We’re two weeks into the season, and women’s college basketball has already seen overtime, upsets and reshuffling of rankings. There is a lot to unpack from this early slate of games, so here are 10 teams that have my attention, for better or for worse.
The Longhorns started the season ranked 25th in the AP poll, and I didn’t even have them in my JWS preseason rankings. When they topped then-No. 3 Stanford 61-56 on Nov. 14, it came as a shock. But should it have?
Texas’ 131-36 victory over New Orleans five days earlier should have been an indication that Texas could make some noise this season. No, New Orleans isn’t Stanford. And yes, it is a team the Longhorns should have beaten up on, but regardless of the opponent, out-scoring another team by nearly 100 points is a hugely impressive feat. That lopsided victory was our first look at the pace and intensity at which Texas plays.
JWS basketball analyst Rachel Galligan said she had a chance to watch Texas practice in October and was floored by the team’s pace, even in a non-game setting. The Longhorns ran all over Stanford in the upset win, showcasing a style of play that’s going to wreak havoc on a lot of teams before the season is through. The game also served as a great introduction to freshman Rori Harmon, who scored 17 points and fits perfectly into the Longhorns’ up-tempo style, and a reintroduction to Mississippi State transfer Aliyah Matharu, who had 17 points in the fourth quarter alone.
I quite literally finished typing the above section, and then watched as Tennessee defeated Texas 74-40 in overtime on Sunday. The Vols have a lot of fight, and a lot of talent. They entered the season ranked 15th in the AP poll, a spot they wouldn’t have earned without standout player Rae Burrell. So when Burrell went down with what seems like a serious injury (she’s out indefinitely, and the only information Tennessee has given is that it’s not an ACL), it was fair to wonder if they were destined for a subpar season.
Instead, Tennessee proved it’s much more than just Burrell. Tamari Key was on another level against Texas, recording a triple-double with 10 points, 18 rebounds and 10 blocks. Meanwhile, Jordan Horston had a double-double with 28 points and 15 rebounds. The Vols are a complete team, and if Burrell comes back, they will be even better. Her absence gives other players a chance to find themselves and develop confidence that will be valuable when she’s healthy once more.
JORDY IS FIRED UP!! pic.twitter.com/ZuWWxxOlsm— Lady Vol Basketball (@LadyVol_Hoops) November 21, 2021
JORDY IS FIRED UP!! pic.twitter.com/ZuWWxxOlsm
Should the defending champs be concerned? Maybe, and maybe not. Against Texas, the Cardinal clearly missed Kiana Williams, their point guard last season. Texas’ intense pressure flustered Stanford into committing 20 turnovers. The loss showed that Stanford has to adjust to life without Williams, and if they don’t, fly-around defense could be the key to defeating the Cardinal this season.
Stanford had similar difficulties at times against another defensive-minded team in unranked Gonzaga on Sunday, but they were without Haley Jones — for unknown reasons — in that contest. Stanford showed resilience in a tough road environment, rallying from being down 13 at one point to top the Zags 66-62 in a game that went down to the wire. A Nov. 25 matchup with a very poised Indiana squad will be the next big test for Stanford.
The Wildcats are another team that started the season under-ranked, at No. 23 in the AP poll. But when they upset No. 6 Louisville 61-59 in overtime on Nov. 12, they proved that Arizona in the post-Aari McDonald era is going to be just fine.
Arizona has a new identity, and it’s all about defense. That’s not too different from last season, but the scoring prowess of McDonald got the most attention (for obvious reasons). The Wildcats made Louisville work for every possession, holding the Cardinals to 28.2 percent shooting and 18.2 percent from 3. Their defensive pressure helped them stay in control, even when their offense was struggling at the start. The Wildcats forced Louisville into 17 turnovers but committed the same number themselves.
Still, there were bright spots on the offensive end. Cate Reese recorded 21 points, making all six of her free throws and shooting 3 of 5 from beyond the arc. Ariyah Copeland, a transfer from Alabama, proved to be a welcome addition in the paint. She scored just eight points, but each bucket was timely and the comfort she showed in Arizona’s system and flow of the game tells me there is more where that came from.
.@cate_reese = shooter 🔥🔥 #MadeForIt pic.twitter.com/Q3DuGXW3rt— Arizona Women's Basketball (@ArizonaWBB) November 12, 2021
.@cate_reese = shooter 🔥🔥 #MadeForIt pic.twitter.com/Q3DuGXW3rt
That brings me to a Louisville team that’s had an inconsistent start after beginning the season ranked No. 6 in the AP poll. Losing to Arizona isn’t a bad upset in my opinion, given the Wildcats are clearly better than their ranking showed at the time. But Louisville has some things to work out. Against Arizona, the Cardinals showed their youth, often getting flustered in high-intensity situations, committing turnovers or taking ill-advised shots.
Later in the week, the Cardinals found themselves up 16 entering the fourth quarter against unranked Washington, before seemingly taking their foot off the gas and allowing the Huskies to get within three points. The Cardinals figured things out and ended up winning 61-53, but once again, they struggled at the 3-point line, going 2-for-10. They did clean up their turnovers against Washington, committing only nine. All that said, a semi-bumpy start isn’t unexpected for Louisville, and Cardinals fans shouldn’t be too concerned. This is a young squad that still needs to figure out who it is without Dana Evans, a consistent and experienced playmaker last season who led her team with 20.1 points per game.
After an up-and-down 2020-21 season, I thought Kentucky would have made more progress in coach Kyra Elzy’s second year at the helm. And while no squad will have everything figured out just two weeks into the season, Kentucky’s loss to Indiana was pretty telling.
Rhyne Howard is arguably the best scorer in the NCAA, and yet at times, the Wildcats don’t seem to know it. She still scored 23 points in the loss, and good teams need to have balance, but there are stretches where she is taken completely out of the offense in favor of an ill-advised shot or another playing taking over. She’s the kind of player who should be touching the ball on every possession. If the Wildcats consistently play through her, the rest of the offense should follow and other players will find success.
Losing to a top-10 team isn’t the end of the world, however, and Kentucky has plenty of time to get back on track. A matchup with No. 22 West Virginia on Dec. 1, followed by a game against No. 10 Louisville on Dec. 12, should give us a better idea of where the Wildcats stand.
The Hoosiers are the most cohesive team I’ve seen so far this season. On both ends of the floor, each player seems to know exactly where every teammate will be at any given time. Mackenzie Holmes, a 6-foot-3 junior forward, is a force on offense and easily the best player on this squad. But Indiana has impressed me with its balance thus far. Through five games (including an exhibition), four Hoosiers have averaged double-figures, and they’ve had three different leading scorers in those games.
After the win over Kentucky, Indiana jumped up to No. 4 in the AP Poll, which might be too much, too soon. Kentucky, as I mentioned above, is an inconsistent team, and Indiana hasn’t played anyone else that can give us a baseline on which to judge its abilities. But that won’t last long. The Hoosiers are slated to play Stanford and NC State in the next two weeks, before diving into a tough Big Ten conference schedule. By the time their Dec. 2 game against the Wolfpack wraps up, we should know what kind of team Indiana really is.
So far, I haven’t seen anything to contradict South Carolina being the best team in the country. The Gamecocks have already defeated two top-10 teams in No. 5 NC State and No. 9 Oregon. This team has so much talent at every position. Against NC State, the guards led the charge, with Zia Cooke recording 17 points and Destanni Henderson finishing with 14. Later, when the Gamecocks topped Buffalo, it was all about post play as Aliyah Boston finished with 23 points and Kamilla Cardoso had a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds), adding two blocks for good measure.
The Gamecocks will face the ultimate test in No. 2 UConn on Monday, in the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis. South Carolina certainly isn’t shying away from top-notch competition to start the season, something that can only be a benefit down the line.
That brings me to the Huskies. They faced their first true test against No. 23 South Florida on Sunday and answered the bell. The teams were tied entering the fourth quarter, but UConn outscored South Florida 15-8 in the final period to win 60-53. Freshman Azzi Fudd led the charge, scoring 18 points on six 3-pointers.
Fudd and Paige Bueckers (who had a career-high 34 points against Arkansas) are going to get a lot of attention this season, but it’s the play of Christyn Williams that should have UConn fans excited. She led the Huskies with 31 points on 12-for-14 shooting from the field in a victory over Minnesota, and through three games, she’s averaging 19.6 points per game. She seems to have turned into the player everyone thought she could be as the No. 1 recruit in 2018. With Williams playing at this level, UConn’s roster is hard to match.
AZZI FUDD WITH HER FIRST POINTS FOR THE HUSKIES!👏 pic.twitter.com/mMSzw8vuus— UConn Videos (@SNYUConn) November 14, 2021
AZZI FUDD WITH HER FIRST POINTS FOR THE HUSKIES!👏 pic.twitter.com/mMSzw8vuus
The Terrapins weathered a late-game comeback by No. 6 Baylor on Sunday to cement themselves as one of the best teams in the country. The most impressive part? They did it without Diamond Miller, who played a few minutes before leaving the game with the same knee injury that kept her out to start the season. The Terrapins had a balanced effort in the win, led by Ashley Owusu’s 24 points, six assists and four rebounds. Angel Reese had 17 points, Chloe Bibby had 16 and Mimi Collins finished with 10. Freshman guard Shyanne Sellers was also impressive, doing a little bit of everything with seven points, six rebounds and three assists.
If Maryland is this good without Miller, imagine what the Terrapins will do when she’s healthy. They did give up a double-double to NaLyssa Smith (30 points, 15 rebounds), but that says more about the skills of Smith than anything negative about Maryland.
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.