- Mechelle 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.
As the 2021-22 women’s college basketball season opened, some things didn’t look much different from last season. UConn’s Paige Bueckers, Iowa’s Caitlin Clark and Baylor’s NaLyssa Smith haven’t missed a beat as player of the year candidates.
But defending national champion Stanford and fellow top-10 team Louisville struggled in the absence of star guards lost to the WNBA. Without Kiana Williams, No. 3 Stanford has 41 turnovers in two games: a 91-36 win over Morgan State on Thursday and a 61-56 loss to No. 25 Texas on Sunday. And No. 6 Louisville fell 61-59 on Friday to national runner-up and No. 22-ranked Arizona, the Cardinals looking frazzled at times offensively without Dana Evans, who won a WNBA title as a rookie with Chicago.
“It got everybody’s attention really quickly: This is how it’s going to be,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said Sunday of what it’s like to come back as the national champs. “Our lack of experience at point guard was on full display. We just have a lot of work to do.”
VanDerveer found plusses for Haley Jones, Anna Wilson and Lacie Hull, who ran point for Stanford on Sunday. But it didn’t look like the usual Stanford offense, with just seven assists to 20 turnovers. VanDerveer also credited Texas, which again showed the defensive prowess that last season fueled the Longhorns’ run to the Elite Eight.
“I think that full-court defensive pressure kind of got us out of whack,” she said. “They’re used to having Kiana out there just getting the ball up the court, initiating and running our offense. You have people doing it who are not used to doing that job.”
But VanDerveer expects the Cardinal will develop into a much better team than the one that struggled Sunday. Similarly, Louisville coach Jeff Walz didn’t sound downbeat after the Cardinals’ loss to Arizona. Like Stanford, which went 4-of-27 from 3-point range along with its turnover problem, Louisville was 2-of-11 from long range with 17 giveaways.
“Offensively, we were stagnant at times and couldn’t get some things to fall,” Walz said. “And we turned the ball over too much. We have to get better, but we aren’t that far off.”
Every Monday this season, we’ll look at the top storylines across the country, hand out weekly awards to the best of the previous week and update our Power Rankings for the top 16 teams. Teams won’t automatically fall because of losses — this is not a poll — and there will be some big jumps and big falls, especially during the first several weeks as we get a feel for the teams.
Player of the Week: Ayoka Lee, Kansas State
The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 28.7 points and 10.3 rebounds in three victories, while hitting 72% (36-of-50) of her shots from the field. That included a school-record 43 points in the Wildcats’ opener against Central Arkansas. Kansas State hosts North Carolina A&T, and then comes the real challenge: at No. 5 NC State on Friday. How will Lee fare against All-American senior center Elissa Cunane?
Team of the Week: Arizona
Maybe no one outside of Tucson was quite sure what to expect from the Wildcats after their magical season came up just short of an NCAA title in April. But Arizona has started 2-0, including the win over Louisville, and coach Adia Barnes isn’t afraid to say she thinks the Wildcats will be pretty good. Are we surprised? Nope. Arizona proved too much last season to be doubted, regardless of personnel losses. Like Stanford and Louisville, Arizona also lost a key guard to the WNBA in Aari McDonald, but the Wildcats appear to have pivoted to being a stronger post team this season.
Win of the Week: Texas 61, Stanford 56
Texas coach Vic Schaefer apparently decided to make his Sundays as challenging as possible during nonconference play. It started this week with the victory over the Cardinal. On Sunday, the Longhorns travel to No. 15 Tennessee (1 p.m. ET, ESPN). On Dec. 5, the Longhorns are at No. 23 Texas A&M (SEC Network). On Dec. 19, they face Arizona at the Pac-12 Coast-to-Coast Challenge in Las Vegas (ESPN).
And when the Big 12 Conference season begins, both meetings with nemesis Baylor are also on a Sunday: Jan. 9 in Waco, Texas, (ESPN) and Feb. 6 in Austin (ESPN2).
Coach of the Week: Jennie Baranczyk, Oklahoma
The Sooners started the post-Sherri Coale era Tuesday with a 73-71 win on the road at tough-to-play-at South Dakota, and topped the century mark in their home opener, a 101-89 victory Friday over Arkansas State. After facing Central Arkansas on Tuesday, Oklahoma heads to the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, where it opens there Saturday with No. 10 Oregon.
1. South Carolina Gamecocks (2-0)
This week: vs. Clemson (Wednesday), vs. Buffalo at Battle 4 Atlantis (Saturday)
Guard play, led by Zia Cooke and Destanni Henderson, has been a big plus thus far for the Gamecocks, who already have a top-five road win under their belts (NC State). The big concern now is the status of freshman guard Raven Johnson, the No. 2 overall recruit who left Friday’s victory over South Dakota because of a knee injury.
2. UConn Huskies (1-0)
This week: vs. Minnesota at Battle 4 Atlantis (Saturday)
Bueckers had a career-high 34 points to start UConn’s season with a victory over Arkansas, while Azzi Fudd started her Huskies’ career with seven points. Next up, UConn will head to the Bahamas, where the Huskies could end up facing South Carolina in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game Nov. 22.
3. Maryland Terrapins (3-0)
This week: vs. Mount St. Mary’s (Tuesday), vs. UNC Wilmington (Thursday), vs. Baylor (Sunday)
Sophomore forward Angel Reese is off and running, totaling 56 points and 33 rebounds in three wins. Injuries are the Terps’ biggest concern thus far: Guard Diamond Miller (knee soreness) hasn’t played, and point guard Ashley Owusu rolled her ankle in Sunday’s victory at James Madison. Freshman guard Shyanne Sellers is off to a good start, averaging 13.3 PPG.
4. Baylor Bears (2-0)
This week: vs. New Orleans (Monday), at Maryland (Sunday)
Smith, a senior forward who won the Wade Trophy last season, is averaging 22 points and 11.5 rebounds thus far, and transfer guard Jordan Lewis has led the Bears in assists at 5.5 per game. The Bears, under new coach Nicki Collen, can expect a very tough test when they travel to face the Terps.
5. NC State Wolfpack (2-1)
This week: vs. Towson (Monday), vs. Kansas State (Friday)
The Wolfpack lost their opener 66-57 to visiting South Carolina, but they looked more like coach Wes Moore is hoping for in Sunday’s 85-52 win over Florida. In between, they beat Wofford 90-57. NC State’s combined 21 3-pointers against the Terriers and Gators were especially good news for Moore, as was the return to the starting lineup of forward Kayla Jones, who was injured in the NCAA tournament last season.
6. Indiana Hoosiers (2-0)
This week: vs. Norfolk State (Tuesday), at Quinnipiac (Saturday)
With five starters back from Indiana’s first Elite Eight team, the Hoosiers expect another exciting season in Bloomington. Sunday’s 88-67 win over regional rival Kentucky provided their largest margin of victory in the series since a 29-point win in the teams’ inaugural meeting in 1974. Junior forward Mackenzie Holmes had a career-high 29 points vs. the Wildcats, while guard Nicole Cardaño-Hillary had 29 in Wednesday’s win at Butler.
7. Iowa Hawkeyes (3-0)
This week: vs. Southern (Wednesday), vs. Drake (Sunday)
Clark, a sophomore guard who led Division I women in scoring last season at 26.6 PPG, is averaging 23.3 through three games. And senior forward/center Monika Czinano, tops in the nation in field goal percentage last season (66.8), is at 63.6% so far.
8. Texas Longhorns (2-0)
This week: vs. Southeast Missouri State (Wednesday), at Tennessee (Sunday)
Imagine a team scoring 70 points fewer from one game to the next — yet the second game was a much bigger victory. It was that kind of weirdly wonderful week for the Longhorns, who pulverized New Orleans 131-36 on Tuesday and then upset the defending national champions at Stanford 61-56 on Sunday. Rori Harmon, with 21 points vs. the Cardinal, is a freshman to watch. Texas was No. 25 in the preseason Associated Press poll. But this is a good Power Rankings spot for now for the team that got the biggest win of the first week.
9. Arizona Wildcats (2-0)
This week: vs. Texas Southern (Monday), vs. Marist (Friday)
Speaking of big wins, as mentioned the Wildcats picked up where they left off last season by beating Louisville. Senior forward Cate Reese is off to a strong start, averaging 17.5 PPG. Barnes is pleased with the depth on this team following its Final Four season.
10. Stanford Cardinal (1-1)
This week: vs. Portland (Tuesday), at Gonzaga (Sunday)
Sunday’s loss to Texas took a little shine off the Cardinal’s postgame ceremony for their national championship rings. But it wasn’t the worst thing for VanDerveer’s squad: It provided a clear delineation between the great thing that the Cardinal achieved last season and what they are trying to do again this season.
11. Louisville Cardinals (0-1)
This week: vs. Bellarmine (Tuesday), vs. UT Martin (Wednesday), at Washington (Saturday)
Even though the Cardinals shot just 28.6% from the field against Arizona, Louisville could have gotten the overtime win if a play or two had gone differently. That’s what Walz hopes his squad learned, and now the Cardinals will have a chance to show that with back-to-back games at home.
12. Iowa State Cyclones (1-0)
This week: vs. South Dakota State (Monday), at Drake (Thursday), vs. Southern (Sunday)
Guard Lexi Donarski, the Big 12 freshman of the year last season with a team-best 53 3-pointers, made 6 of 12 from long range in the Cyclones’ 65-38 opening win against Omaha. Another sophomore, Emily Ryan, tied a school record with nine steals.
13. Michigan Wolverines (2-0)
This week: vs. UMass Lowell (Tuesday), at Central Michigan (Saturday)
After a 67-62 overtime win over Horizon League favorite IUPUI to open the season, the Wolverines routed St. Francis Brooklyn 82-46. Senior forward Naz Hillmon is averaging 24.5 points and 10.0 rebounds.
14. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (3-0)
This week: at East Tennessee State (Wednesday), vs. Auburn (Sunday)
The Yellow Jackets are making themselves hard to guard because of their balance: Five players are averaging between 11.3 and 9.3 points. They’ve also held their three opponents to an average of 43.3 PPG.
15. Florida State Seminoles (2-0)
This week: vs. Jacksonville (Thursday), vs. Grambling State (Sunday)
The Seminoles got comfortable victories over North Florida and Milwaukee, and they’re likely to get good leadership all season from senior guards Morgan Jones (13.5 PPG) and Bianca Jackson (11.5).
16. Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (3-0)
This week: vs. Manhattan (Friday) and vs. Fairfield (Saturday) in the ASUN/MAAC Challenge in Orlando, Florida)
Wins over Power Five schools are nothing new for the Eagles, and LSU coach Kim Mulkey acknowledged she wasn’t looking forward to facing them in her second game with the Tigers. FGCU, led by Kierstan Bell’s 32 points and 10 rebounds, made 14 of 25 from behind the arc in beating LSU 88-74 on Sunday in Baton Rouge. Bell is averaging 26.7 points and 9.3 rebounds.
In the waiting room
Tennessee (2-0): The good news is that junior star Rae Burrell does not have an ACL injury, but she’s still out indefinitely after hurting her knee in the Lady Vols’ season opener.
Virginia Tech (3-0): Center Elizabeth Kitley is averaging 21.0 points, 9.7 rebounds and 4.0 blocked shots.
Texas A&M (2-0): In his final season, coach Gary Blair will rely a lot on his guards. So far, Jordan Nixon, Kayla Wells and Destiny Pitts are all averaging double-figures scoring.
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