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Way-too-early NCAA hoops Top 25: South Carolina, Stanford reign

Aliyah Boston leads South Carolina into 2022-23 after a trophy-filled junior season. (Bri Lewerke/Just Women’s Sports)

It has been three weeks since the South Carolina Gamecocks were crowned as NCAA champions, and a lot has already happened in that interim.

Transfers — like South Carolina’s Saniya Rivers and Maryland’s Ashley Owusu and Angel Reese — are going to change the landscape of college basketball next season. Players coming back for fifth seasons and injuries have the potential to do the same. In other words, there is a lot we don’t know about what the 2022-23 season will look like. But it’s still fun to speculate.

If play started today, here’s what the JWS Top 25 would look like.

1. South Carolina

Destanni Henderson was drafted by the Fever, but the rest of South Carolina’s starting five will return, including National Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year Aliyah Boston. The Gamecocks also have 6-foot-7 standout Kamilla Cardoso coming back for her junior season.

That’s more than enough to put the defending champions at No. 1, but that’s not all they have. Raven Johnson, the No. 2 recruit in 2021, will return after missing almost all of last season with a knee injury, and classmates Bree Hall and Sania Feagin will be ready to take on bigger roles.

2. Stanford

The Cardinal are losing a lot in Lexie Hull, Lacie Hull and Anna Wilson, but they retain Haley Jones and Cameron Brink — one of the best guard and post duos in the country. With shooters like Hannah Jump and Ashton Prechtel around them, plus Fran Belibi as another post option, the Cardinal will be more than fine. And the top-rated freshman in the country, 6-7 Lauren Betts, will be ready to contribute right away.

3. UConn

The Huskies lose Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Christyn Williams, two key pieces of their run to the national championship game, but 2020-21 National Player of the Year Paige Bueckers is back and, more importantly, healthy. So is Azzi Fudd.

UConn isn’t a team that ever worries about reloading, welcoming in two top-10 freshmen next fall in No. 4 recruit Ayanna Patterson and No. 5 Isuneh Brady.

4. Iowa

Creighton put a damper on an otherwise stellar end-of-the-season run for the Hawkeyes. Iowa won its last seven games prior to the NCAA Tournament, knocking off teams like Michigan and Indiana to win the Big 10 title. Caitlin Clarke is back, of course, but so are the rest of those Hawkeyes. When Monika Czinano announced she was returning for another year, Iowa instantly put itself in the national title conversation.

Iowa State's Ashley Joens, a two-time Cheryl Miller Award winner, returns for her fifth year. (Rebecca Gratz/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

5. Iowa State

Here’s another team that’s retaining the bulk of its roster and benefiting from extra eligibility. Ashley Joens isn’t hanging up her Cyclones jersey just yet, which gives this team an instant bump. Joining her are an excellent point guard in Emily Ryan and another solid perimeter player and scorer in Lexi Donarski.

6. Texas

Led by freshman Rori Harmon, the Longhorns played a suffocating, up-tempo style that made them a team nobody wanted to face in March. Harmon will be even better this season, and so will fellow rising sophomore Aaliyah Moore. Senior Aliyah Mathuru will continue to contribute on both ends of the floor, and the ever-annoying Longhorns defense will be just as pesky in 2022-23.

7. North Carolina

I was so impressed by this UNC squad in March. Deja Kelly and Alyssa Utsby played with poise despite being sophomores, and the two will be even more experienced next season. They are a great starting point for the Tar Heels. Kennedy Todd-Williams also started every game as a sophomore, and 6-3 guard/forward Destiny Adams has star potential beyond her freshman season.

8. Ohio State

Jacy Sheldon and Taylor Mikesell proved themselves to be one of the nation’s top backcourt duos during Ohio State’s Sweet 16 run. With those two back, the Buckeyes will be tough once again. Combining them with post player and third-leading scorer Rebeka Mikulasikova should make Ohio State a force in the Big 10 once more.

9. Notre Dame

Olivia Miles led the Fighting Irish to the Sweet 16, where they nearly knocked off No. 1 seed NC State. That experience will be vital for Notre Dame as it looks to build on last season. Sonia Citron got better and better as the year went on, and Dara Mabrey is also returning, meaning four of five starters will be back for a talented Irish squad.

Hailey Van Lith turned it on for Louisville in the NCAA Tournament, leading them to the Final Four. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

10. Louisville

Emily Engstler’s departure for the WNBA will be the biggest loss for the Cardinals. But Hailey Van Lith and Olivia Cochran, now entering their junior seasons, proved themselves to be a dynamic guard/post duo last season. Payton Verhulst played limited minutes as a freshman, but the former five-star recruit is poised to break out as a strong partner for Van Lith in the backcourt.

11. Tennessee

Rae Burrell may have moved on to the WNBA, but a healthy Jordan Horston and all-time blocks leader Tamari Key make for a solid foundation to build around. Coach Kellie Harper hasn’t wasted any time finding players to add to the roster: Mississippi State transfer Rickea Jackson and former Minnesota guard Jasmine Powell should both contribute right away.

12. Virginia Tech

With leading scorer and rebounder Elizabeth Kitley entering her senior year, and third-leading scorer Georgia Amoore ready to play an even bigger role, the Hokies are in good shape. Kayana Traylor and Cayla King provide them with two other solid scoring options.

13. Arizona

Get used to seeing Arizona in the top 25. Adia Barnes is bringing in a great recruiting class led by two five-stars, forward Maya Nnaji and guard Paris Clark. That young talent coupled with experienced returners Cate Reese, Shaina Pellington and Bendu Yeaney make the Wildcats a Pac-12 frontrunner once again.

14. Creighton

I slept on the Bluejays last season, and I’m not about to make the same mistake. Lauren Jensen, Morgan Maly, Molly Mogensen and Emma Ronsiek are all entering their junior years, and Carly Bachelor will be a senior. That group includes all four of Creighton’s top scorers and the sixth, allowing the Bluejays to continue their dominant, sharp-shooting style of play.

Grace Berger returns after leading the Hoosiers in scoring last season as a senior. (Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

15. Indiana

It’s easy to look at what Indiana lost — Ali Patberg, Aleksa Gulbe and Nicole Cardaño-Hillary — and think this team will falter. But the Hoosiers retain top two scorers in Grace Berger and Mackenzie Holmes and key bench contributor Chloe Moore-McNeil, who blossomed at the end of the season. Oregon transfer Sydney Parrish rounds out the roster, making IU a solid team once more.

16. Kansas State

The Wildcats return their starting five, including their leading scorer and rebounder, 6-6 Ayoka Lee. Three other starters — Serena Sundell, Brylee Glenn and Jaelyn Glenn — also all return. They showed their potential last season, but also their youth. This time, the trio will have more confidence and experience.

17. NC State

Standout post player and Seattle Storm draft pick Elissa Cunane was the focal point of NC State’s offense in 2021-22. Now, you can expect the Wolfpack to be more guard-oriented. Diamond Johnson and Jakia Brown-Turner were NC State’s second- and third-leading scorers, giving the team a great base for the upcoming season.

18. Oklahoma

Ana Llanusa is coming back from injury, while leading scorer Madi Williams and 3-point leader Taylor Robertson will play fifth years. The Sooners also have plenty of role players to work with, as nine players started at various times throughout the past season.

19. Princeton

Losing leading scorer Abby Meyers is a big blow for the Tigers, but second- and third-scoring leaders Julia Cunningham and Kaitlyn Chen will be back. They were key to Princeton’s 25-5 record and upset of Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament. Grace Stone and Ellie Mitchell are also solid pieces to the Princeton puzzle, capable of averaging double digits on any given night.

20. Utah

The Utes dominated Arkansas in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, giving us a glimpse of what’s to come. Led by sophomore Kennedy McQueen’s 20 points and freshman Gianna Kneepkens’ 16 in that contest, the Utes showcased their young talent on a big stage. Jenna Johnson (freshman) and Kelsey Rees (sophomore) each scored in double figures as well.

21. Kansas

The Jayhawks were a surprise success story last season, making it to the Big 12 championship game and winning in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. This time, there are expectations. Top scorers Holly Kersgieter and Zakiyah Franklin will lead the way.

Kayleigh Truong is a big reason Gonzaga could be in top-25 contention next season. (Michelle Hutchins/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

22. Gonzaga

The Zags topped Nebraska in the NCAA Tournament and then showed flashes in an 11-point loss to No. 1 seed Louisville. Kayleigh and Kaylynne Truong will be back to lead the squad, but GU fans should be most excited about rising sophomore Bree Salenbien. She didn’t play to end the year due to a knee injury, but the Michigan native is GU’s best prospect in history, and she is poised for a breakout season.

23. UCLA

The Bruins had a disappointing season that ended with an loss in the NIT semifinals, but Charisma Osborne was a bright spot. She will lead UCLA and get help from two talented freshmen — No. 2 recruit Kiki Rice and No. 19 Gabriela Jaquez. It might take time for them to get their footing, but the Bruins should have enough to make some noise later in the season.

24. Nebraska

Another team that had surprising success, Nebraska was upset-minded throughout the Big 10 season. The Huskers return their top eight scorers, bumping them from an upset-type team to a legitimate contender.

25. UNLV

This is a young team that gave Arizona all it could handle in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. That experience will help a talented Rebels squad that returns its top three scorers. Loaded with athleticism, UNLV will be the favorite in the Mountain West.

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.

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Dash winger Maria Sanchez confirms trade request a day shy of NWSL deadline

María Sanchez of Houston Dash during a NWSL game
In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the club worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

Seattle Storm debut state-of-the-art $64 million practice facility

Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm during warms up during practice on July 11, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Jewell Loyd, seen here practicing at Florida's IMG Academy, and her team are in for a major upgrade this season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The four-time league champion Seattle Storm unveiled their new practice facility on Thursday, with Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel dubbing Interbay's Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance the team’s "new home."

"It's just such a special space," Brummel told Fox 13 Seattle. "I think when the players get here, it's gonna be overwhelming."

The sprawling 50,000-square-foot, $64 million property is just the second designated practice facility to be designed and built expressly for a WNBA team, with the Storm further noting that 85% of all design and engineering team members involved in the project's construction were women and people of color. The finished product holds two professional indoor courts, two 3x3 outdoor courts, a state-of-the-art locker room, and players' lounge, plus designated areas for strength and conditioning, kitchen, dining, and nutrition, and recovery. 

"This facility reflects our commitment to providing our athletes an exceptional environment that supports their growth, health, and performance," said Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder in an official team release. "It’s built for women, by women, embodying our dedication to leading the way in professional women’s sports."

For their part, the team can't wait to make the faciilty their own.

"It's amazing," Storm guard Jewell Loyd told Fox 13. "Not having to drive everywhere around, knowing you have access anytime of the day to get into the gym, to workout." 

Head coach Noelle Quinn said she predicts the team is "never going to leave this building."

"Which is a good thing for me," she continued. "You talk about having an edge in performance. We want our athletes to not only perform on the court, but get whatever they need."

All of the Storm's staff and operations will now live under one roof, and the team also has plans to launch a youth basketball program operating out of the building.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

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