We are about a month away from the start of the NCAA Tournament, which is both exciting and kind of unbelievable. The women’s college basketball season has progressed quickly, and it’s about to move even faster.
So, in the interest of fairness and keeping you informed, here are five teams in the AP Top 25 that I haven’t talked about enough.
I watched the No. 6 Cyclones play Kansas State the other day, and I had two major takeaways. The first was the play of Emily Ryan, who is second in the country with 7.2 assists per game, behind only Iowa superstar Caitlin Clark. While Ashley Joens gets all of the attention from opposing defenses, Ryan quietly makes things happen. As the sophomore picks apart defenses, she creates looks for herself and her teammates. Ryan almost always makes the correct decision, and her play makes Iowa State tough to guard. With her at point, the Cyclones are an incredibly difficult matchup.
The second key takeaway from Iowa State’s 70-55 victory in that game was the way the Cyclones defended Ayoka Lee. After she dropped 38 points in their previous matchup, the Cyclones made small but crucial adjustments, forcing Lee one step farther away from the basket than she’s comfortable with. Thanks to that defensive game plan, Iowa State held her to 12 points and proved to me that this Cyclones squad has a high basketball IQ.
Seeing the Huskies on this list might be jarring, but I’ve mostly left them alone since Paige Bueckers went out with a knee injury. I haven’t been ignoring No. 10 UConn, but I have been taking a “wait and see” approach. It’s hard to judge a team that’s without its best player, and the Huskies have battled through other stretches without core players like Azzi Fudd and Olivia Nelson-Odada. It’s been an unprecedented season for UConn, to say the least. Last week, the Huskies dropped a game to unranked Villanova, marking their first conference loss in nine years.
All the chaos aside, I think UConn will find itself right where it usually does next month: deep into the NCAA Tournament. Generally, when a star player gets hurt, one of two things can happen: 1) The team completely falls off the rails, or 2) everyone else gets better. On the surface, it seems like option one is occurring, but if you dig a bit deeper, you’ll see a UConn squad that has young players — namely Fudd and fellow freshman Caroline Ducharme — finding themselves. With their confidence rising and Bueckers’ return looming, all the lows the Huskies have suffered this season won’t really matter if they make a late-season surge.
The No. 11 Tigers started the season with a respectable loss to No. 25 Florida Gulf Coast, and since then, have done exactly what you want to see from a team that opens with a loss: They’ve gotten better week after week. There’s not a bad loss in their 21-4 record, and they’ve managed to pull off some impressive wins along the way.
The game I want to focus on is LSU’s 66-60 loss to South Carolina on Jan. 6, because it offers an excellent snapshot of what makes this LSU team worthy of the No. 11 national ranking. The Tigers didn’t have to do anything crazy to stick with South Carolina. Instead, they just played their game. LSU’s top-three scores this season — Khayla Pointer, Alexis Morris and Faustino Aifuwa — were their top-three scorers against South Carolina. And South Carolina’s Big Three — Aliyah Boston, Zia Cooke and Destanni Henderson — all had excellent showings of their own: Boston recorded 19 points and 18 rebounds, Cook had 17 points and Henderson finished with 16 points. LSU, not known for its 3-point shooting, made just one attempt from long range and still stuck around in the game.
Do ya thang, KP3📺 https://t.co/quxy22UQhV pic.twitter.com/xb16fRHu0P— LSU Women's Basketball (@LSUwbkb) February 11, 2022
Do ya thang, KP3📺 https://t.co/quxy22UQhV pic.twitter.com/xb16fRHu0P
Based on that performance, the Tigers are clearly good enough to nearly knock off the nation’s top team without needing any kind of luck or fluke situation. That is a great sign for the Tigers going forward.
The No. 17 Gators are both a great example of a team peaking at the right time and a testament to the work of interim head coach Kelly Rae Finley. In fact, early-season Florida and late-season Florida are two very different teams. A squad that loses to Towson and George Mason has no business being in the top 25, but a team that’s defeated LSU, Tennessee and Georgia has no business being unranked. Florida is both of those teams, and the most important thing is that those losses came in November and the wins in January and February.
The Gators are a good reminder that those of us who aren’t playing (media and fans) shouldn’t get too high or too low on a team at the beginning of the season. Florida just needed a little more time to develop. With three double-digit scorers and two other players averaging at least seven points per game, Florida is running a balanced attack. Although star sophomore guard Lavender Briggs won’t return this season after injuring her shin, Florida’s three biggest wins came after Briggs’s injury, meaning the balance the Gators have perfected is playing off.
Last on my list of teams that deserve more attention is No. 20 BYU. I’m a firm believer in giving credit to teams that perform well, even if they don’t play in the greatest of conferences. I am a Gonzaga grad, after all, so it doesn’t take too much critical thinking to understand why I feel that way.
The two-loss Cougars don’t have the chance to play many ranked teams, and the WCC doesn’t boast the steepest competition, but that doesn’t mean BYU hasn’t been tested. The defense I’ve used for Florida Gulf Coast in other weeks also applies to BYU. Teams like these can essentially only go down in the poll and the eyes of basketball critics, because every game on their schedule is one they should win. In other words, victories don’t really give them a bump, but losses certainly push them downward. That is exactly what happened to the Cougars when they suffered a bad loss to Portland on Feb. 3. The got back on track two days later, however, with a road win over a Gonzaga squad that’s getting votes in the AP poll.
Led by Shaylee Gonzales’ 18.7 points a game, BYU is 21-2 and the clear favorite to win the WCC Tournament for an automatic March Madness bid.
.@shayleegonzales career-high 3️⃣3️⃣ points❗️❗️❗️#WCChoops | @byuwbb pic.twitter.com/ToWY4iojY6— WCC Basketball (@WCChoops) February 12, 2022
.@shayleegonzales career-high 3️⃣3️⃣ points❗️❗️❗️#WCChoops | @byuwbb pic.twitter.com/ToWY4iojY6
I don’t have any Poll Talk this week, as my rankings are very similar to the AP top 25. That doesn’t usually happen, and I’m sure I’ll have plenty more poll opinions to share this season. Until then, I’ll leave you with my rankings and sign off.
Eden Laase is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. She previously ran her own high school sports website in Michigan after covering college hockey and interning at Sports Illustrated. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.