We were ready for a rematch of South Carolina and UConn, but the only way that will happen this season is in the NCAA tournament. Saying she wanted to focus on getting in a postponed SEC game with Ole Miss, Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley called UConn's Geno Auriemma to pull the plug on what would have been Thursday's marquee nonconference game. He agreed.
At this point, there was nothing for South Carolina to gain by playing the Huskies. The Gamecocks are the top overall seed in Charlie Creme's Bracketology, with UConn a No. 4 seed. A victory for the Huskies could have been a big boost for their résumé. But considering UConn lost 73-57 to South Carolina in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game in November when the Huskies still had Paige Bueckers, who is currently injured, there was little to suggest a different outcome this time.
Even though that matchup is called off, there are still some important rivalry games coming up in the next week, starting with a rematch of last season's national championship game. No. 2-ranked Stanford faces No. 10 Arizona on Sunday (4 p.m. ET, ESPN2) in their first meeting since the Cardinal's 54-53 victory in San Antonio last April 4.
Stanford is 5-0 atop the Pac-12, while Arizona is fourth at 4-2. In some ways, the Cardinal don't look much different than last season, with the ability to send players in waves at the opposition. The biggest change is the loss of point guard Kiana Williams. But while turnovers have still plagued Stanford at times in Pac-12 games, they haven't caused as much damage as they did in the Cardinal's nonconference losses to Texas, South Florida and South Carolina.
Haley Jones and Cameron Brink are the Cardinal's 1-2 punch, as both average 13.1 PPG. Lexie Hull is averaging 11.6 PPG, and Hannah Jump has stepped in as the team's top 3-point shooter, making 50 of 121 (41%) on the way to averaging 11.0 PPG.
Stanford is holding opponents to 58.7 PPG, while Arizona leads the Pac-12 in scoring defense, allowing 54.1 PPG. The Wildcats have just one player averaging double-digit scoring: Cate Reese at 14.9. But other players like Shaina Pellington (9.5 PPG) have the capacity for big games; she had a career-high 28 points in Sunday's 75-56 victory over Colorado.
There is still a separation between Stanford and the rest of the Pac-12. But Arizona is not going to lack confidence going into Maples Pavilion. One thing that could get to the Wildcats is a little fatigue; they are making up a previously postponed game at UCLA on Wednesday before traveling to the Bay area for Cal and Stanford.
Other rivalry matchups to keep an eye on this week:
Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (Wednesday): The rivalry in all sports between these two schools is called "Bedlam," and the Sooners will be eager to plunge into that after a painful trip to Kansas State on Sunday. The Wildcats with 6-foot-6 Ayoka Lee are the worst matchup in the Big 12 for guard-heavy Oklahoma, which gave up an NCAA Division I record 61 points to the Wildcats' center in Sunday's loss.
The Sooners are still tied for first in the Big 12 at 5-2, while the Cowgirls are struggling at 1-6 in the league, having lost four in a row. The Sooners need to not dwell on Lee, but go back to focusing on what got them a 16-3 record so far.
New Mexico at UNLV (Thursday): The Lobos are atop the Mountain West at 7-0, and the Rebels are right behind them at 7-1. UNLV's loss was 71-68 victory at New Mexico on Jan. 3. This time, they will meet in Las Vegas. Shaiquel McGruder leads five New Mexico starters averaging double figures at 14.2 PPG; she had 17 points and 15 rebounds in the earlier matchup with UNLV.
The Rebels are led by Desi-Rae Young in scoring (15.9 PPG) and rebounding (7.7 RPG); she was the Mountain West freshman of the year last season.
Princeton at Yale (Saturday): Princeton is leading the Ivy League at 5-0, with Columbia at 4-0 and Yale at 5-1. The Tigers' best win so far was against Florida Gulf Coast on Dec. 1. Yale's league loss was to Columbia. The Tigers and Bulldogs will meet at Princeton in February.
California Baptist at Stephen F. Austin (Saturday): The 15-2 Lancers are on a 10-game winning streak and are atop the Western Athletic Conference at 6-0. Stephen F. Austin is 5-0, and leads the WAC in scoring average, with Cal Baptist second.
Cal Baptist left Division II in 2018, so the school isn't eligible for the NCAA tournament until 2022-23. The Lancers went 26-1 last season, losing in the WNIT quarterfinals to eventual tournament winner Rice.
NC State at North Carolina (Sunday): The Tar Heels were still unbeaten when they faced the Wolfpack on Jan. 6 in Raleigh, but that ended when NC State dominated 72-45. The ACC rematch is in Chapel Hill, and is the second of two rivalry games for UNC this week. The Heels play at Duke on Thursday; they are looking for their first victory over a ranked team this season.
Rae Finley says Gators are hitting their stride
Florida's Kelly Rae Finley loves the confidence from the Gators and believes they are hitting their stride at the right time after the 73-72 win over No. 11 LSU.
Player of the Week: Ayoka Lee, Kansas State
Iowa guard Caitlin Clark seemed the favorite after her second consecutive triple-double of 30-plus points. But then Lee had the top-scoring game in Division I women's history Sunday. So for the third time this season, Lee gets the honor. Along with her record-61 points in the Wildcats' 84-65 victory over Oklahoma, she also had 12 rebounds and three blocked shots. In the 69-61 Sunflower Showdown victory over Kansas on Wednesday, the 6-foot-6 junior center had 25 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks.
Lee made 23 of 30 shots from the field and 15 of 17 free throws. To compare to some other famed scoring numbers in women's basketball, the NCAA tournament record is 50 points, set by Drake's Lorri Bauman in 1982. The NCAA championship game mark is 47 by Texas Tech's Sheryl Swoopes in 1993. The WNBA record is 53 by Liz Cambage, then with the Dallas Wings, in 2018.
Win of the Week: Charlotte 49ers 88, Rice Owls 83, 4 OT
Charlotte remained unbeaten in Conference USA play with a four-overtime victory Saturday. Octavia Jett-Wilson had 36 points to lead the 49ers, while KeKe McKinney had 17 points, 10 rebounds and eight blocked shots. Jett-Wilson made a game-tying layup at the buzzer of the first overtime and a game-tying 3-pointer with 3 seconds left in the second OT. Afterward, Jett-Wilson dedicated the game to her late grandfather, who had passed away a year ago to the day.
Charlotte is 4-0 in league play, second in the C-USA East Division to Western Kentucky at 7-0. Those teams meet Feb. 3 and Feb. 17.
Team of the Week: Oregon Ducks
The Ducks have been waiting to get fully healthy all season, and they might be there now. Nyara Sabally, a redshirt junior who has battled injuries her entire Oregon career, went down in the Ducks' victory 72-59 victory over UConn last Monday, but she was back for Friday's 68-61 win at Washington. She hit 8 of 13 shots on the way to 20 points vs. the Huskies, and Endyia Rogers had 23 points. Oregon's game Sunday at Washington State was postponed because of COVID-19 protocol. But the Ducks are now 11-5 overall and 3-1 in the Pac-12 heading into a three-game home stand.
Coach of the Week: Kelly Rae Finley, Florida Gators
After taking over as interim head coach after Cam Newbauer resigned in July, Finley has the Gators tied for fourth place in the SEC at 5-2. On Jan. 7, Florida announced leading scorer and rebounder Lavender Briggs would be shut down for the season due to a stress reaction in her shin, and she subsequently transferred to Maryland. Her last game was Jan. 2, a 73-69 loss to Georgia. Yet since then, the Gators have won five of six, three of those against ranked foes Texas A&M, Kentucky and LSU. Florida has two huge games coming up at home vs. South Carolina and Tennessee.
1. South Carolina Gamecocks (17-1)
Previous ranking: 1
This week: vs. Vanderbilt (Monday), vs. Ole Miss (Thursday), at Florida (Sunday)
After a week off from games, South Carolina is very busy the next seven days. The rematch with UConn is off, but the next two SEC opponents are challenges. Ole Miss is 17-2 overall and 5-1 in the SEC, its only SEC loss coming to Tennessee. Florida is 15-5 and 5-2; the Gators have won five in a row, three of them against ranked foes.
2. Stanford Cardinal (14-3)
Previous ranking: 2
This week: vs. Arizona State (Friday), vs. Arizona (Sunday)
After Stanford's 97-74 victory over Cal on Friday, the second game in the Bay Area series was postponed by COVID-19 protocol within the Bears' program. Haley Jones is leading Stanford in scoring (13.1 PPG) and leading the Pac-12 in rebounding (8.2 RPG).
3. Tennessee Lady Vols (18-1)
Previous ranking: 3
This week: at Auburn (Thursday)
A 63-55 victory at Georgia on Sunday was another huge game for guard Jordan Horston, who led the Lady Vols in points (19), rebounds (11), assists (four) and tied for the lead in blocked shots (five). Center Tamari Key, who left the Jan. 16 victory against Kentucky with an ankle injury, played 21 minutes vs. the Bulldogs, with eight points, four rebounds and five blocks.
4. NC State Wolfpack (18-2)
Previous ranking: 5
This week: at North Carolina (Sunday)
On one hand, the Wolfpack have to be a little concerned about shooting 32.4% and scoring just 51 points in beating Virginia Tech on Sunday, and about similar offensive struggles they had the first three quarters of their comeback win Thursday over Louisville -- especially considering NC State is the ACC's top scoring offense. On the other hand, they won both games and are leading the league at 9-0.
5. Louisville Cardinals (16-2)
Previous ranking: 4
This week: vs. Florida State (Thursday), vs. Duke (Sunday)
The loss at NC State on Thursday had to sting, considering how in control the Cardinals seemed to be for the first three quarters. Nevertheless, Louisville rebounded from that disappointment with a win Sunday over Wake Forest in which the Cardinals shot 51% from the field.
6. Indiana Hoosiers (14-2)
Previous ranking: 6
This week: vs. Illinois (Thursday)
The Hoosiers had both their games this past week -- vs. Michigan State and Iowa -- postponed because of COVID-19 protocol within the program. Plus, leading scorer and rebounder Mackenzie Holmes is out indefinitely after having a procedure on her knee for an undisclosed injury. The Hoosiers are still atop the Big Ten at 6-0, but they clearly have some concerns.
7. Michigan Wolverines (16-2)
Previous ranking: 10
This week: vs. Purdue (Monday), at Ohio State (Thursday)
The Wolverines cruised past Wisconsin 83-44 on Thursday, and are off to their best start in program history at 16-2. Michigan has a rematch with Ohio State this week after beating the Buckeyes 90-71 on Dec. 31.
8. LSU Tigers (17-3)
Previous ranking: 7
This week: at Arkansas (Thursday), vs. Kentucky (Sunday)
LSU almost stumbled at home against Missouri on Jan. 13, but then got a two-point win in overtime. Sunday at Florida, however, a close game didn't go in LSU's favor and the Tigers fell 73-72. This likely says more about how challenging the SEC is than anything particularly negative about LSU, although the Tigers' offense was a little one-dimensional against Florida with Khayla Pointer scoring 35 points.
9. Baylor Bears (13-4)
Previous ranking: 14
This week: at Texas Tech (Wednesday), at West Virginia (Saturday)
It was a strong week for Baylor, which vaulted the Bears back into the top 10 of the Power Rankings. They defeated Oklahoma State 67-49 on Wednesday behind 19 points from Queen Egbo, and then beat Iowa State 87-61 on Sunday, with Jordan Lewis scoring 24 points and Egbo getting 21 rebounds.
10. Arizona Wildcats (14-2)
Previous ranking: 15
This week: at UCLA (Wednesday), at Cal (Friday), at Stanford (Sunday)
The Wildcats enjoyed being back home for victories over Utah (76-64) and Colorado (75-56) this past week. But coming up is a tough road stretch, culminating in the national championship rematch.
11. Maryland Terrapins (13-6)
Previous ranking: 11
This week: vs. Rutgers (Thursday), at Penn State (Sunday)
After the death of her father last Sunday, coach Brenda Frese missed Thursday's game at Ohio State, which the surging Buckeyes won 95-89. Maryland came back Sunday with an 87-59 win over Northwestern in which the Terps looked especially good from long range, making a season-high 18 3-pointers on 31 attempts.
12. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (15-4)
Previous ranking: 16
This week: vs. Boston College (Thursday), at Clemson (Sunday)
The Yellow Jackets can be a little frustrating to watch as a good team that tends to succeed because they "ugly-up" games the way Rutgers was famous (or infamous) for doing for years. But so far, that defensive focus has worked well for Georgia Tech. The Jackets beat Syracuse 65-55 and North Carolina 55-38 last week. The Tar Heels have one of the ACC's top-scoring offenses, so shutting them down that much was impressive.
13. UConn Huskies (11-4)
Previous ranking: 9
This week: at DePaul (Wednesday), at Providence (Sunday)
The Huskies haven't had guard Christyn Williams the last three games (COVID-19 protocol). That cost them in a 72-59 loss at Oregon, but then they continued their march through the Big East with wins over Seton Hall and St. John's. It would have been interesting to see a rematch with South Carolina this week, although the Gamecocks obviously would have been favored.
14. Iowa State Cyclones (16-3)
Previous ranking: 8
This week: vs. Kansas (Wednesday), at Texas Tech (Saturday)
It was a rough week for the Cyclones, who lost their first Big 12 games of the season. They were without star Ashley Joens (COVID-19 protocol) in a 66-48 loss to Texas. She returned against Baylor on Sunday with 19 points, but the Bears dominated in an 87-61 win. At 5-2, Iowa State is now in a three-way tie atop the Big 12 with Kansas State and Oklahoma.
15. Georgia Lady Dogs (13-3)
Previous ranking: NR
This week: at Ole Miss (Sunday)
Georgia won on the road at Missouri (72-62) and Mississippi State (66-63) before falling at home Sunday against Tennessee (63-55). Center Jenna Staiti totaled 46 points and 28 rebounds for the week.
16. Oregon Ducks (11-5)
Previous ranking: NR
This week: vs. Utah (Wednesday), vs. UCLA (Friday), vs. USC (Sunday)
The Ducks move into the Power Rankings for the first time this season on the strength of their win over UConn as they head into a big week with three games at home.
In the waiting room
Texas Longhorns (14-3): The Longhorns got victories on the road over Iowa State and TCU last week. How will they match up Wednesday against visiting Kansas State and Ayoka Lee coming off her 61-point game?
Kansas State Wildcats (15-4): K-State got victories over Kansas and Oklahoma, with Lee getting a combined 86 points and 27 rebounds in those games.
BYU Cougars (15-1): The Cougars remain tied atop the West Coast Conference with Gonzaga at 5-0. They still have both matchups with the Bulldogs coming up in February.