Women’s Power Rankings: South Carolina still on top, OSU out

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The final days of 2023 delivered for women’s college basketball fans.

Two top-20 teams were upset by unranked opponents over the weekend, with Michigan taking down No. 17 Ohio State on Saturday and Syracuse defeating No. 13 Notre Dame on Sunday.

Three of the weekend’s matchups between top-25 teams lived up to the billing: No. 2 UCLA-No. 6 USC and No. 10 Baylor-No. 5 Texas were close until the final moments before the Bruins and Bears pulled away to win by seven and six points, respectively. Out West, No. 8 Colorado erased an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat No. 12 Utah by 11. And No. 15 UConn thrashed No. 18 Marquette by 31 after falling behind 10-0 to start.

By the weekend’s end, seven teams ensured they’d take the plunge into 2024 undefeated: South Carolina, UCLA, NC State, Baylor, TCU, West Virginia and Oregon State.

The results made for an interesting process trying to figure out ESPN’s Week 8 women’s college basketball Power Rankings. Ohio State (10-3) dropped from the list after suffering its second loss in three games, but don’t be surprised if the Buckeyes reappear later this season if they figure things out as the Big Ten slate progresses.

Here are the first Rankings and weekly awards of the 2024 calendar year.


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Colorado Buffaloes vs. Utah Utes – Game Highlights

Watch the Game Highlights from Colorado Buffaloes vs. Utah Utes, 12/30/2023

Sherrod was one of the final cuts from ESPN’s list of the top 25 players last month, but on Saturday the Colorado point guard made her case for belonging on it. The fifth-year senior tallied the first 30-point performance of her career, as she exploded for 34 points and impacted every other aspect of the game, finishing with 4 assists, 4 rebounds and just 1 turnover. Thirteen of Sherrod’s points came in the decisive fourth period, in which the Buffaloes bested the Utes 25-11, while Sherrod’s six steals and overall defensive presence gave fits to a typically high-powered Utah offense.

Colorado is at its best when Sherrod is aggressive, impactful and efficient on both ends, and Saturday was a reminder why. There has been a lot of buzz surrounding UCLA, USC, Utah and even Stanford when it comes to the Pac-12 title race, with the Buffs losing a bit of momentum when they fell last month to NC State. But Sherrod and Colorado said “don’t forget about us” with their statement win in a big conference game.

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Syracuse Orange vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish – Game Highlights

Watch the Game Highlights from Syracuse Orange vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 12/31/2023

Team of the week: Syracuse

Come Monday, Syracuse could be ranked in The Associated Press poll for the first time since 2020-21. On paper, the Orange’s 86-81 upset over Notre Dame might have stunned some, but second-year coach Felisha Legette-Jack had something brewing in Syracuse all season long. Her team’s 11-1 start (its sole loss to a then-ranked Maryland team by two) is the program’s best since 2017-18, an encouraging sign as Syracuse hopes to return to the NCAA tournament after missing out the past two seasons.

Fifth-year senior Dyaisha Fair leads the charge on the floor. Joining Legette-Jack when she left Buffalo for Syracuse, Fair hit a trio of 3-pointers in the game’s final four minutes to swing things in the Orange’s favor, and she finished with 27 points and six steals. Alyssa Latham’s 21 points and 12 rebounds deserve a mention as well.

If Syracuse keeps this up — Fair warned in her postgame interview that Syracuse is “coming” — it should make an already competitive ACC race that much more intriguing.

No team helped itself more this week from a Bracketology perspective than Michigan. In last week’s projection, the Wolverines were on the outside looking in as one of the First Four Out following losses to Ole Miss, Toledo and Florida.

With Naz Hillmon and Leigha Brown having departed for the WNBA, this is Laila Phelia’s team now, and she showed it with a career-high 26 points against Ohio State. But Phelia didn’t do it alone; Missouri transfer Lauren Hansen came through with 17 points and two others scored in double figures. That said, defense has been Michigan’s calling card this season, and on Saturday the Wolverines took the Buckeyes out of their game by forcing 19 turnovers and holding them to 20.8% shooting from 3.

The win is expected to put the Wolverines into ESPN’s next Bracketology projection on Tuesday, and gives them confidence going into Big Ten play, where they have another tough test coming up against Indiana in Bloomington on Thursday.

Coach of the week: Cori Close, UCLA

Close’s Bruins put together a strong nonconference résumé with wins over UConn, Florida State and Ohio State, and her team took that momentum into the start of Pac-12 competition with a 71-64 victory over USC.

It has been awhile since this much energy has surrounded women’s college basketball in L.A., and Saturday’s matchup had all the more juice with both UCLA and USC meeting as undefeated teams for the first time in series history. Not only did the Bruins get the dub in front of a crowd of 13,659, a single-game program record, they improved to 4-0 against ranked teams this season — the first time they won their first four games against AP-ranked teams since 1980-81.

Close has bigger goals for her team, naturally, but capped by Saturday’s performance, this is about as good of a start she could have asked for from the Bruins.


Power Rankings

1. South Carolina Gamecocks (12-0)
Previous ranking:
1
This week: at Florida (Thursday), vs. Mississippi State (Sunday)

The Gamecocks kick off 2024 in the same position they were in 365 days ago: at No. 1, a remarkable feat for Dawn Staley considering the departure of her historic Freshies class and the introduction of an entirely new starting five. Starting 12-0 for the third consecutive year, the Gamecocks enter SEC play undefeated after taking care of East Carolina 73-36 on Saturday.

The game wasn’t the prettiest. The Pirates are a tough defensive squad, and South Carolina didn’t really get going until the second quarter, while struggling from the free throw line (18-for-34) all afternoon. But the Gamecocks got good contributions from sophomore Ashlyn Watkins and freshman MiLaysia Fulwiley, while senior Te-Hina Paopao has remained the bedrock of consistency and poise, extending her streak of hitting multiple 3s in each contest this season. Sunday’s meeting versus 13-2 Mississippi State, which was previously ranked and dealt with some short-term injuries, is one to circle on the calendar.

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Londynn Jones sinks clutch step-back 3 in UCLA’s win over USC

Londynn Jones sinks it from downtown, 12/30/2023

2. UCLA Bruins (12-0)
Previous ranking:
2
This week: vs. Oregon (Friday), vs. Oregon State (Sunday)

The Bruins compiled yet another convincing win on Saturday with their victory over USC — cementing their status as at least a top-two team in the nation — and while we highlighted Close’s role in helping her team get there, several individual performances are worth mentioning: Londynn Jones’ 21 points (including five 3s, as many as the entire Trojans team hit); Charisma Osborne’s team-high six assists and massive defense on JuJu Watkins; Kiki Rice’s big baskets in the third; and Lauren Betts’ almost quiet 15 points, 6 blocks and 8 rebounds.

The Bruins’ depth and balance of star power and complementary pieces could be huge for them as they look to make a run in the Pac-12 and in March.

3. NC State Wolfpack (13-0)
Previous ranking:
3
This week: Florida State (Thursday), at Virginia Tech (Sunday)

The good news: Saniya Rivers returned on Sunday from a three-game absence (back issues), once more flirting with a triple-double of 10 points, 16 rebounds and 8 assists (and playing the full game).

The not-so-great news was that the Wolfpack struggled mightily in the first half on the road at Virginia, trailing by one at halftime, but a 23-8 third quarter helped them pull away for good. Sunday’s outing might have been up and down, but regardless, this is the third time Moore has an NC State team off to a 13-0 start or better (the other two came in 2018-19 and 2019-20, Elissa Cunane’s first two seasons in Raleigh). A reminder: This Wolfpack squad was picked to finish eighth in the league in the preseason.

The next week will be telling for Moore. NC State hosts a top-25 group in Florida State on Thursday before traveling to Blacksburg, Virginia, to face defending ACC tournament champion Virginia Tech on Sunday.

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Saniya Rivers swoops in for nice NC State layup

Saniya Rivers swoops in for nice NC State layup

4. Colorado Buffaloes (11-1)
Previous ranking:
5
This week: at Arizona (Friday), at Arizona State (Sunday)

Colorado gained another résumé-building win (this one with big Pac-12 implications) by beating Utah in the first matchup of the series in which both teams were ranked. The game also saw the highest regular-season attendance for Colorado women’s basketball since 2002. A big fourth quarter in which the Buffs finished the contest on a 23-4 run did the trick, while overall Colorado forced 20 turnovers and held Utah nearly 30 points below its season scoring average.

Aaronette Vonleh had a tough task in battling Alissa Pili down low, but her 18 points were huge in making up for quiet nights from Frida Formann and Quay Miller (combined three points). Their rematch is Feb. 16 in Salt Lake City.

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Dre’una Edwards drains 3-pointer for Baylor

Dre’una Edwards adds another 3-pointer to Baylor’s score against Texas.

5. Baylor Bears (12-0)
Previous ranking:
10
This week: vs. TCU (Wednesday), vs. Houston (Saturday)

You couldn’t ask for much more so far in Year 3 for Nicki Collen in Waco, Texas. She has the Bears in a fantastic spot at 12-0 and as one of two teams (the other being NC State) with multiple wins over top-five competition this season. Baylor first took down then-No. 4 Utah (at the time at full strength) last month before compiling its 14th consecutive win versus Texas in Austin on Saturday.

The Bears might be the new favorites to win the Big 12, too, especially considering Rori Harmon’s season-ending injury. With all that taken into account, it only felt right to reward the Bears by moving them into the No. 5 spot in the Power Rankings. Collen was a deserving candidate for Coach of the Week as well.

What stands out most about Baylor is its balance in who scores and from where. Five players tallied at least 12 points against the Longhorns, and the Bears beat Texas in paint scoring (44-36) and in 3-point shooting (9-for-20 vs. 4-for-16).

Coming up, they have an opportunity to pick up another ranked win when they host upstart TCU on Wednesday.

6. LSU Tigers (13-1)
Previous ranking:
6
This week: vs. Missouri (Thursday), at Ole Miss (Sunday)

The defending national champs closed their nonconference slate 13-1 with another sizable win, taking down Jacksonville 110-68 on Saturday. They’ve won 13 straight and have rattled off six 100-point-plus performances, yet SEC play will be far more revealing on just where LSU is at.

Fortunately for the Tigers, they’ll have Hailey Van Lith back in tow, as the point guard made her return Saturday after missing the previous four games due to plantar fasciitis. Between injuries, illness and other absences, Tigers coach Kim Mulkey has had to utilize seven different starting lineups in 14 games — and this was just the third time she could go with Van Lith, Flau’jae Johnson, Mikaylah Williams, Aneesah Morrow and Angel Reese as the starting five.

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Reese, Morrow’s double-doubles power LSU past JU

The Tigers’ star-duo of Aneesah Morrow (20 points, 10 rebounds) and Angel Reese (17 points, 20 rebounds) dazzle in the 110-68 victory over the Dolphins.

7. Iowa Hawkeyes (13-1)
Previous ranking:
7
This week: vs. Michigan State (Tuesday), at Rutgers (Friday)

Another week, another set of records for Caitlin Clark. With 35 points and 10 dimes in Iowa’s 94-71 win over previously one-loss Minnesota, the reigning national player of the year became the Big Ten’s all-time assists leader and rose to No. 5 on the Division I all-time scoring list, the latest step in her quest to surpass Kelsey Plum’s scoring record. With the victory, the Hawkeyes have won 10 straight, their longest win streak since 2004-05.

The development of Hannah Stuelke, who had a productive afternoon with 19 points and eight rebounds in 24 minutes against the Gophers, is crucial for the Hawkeyes’ long-term aspirations.

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1:38

UConn Huskies vs. Marquette Golden Eagles – Game Highlights

Watch the Game Highlights from UConn Huskies vs. Marquette Golden Eagles, 12/31/2023

8. UConn Huskies (10-3)
Previous ranking:
9
This week: at Creighton (Wednesday), at Georgetown (Sunday)

The Huskies will start 2024 on a high note following a statement conference win against a very good (and previously undefeated) Marquette team. After a slow start in which they went down 10, UConn took control, outscoring the Golden Eagles 80-37 over the next 22 minutes, fueled in large part due to their uptick in defensive intensity. Paige Bueckers, the 2021 national player of the year, led the charge on offense with 25 points and five assists — joining Ohio State’s Jacy Sheldon as the only players in the nation with three 25-point games against ranked competition — while Aaliyah Edwards added a double-double (19 points, 12 rebounds).

UConn has some big nonconference tests remaining in Notre Dame and South Carolina, but overall this looks like a team with much greater comfort and understanding of its strengths, powered by its four-guard lineup, compared to where it was at the beginning of December.

9. Texas Longhorns (13-1)
Previous ranking:
4
This week: at Texas Tech (Wednesday), at West Virginia (Saturday)

Texas didn’t do anything “wrong” to drop five spots in Power Rankings. But with teams like Colorado, Baylor and UConn coming away with big wins, those three deserved to be moved up at least one spot, and no one else faltered enough to drop below the Longhorns. Plus, the season-ending ACL injury to Harmon, their do-it-all point guard, impacts their ceiling both on the Big 12 and national stage.

That said, Vic Schaefer’s group showed a lot of fight on Saturday, keeping things tight against Baylor without Harmon as well as leading scorer/rebounder Taylor Jones. Taking on point guard duties with Harmon out, freshman Madison Booker showed out with 25 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. With Aaliyah Moore and DeYona Gaston still making their way back from injury, and Jones yet to return, there’s reason to stay optimistic in Austin as long as those pieces continue to progress on the right trajectory.

10. Stanford Cardinal (12-1)
Previous ranking:
8
This week: vs. Washington State (Friday), vs. Washington (Sunday)

The Cardinal didn’t flounder to get bumped two spots; other teams simply did more to jump ahead. In fact, Stanford finished the week with another two wins to get Tara VanDerveer within five victories of breaking Mike Krzyzewski’s all-time wins record, defeating cross-bay rival Cal by 27 points and trouncing Morgan State by 60. Cameron Brink tallied 31 points, 12 rebounds and eight blocks across both games this week, while Talana Lepolo’s career-high 20 points on six 3s helped the Cardinal get past the Bears.

Both Washington schools will present a challenge for Stanford this upcoming weekend, the Cougars as the defending Pac-12 tournament champ, and the Huskies with just one loss on the season.

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Cameron Brink sinks it from downtown

Cameron Brink sinks it from downtown, 12/31/2023

11. Kansas State Wildcats (13-1)
Previous ranking:
12
This week: vs. Houston (Wednesday), at UCF (Saturday)

Kansas State opened Big 12 play on a high note, defeating new league member Cincinnati 66-41 in the teams’ first-ever meeting. The Wildcats’ 13-1 record is the best under coach Jeff Mittie since he arrived in Manhattan in 2014 and is the program’s best since 2008-09.

With eight boards on the day, senior Ayoka Lee joined Kendra Wecker (who recorded 1,087 from 2001-05) as the only players in program history with 1,000-plus career rebounds (Lee’s total sits at 1,001). Two more new Big 12 members, Houston and UCF, are up next.

12. USC Trojans (10-1)
Previous ranking:
11
This week: vs. Oregon State (Friday), vs. Oregon (Sunday)

From a Power Rankings perspective, USC benefited by other teams like Notre Dame, Utah and Ohio State all taking losses. And though the Trojans might look back on this game and think about what they did wrong, they still had a lot of positives amid their first defeat of the season. They were within striking distance the whole game against the Bruins, and defensively made a lot of things difficult for UCLA, especially star center Lauren Betts.

Freshman phenom JuJu Watkins struggled to hit shots from the floor, but still kept her presence felt by constantly getting to the free throw line (11-for-12). And grad transfer McKenzie Forbes came up huge with 23 points, fresh off a career-high 36 the week prior.

Based on how Round 1 transpired, the rematch with UCLA on Jan. 14 (at the Galen Center) will be appointment viewing.

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Juju Watkins flies by 3 USC defenders for a UCLA and-1 bucket

Juju Watkins shows off the handles with a nice move to the basket for an and-1.

13. Virginia Tech Hokies (10-2)
Previous ranking:
16
This week: at Wake Forest (Thursday), vs. NC State (Sunday)

The Hokies received a nice bump in the Power Rankings due to results elsewhere more than anything else. With six in double figures, Virginia Tech started off league play with a bang, taking down Pitt 91-41, good for its largest conference win since the Hokies joined the ACC in 2004. Their upcoming showdown versus No. 3 NC State at home presents a fantastic opportunity to come through with their first marquee win of the season and to re-assert themselves as ACC favorites.

14. Indiana Hoosiers (11-1)
Previous ranking:
NR
This week: vs. Michigan (Thursday), at Nebraska (Sunday)

The Hoosiers are back in the Power Rankings thanks to some messiness emerging among other teams and having improved to 11-1 and 2-0 in league play following Sunday’s 77-71 win over Illinois. The victory required a 30-piece from Mackenzie Holmes, a season-best night from Chloe Moore-McNeil (19 points) and a big shot from Yarden Garzon down the stretch to pull off.

If Indiana can go 2-0 this week against the Michigan and Nebraska — both of which are unranked but Big Ten teams that can’t be overlooked — it would help them keep a spot on this list.

15. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (9-2)
Previous ranking:
13
This week: at Pitt (Thursday), vs. North Carolina (Sunday)

The Irish — still without Olivia Miles, Sonia Citron and Cassandre Prosper — had won nine straight games before falling to the unranked Orange in Syracuse. Hannah Hidalgo stuffed the staff sheet once more with a career-high 32 points, six assists, five rebounds and seven steals, but she’ll need more help, particularly from Notre Dame’s posts, moving forward in ACC play.

More than anything, the Irish need to get healthy, fast. What doomed them? Allowing Syracuse to dominate the glass (minus-12) and score 30 points off turnovers. The Irish are undefeated when they win the rebounding battle.

16. Utah Utes (10-3)
Previous ranking:
15
This week: at Arizona State (Friday), at Arizona (Sunday)

It was hard to imagine dropping the Utes from Power Rankings entirely given the teams they’ve lost to — Baylor, South Carolina and now Colorado — are all top-10 teams in the AP poll (and top-five in Power Rankings as of this week). So they slide down to the lowest spot possible, for now. Unless they find more help for Alissa Pili, they might be in for some more bumps as Pac-12 play gets going. With its loss to the Buffaloes in Boulder, Utah fell to 0-31 all-time on the road against AP top-10 teams.

Dropped out: Ohio State





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