Michael Voepel, ESPN.comFeb 12, 2024, 09:00 AM ET
- Michael Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.
The No. 2 spot in ESPN’s women’s college basketball Power Rankings has been hard to hold on to since the calendar turned to 2024. Once again this week, a different team sits behind undefeated South Carolina.
Ohio State, winner of 11 in a row and now leading the Big Ten at 12-1, replace Iowa in the No. 2 slot after the Hawkeyes’ loss at Nebraska. Iowa started at No. 2 in the first Power Rankings back in November. Then UCLA took over and held it through the first week of January.
But since Jan. 15, five different teams — Colorado, UCLA, Iowa, Kansas State and now Ohio State — have taken that spot. All the changeover shows how challenging conference play is for most teams, even if that hasn’t been the case for the Gamecocks, who nailed down a big nonconference win against UConn on Sunday.
Ohio State had decisive road victories this past week at Minnesota and Michigan State and has just one currently ranked team remaining on the regular-season schedule: at Iowa in the finale on March 3.
Ohio State beat Iowa in overtime on Jan. 21 in Columbus. If the Buckeyes win out, they will claim the Big Ten regular-season title outright for the first time since 2018. They shared it with Iowa in 2022. But considering how slippery the No. 2 spot has been, we will see what happens.
Dyaisha Fair ices the upset win from the FT line for Syracuse
Dyaisha Fair ices the upset win from the FT line for Syracuse.
Player of the week: Dyaisha Fair, Syracuse
In a dramatic and controversial finish to Sunday’s 73-72 victory over Louisville — one that drew much ire from Cardinals coach Jeff Walz — Fair went to the line with two seconds left and the Orange trailing by one point. She hit both free throws, giving Syracuse the victory and finishing with 29 points. She also had 17 points in the Orange’s 62-59 win over Georgia Tech on Thursday.
Fair continues to move up the NCAA career scoring list; she currently ranks sixth at 3,213 points, 70 behind fifth-place Brittney Griner. Fair is averaging 21.8 points with five regular-season and at least two postseason games left, between the ACC and NCAA tournaments.
Fair is in her fifth season because of the 2020-21 COVID-19 waiver, which makes her the only player in the NCAA career top 10 in scoring who didn’t reach 3,000 points in the standard four seasons. Still, Fair has had a strong college career between her three seasons at Buffalo and two at Syracuse.
Team of the week: Ohio State
The Buckeyes started their Big Ten schedule a bit on the shaky side, needing overtime to beat Penn State and then losing at Michigan. Both of those games were in December; since the calendar turned to 2024, the Buckeyes are 11-0. In their wins this week at Minnesota and Michigan State, guard Celeste Taylor led the way with a combined 34 points.
Win of the week: Nebraska 82, Iowa 79
Nebraska has struggled for consistency this season, including a dismal 71-70 loss at home to Rutgers, the Big Ten’s last-place team, on Feb. 3. But this past week, Nebraska won 65-59 at Michigan on Tuesday, then got its biggest victory of the season by upsetting the Hawkeyes before a full house at home Sunday. The game was sort of a microcosm of the Huskers’ season, as they trailed by as much as 14 points, but won with a stellar fourth quarter in which they outscored Iowa 27-10.
Coach of the week: Felisha Legette-Jack, Syracuse
The Orange were picked to finish ninth in the ACC preseason poll. After their victories last week against Georgia Tech and Louisville, they are 20-4 overall and 10-3 in the ACC, good for second place in a tight race. Legette-Jack took over at her alma mater last season, going 20-13 and reaching the third round of the WNIT. She came to Syracuse after previously being a head coach at Hofstra, Indiana and Buffalo.
Kitts and Johnson connect for sweet South Carolina bucket
Chloe Kitts shows off her court vision and finds Raven Johnson near the hoop for a South Carolina score.
No Kamilla Cardoso? No problem. The Gamecocks were without their leading scorer and rebounder last week, as she was playing with the Brazilian national team. But they beat Missouri and UConn, the later in a nonconference showdown that felt more like a Gamecocks coronation.
Go back to the Buckeyes’ overtime victory against Iowa on Jan. 21, in which they rallied from a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit. Since then, they’ve won some close calls and some blowouts, and success in both scenarios has put their confidence at a high level.
Things got dicey for the Cardinal in Seattle on Friday, but they pulled out an overtime win against Washington. Then against Washington State, a team they have owned over the years, the Cardinal won by 15 on Sunday. Stanford’s Cameron Brink had a combined 43 points, 20 rebounds, 9 assists and 8 blocks in the two games.
Caitlin Clark dodges record talk: We have to stop blowing leads
Caitlin Clark says she’s more focused on helping her team win than setting the NCAA women’s scoring record.
It was a week of emotional highs and lows for the Hawkeyes. Sophomore Hannah Stuelke had a career-high 47 points — second in Iowa history to Megan Gustafson’s 48 — in a victory over Penn State on Thursday. Then with the Hawkeyes appearing in control Sunday (leading by 14 after three quarters) they stumbled badly in the final period and lost at Nebraska. With Caitlin Clark eight points from setting the NCAA women’s basketball scoring record, Iowa will attempt to get the good vibes back in its lone game this week.
Fair to say coach Vic Schaefer wasn’t happy with the Longhorns after their 91-87 loss at home to Oklahoma on Jan. 24. He was livid about their defensive effort; since then, Texas has held all four opponents to an average of 50.5 points. That included a 65-43 win over TCU on Saturday.
The Hokies take the biggest jump in the Power Rankings this week, up eight spots after winning at NC State and against Boston College. Virginia Tech has now won seven in a row and leads the topsy-turvy ACC at 11-2. Elizabeth Kitley (49 points, 28 rebounds) and Georgia Amoore (38 points, 14 assists) had another big week.
It was a challenging week for the Wolfpack, with back-to-back home games against top ACC rivals Louisville (win) and Virginia Tech (loss), plus a trip to Pittsburgh (win). NC State is tied for third with Louisville, and the conference race is likely to come down to the final day of the regular season.
With Ayoka Lee (ankle injury) still sidelined, the Wildcats came close to losing their third game in a row. But they survived 69-68 over Oklahoma State last week and held on, however tenuously, to their spot in the top 10.
The Buffaloes beat Oregon but lost to Oregon State last week and drop back out of the top five. Colorado had its lowest point total of the season (59) vs. the Beavers, but Oregon State does that to a lot of teams. Colorado is still holding on to second place in the Pac-12.
Angel Reese racks up 27 points, 19 boards in LSU’s victory
Angel Reese has a big 27-point game for LSU in its win over Alabama.
10. LSU Tigers (21-4)
Previous ranking: 10
This week: No games
The Tigers stay put in the Power Rankings after victories over Vanderbilt and Alabama, with Angel Reese getting a combined 42 points and 35 rebounds. LSU gets this week to practice before playing three games the following week.
A lot of the spotlight this Big Ten season has been on Iowa and Ohio State, the only teams that have defeated Indiana in conference play. But the Hoosiers are still in the thick of the conference race, tied for second place. Indiana is coming off victories over Michigan State and Purdue in which Chloe Moore-McNeil had a combined 32 points, 15 rebounds and 16 assists.
Look out for Oregon State. The Beavers didn’t just sweep their foes on the mountain trip last week, but crushed both defensively, allowing just 44 points to Utah and 59 to Colorado. Can Oregon State avenge early-January losses to the L.A. schools this weekend at home? If so, the Beavers will be leaping into the top 10.
It was all good news this past weekend for the Bruins, as they beat Arizona and Arizona State and saw the return of sophomore Lauren Betts. She had missed the previous four games for an undisclosed medical reason. Betts had six points and nine rebounds against the Wildcats, then led the Bruins with 18 points on 9-for-10 shooting against the Sun Devils, adding seven rebounds.
Paige Bueckers beats the buzzer with clutch tip-in
UConn’s Paige Bueckers grabs the offensive rebound and gets the basket to fall before the halftime buzzer.
For the Huskies, it wasn’t as concerning to drop a game this week — after all, they were expected to lose at South Carolina — as it was to get passed by other teams. Considering how well they have played in the Big East (where they are 12-0), they don’t seem likely to lose again for a while.
The Cardinals had a challenging week — opponent-wise and travel-wise — that ended badly. They lost by 10 at NC State, then won at home vs. Notre Dame, then appeared close to victory at Syracuse before a disputed call gave the Orange two free throws to win it. Louisville coach Jeff Walz had a point in arguing that there’s a difference between trying to foul for strategy purposes and an intentional foul, but the officials apparently didn’t see it that way.
It’s a huge week for the Sooners to solidify their hold on first place in the Big 12, as they face two ranked teams. Oklahoma has won eight in a row and might be the Power 5 team that has had the biggest positive shift in momentum between nonconference and conference play.
Dropped out: Notre Dame