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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.

Barcelona to Face Lyon in Champions League Rematch This Weekend

UEFA Women's Champions League Final"Barcelona FC - Olympique Lyonnais"
Saturday's game will be the third UWCL final meeting for Barcelona and Lyon, having previously gone up against each other in 2019 and 2022. (ANP via Getty Images)

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off in Bilbao on Saturday, with a couple of familiar foes set to face off for the trophy.

Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, making its 11th final appearance since 2010, will go head to head with a Barcelona side making its fourth final appearance in a row.

This will be the third time these two teams meet in the UWCL title game, having previously appeared in the 2019 and 2022 finals. Lyon won both of those prior games against Barcelona, alongside a total of eight Champions League trophies. That’s double that of any other club, with Eintracht Frankfurt coming in a distant second with four. 

Should Barcelona win, this would be the team's third title — breaking a tie for the third in the UWCL total titles race. 

But as these teams return to the UWCL final, it also marks the end of an era for both clubs. The game will be the last for both club managers, as Barcelona’s Jonatan Giráldez and Lyon’s Sonia Bompastor depart for new jobs after the season's end.

Giráldez is set to leave for the NWSL's Washington Spirit, while Bompastor will take over for incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes at Chelsea. Both coaches have earned one UWCL trophy during their tenures, while Bompastor also brought two Champions League trophies to Lyon as a player. She was the first coach to win a UWCL trophy as both a coach and player.

This season, Barcelona is looking for its first quadruple, having won a fifth Liga F title alongside the Copa de La Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. 

"We hope he can go out with the four trophies because we know how competitive and ambitious he is," Barcelona midfielder Patri Guijarro told ESPN. "It has been a winning era with him in charge and for him to go out with all four trophies would be historic and incredible."

But Lyon's Damaris Egurrola is excited about her team's chances of overcoming Barcelona once again — and to do it in front of family and friends.

"Lyon have something special," she told Forbes ahead of the weekend's final. "We have a great team and we have the players with enough talent to win any match."

The game will be a homecoming for Egurrola, who began her professional career with Athletic Bilbao.

"I’ve been thinking of this day and night," she said. "I’ve been dreaming of playing this match. Having the opportunity to play in San Mames is amazing. This is where it all started for me."

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off Saturday, May 25th at 12 PM ET and is free to stream on DAZN.

World No. 1 Iga Swiatek Headlines a Stacked 2024 French Open

Iga Swiatek serves against Coco Gauff during the group stage of the 2023 WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico
Iga Swiatek serves against Coco Gauff during the group stage of the 2023 WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico. (Robert Prange/Getty Images)

The 2024 French Open starts on Sunday, with a match schedule that promises to wrap the short clay court season up in style.

Looking for her fourth title at the major is three-time Roland Garros champion and World No. 1 Iga Swiatek, considered the favorite to win the whole Slam. Three of her four major titles have come at the French tournament. 

Swiatek's career record at the French Open is a dominating 28-2, and she's currently on a 16-game winning streak fueled by victories at tune-up tournaments in Madrid and Rome.

But that doesn't mean she won't face some serious challengers along the way. Get to know some of the Polish tennis champ's strongest competitors.

Aryna Sabalenka

Sabalenka is ranked No. 2 in the world and faced Swiatek in the finals at both Madrid and Rome. She lost in three sets in Madrid, which included a close third-set tiebreak, before losing in straight sets at the Italian Open. 

She enters the French Open having won the Australian Open in January, successfully defending her title in the first Slam of the season. At last year’s French Open, Sabalenka reached the semifinals — a career best — before being ousted by Karolina Muchová in three sets.

Season record: 25-7

Coco Gauff

Currently sitting at No. 3 in the world, the highest-ranked American on the schedule is none other than Coco Gauff. Gauff won her first major at the US Open last year, and reached the semifinals of this year’s Australian Open. She faced Swiatek in the semifinals of the Italian Open last week, losing in straight sets. 

But her first major final came at the French Open in 2022, before being ousted by Swiatek in the quarterfinals at last year’s French Open. The two are on a crash course for a meeting before the finals, as Gauff anchors the other quadrant on Swiatek’s side of the draw, should they both advance deep into the competition.

Season record: 25-8

Chicago Sky Upset New York to End Liberty’s Unbeaten Streak

chicago sky's angel reese on the court against new york liberty
Angel Reese registered a near double-double against a strong Liberty side. (Evan Yu/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Liberty’s unbeaten streak came to an end on Thursday as Angel Reese and the Chicago Sky got the upset win over New York with a final score of 90-81. 

Angel Reese stood out with a near double-double, registering 13 points and nine rebounds. She’s currently the only rookie this season to exceed 10 points in her first three games, and the first player in Sky history to begin their career with three consecutive double-digit scoring games, per ESPN Stats & Info.

The outcome may not have come as a surprise to Liberty stars Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones, who sung Reese’s praises ahead of the game.

"She’s a workhorse," Stewart told The Post. "She doesn’t stop. She’s tough, she’s strong, she’s tough to box out and good at cleaning up for her team offensively and defensively."

"I feel like she’s an energizer bunny," Jones added. "She doesn’t stop moving, she doesn’t stop crashing the boards. Just someone that is gonna be relentless in her approach to getting to the glass and playing tough."

It was the first time Chicago has met New York this season. The game was especially meaningful for new Chicago head coach Teresa Weatherspoon, who led the Liberty for seven years as a player and joined the team's Ring of Honor in 2011.

"This place means a lot to me... I played in that jersey, I adored that jersey, I adored every player that I had an opportunity to play with. The love that I received even today was overwhelming," Weatherspoon reflected after the game.

Following the win, Sky guard Dana Evans had some kind words for her coach.

"I mean, it's just special. She's special," Evans said. "She just breeds confidence in each and every one of us. We love her. We just wanted to go so hard and play hard for her, and I feel like this one was really for her. We really wanted this for her more than anything."

Thursday's victory brings Chicago's record to 2-1, a somewhat unlikely feat given that their offseason featured starter Kahleah Copper getting traded to Phoenix. The Connecticut Sun are now the only undefeated team left in the league this season, and will formidable foes for the Sky as they take their winning streak on the road to Chicago this weekend.

New USWNT Coach Emma Hayes Embracing the Challenge

United States Women's Head Coach Emma Hayes
The ex-Chelsea skipper has officially arrived in the US — now it's time to get down to business. (USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Emma Hayes has officially begun her tenure as USWNT manager ahead of the team’s June friendlies.

Hayes made the rounds on Thursday, appearing on the Today Show and speaking with select media about her goals and underlying principles with the team. It’s a quick turnaround for the decorated coach, who just won the WSL with Chelsea last weekend.

One thing that she won’t do, however, is shy away from the high expectations that come with managing the US. The squad is looking to reinstate its winning reputation at the Paris Olympics this summer following a disappointing World Cup in 2023. 

"I know the challenge ahead of me. There is no denying there is a gap between the US and the rest of the world," she told ESPN. "We have to acknowledge that winning at the highest level isn't what it was 10 years ago. It's a completely different landscape. And my focus is going to be on getting the performances required to play at a high level against the very best nations in the world."

While Hayes was formally hired six months ago to lead the USWNT, her deal stipulated that she remain with Chelsea through the conclusion of their season. In her stead, Twila Kilgore has led the team, with the coach "drip feeding subliminal messages" to the roster on Hayes’s behalf.

"It's a bit ass-upwards," Hayes joked to reporters. "I know about the staff, and the team, and the structure behind it. We got all of that. Now it's time, I need to be with the team."

With Olympics now just two months away, Hayes dropped hints this week regarding her thought process behind building the roster, saying there’s still time for players to make their case.

"You can't go to an Olympics with a completely inexperienced squad. We need our experienced players, but getting that composition right, that's my job between now and June 16th," she said on the Today Show.

"What I can say from my time [in the US] is, I've always loved the attitude towards performance and the expectation to give everything you've got," she later affirmed to reporters.

And as for winning gold?

"I'm never gonna tell anyone to not dream about winning," she added. "But… we have to go step by step, and focus on all the little processes that need to happen so we can perform at our best level.

"I will give it absolutely everything I've got to make sure I uphold the traditions of this team."

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