Ivy League Champions past Kentucky in an NCAA tournament first-round upset. She was a leader for the Tigers, and the same seems to be true at Maryland. When Diamond Miller exited the contest with a knee injury, Meyer stepped up and scored 19 points to lead the Terrapins to an 88-51 win over George Mason.
Oregon is coming off a rocky year in 2021-22, and the rough road continued with a season-ending injury to Sedona Prince to start the 2022-23 campaign.
Enter freshmen Grace VanSlooten and Chance Gray. The two started in Oregon’s 100-57 win over Northwestern, and each had a huge impact. VanSlooten led the Ducks with 20 points, going 10-for-16 from the field, and Gray finished with 14. Ducks fans have a lot to be excited for, this season and beyond.
Finally, Iowa State is a team with incredible guards – Ashley Joens, Lexi Donarski and Emily Ryan – but now they have a weapon on the inside to compliment the backcourt.
Stephanie Soares spent the last four years dominating the NAIA level at The Master’s University, where she was the two-time Player of the Year. Her transition to the NCAA Division I level started on a high note as she finished with 15 points, 14 rebounds, 4 blocks, 4 steals and 3 assists in an 87-54 win over Cleveland State.
The best game of Day 1 was easily No. 21 Creighton vs. No. 23 South Dakota State. The Blue Jays came away with a 78-69 win, but both squads impressed.
For Creighton, Lauren Jensen built on her 2021-22 Tournament Darling status with a career-high 30-point performance, going 4-for-7 from beyond the arc and adding five assists. The Blue Jays also continued the 3-point shooting prowess they became known for last season, making 46.7% of their attempts as a team.
South Dakota State, last season’s NIT winner, held its own for most of the contest, behind 22 points from Myah Selland. The junior forward is expected to have a big season after leading the team with 14.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per game last season.
The Jackrabbits also got a lift from freshman Brooklyn Meyers, who came off the bench to score 12 points in just 16 minutes of play. She proved herself to be a reliable option in the post.
Aliyah Boston recorded yet another double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds as the Gamecocks won their opening contest against East Tennessee State by 70 points, 101-31.
South Carolina also showed off its depth, with six players in double-figures. Among those were sophomores Sania Feagin (15 points) and Raven Johnson (11 points). Johnson slid into the starting point guard role, taking over for Destanni Henderson, who is now in the WNBA with the Indiana Fever. Freshman Ashlyn Watkins also hit double-digits with 11 points of her own.
The Gamecocks proved themselves a well-rounded squad with plenty of weapons. Once again, they are the team to beat this season.
Three of the best guards in the country started their seasons off right. Van Lith of Louisville, Caitlin Clark of Iowa and Joens of Iowa State all led their squads to victories.
For Louisville, Van Lith built on a stellar sophomore season where her squad made a run to the Final Four, posting 28 points as her team defeated Cincinnati 87-68.
“I would say it’s impressive, but I think that’s just Hailey,” fifth-year senior guard Mykasa Robinson said. “That’s what Hailey does. So, she’s going to keep doing that day in and day out.”
Clark, who led the country in scoring last year as a sophomore, had 20 points and 9 rebounds as Iowa topped Southern 87-34. And Joens, a senior for the Cyclones, impressed in several categories – something she’s been known for throughout her career – finishing the day with 25 points, 11 rebounds and five assists.