NCAAW what to watch: No. 4 Maryland vs. No. 8 South Carolina leads weekend slate with star freshmen

Cassandra NegleyYahoo Sports Contributor
Maryland and South Carolina begin the top-25 action this weekend. (Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Maryland and South Carolina begin the top-25 action this weekend. (Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

If you live in large swaths of the nation, you’re probably looking to hunker down inside as the season’s first Arctic blast hits this weekend. But even if it’s sunny and 75, there’s reason to stay in with good women’s basketball to be had on national TV.

No. 8 South Carolina and No. 4 Maryland provide the first ranked matchup of the season, while No. 1 Oregon will gets its shot at the U.S. national team during its fall tour. Could it be the team’s second ever loss against a collegiate squad?

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Plus, there are plenty of things to watch for as Notre Dame and UConn try to bounce back from some rough news.

No. 8 South Carolina vs. No. 4 Maryland

Sunday, 3 p.m. ET on ESPN

It’s a good time to be a Terp. Maryland was represented by five graduates in the WNBA Finals (six former players in total) and enters the 2019-20 campaign with the No. 4 ranking. The first test comes early, though, and Sunday the Terrapins will go up against the No. 8 South Carolina Gamecocks in the first ranked matchup of the year.

Maryland had seven of its eight players score in double digits in a blowout 119-56 win over Wagner to open the season. The outputs for those seven were nearly identical with three players scoring 18 apiece. One was senior 6-foot guard Kaila Charles, who made multiple award watch lists, and another was freshman Ashley Owusu. The 6-foot point guard was the top ranked at her position out of high school and added nine assists, no turnovers, four steals and three rebounds.

South Carolina, led by senior guard and watch list entrant Tyasha Harris, also experienced stellar collegiate debuts. Freshman Aliyah Boston had a triple-double that included 10 blocks and Olivia Thompson, a local walk-on guard, scored seven points in 38 seconds (she finished with 10).

The seniors know what it’s like at this level, and the upperclassmen’s play will set the tone. But how the freshmen fare will determine the game and the early goings of the season.

Maryland fell behind, 18-6, in last season’s meeting of top-10 teams but went on a 26-point run to win, 85-61. The Terps, who are 2-1 all time against South Carolina, held the Gamecocks to 35.6 percent shooting from the floor, including 1-of-21 from 3-point range, and controlled the boards (53-29) with Charles and sophomore Shakira Austin.

No. 1 Oregon vs. U.S. national team

Saturday, 7 p.m. ET | Free at Pac-12.com

All right, so this isn’t a game that will count in any sort of standings. But it is a game that will tell us just how good Oregon will be this season. The Ducks are championship favorites, hold the first No. 1 ranking in school history and return three of the game’s best players.

Sabrina Ionescu is the talk of the sport after she announced there was more left to do at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene. The Wooden Award winner is projected to go No. 1 in the 2020 WNBA Draft next April and Saturday’s matchup will be a tantalizing appetizer for what we can expect next summer.

The Ducks boast two more of the game’s top-10 players in senior forward Ruthy Hebard and junior forward Satou Sabally. Hebard averaged 16.1 points last season on 67 percent shooting with 9.1 rebounds per game. Sabally averaged 16.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.4 steals.

Stanford came close against Team USA last weekend and how well Oregon fares comparatively will only fuel anticipation for the Pac-12 opponents’ first of two meetings on Jan. 16.

Team USA is 39-1 all time against collegiate teams with the one loss coming against Pat Summitt-led Tennessee in November 1999. They’re 3-0 this autumn, despite a record scoring performance against Team USA from Texas A&M junior guard Chennedy Carter. The No. 6 Aggies lost, 93-63, on Thursday night.

The 5-foot-7 Carter, one of the nation’s top five players, broke the 23-year record set in February 1996 by Texas Tech’s Michi Atkins, who had 32 points.

Best of the rest

The rest of the Associated Press Top 25 teams will have kicked off their 2019-20 seasons by the time Monday morning rolls around. The full weekend schedule can be found here.

No. 16 Notre Dame was nearly upset in the opener against Fordham in front of a sold-out crowd. Already without any of last season’s starters and defensive presence Abby Prohaska, the Fighting Irish took another hit this week. They’ll be without center Mikayla Vaughn, who is out 4 to 6 weeks with a right knee sprain. The 6-foot-3 junior scored 125 points in 364 minutes last year and is the team’s most prolific returning scorer. Of the 3,454 points the team scored last season, 70 will now be available (2 percent) for the home opener against Loyola Maryland (7-24 in ’18-19).

No. 5 UConn will be one to watch after graduating the most prolific duo in school history. At UConn, that’s saying a lot. The Huskies also got some bad news when the NCAA declined to grant Evina Westbrook, a transfer from Tennessee, an immediate waiver and forward Batouly Camara underwent knee surgery. They host California on Sunday in the season opener.

We leave you with ...

Breanna Stewart and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis were back in their college town over the weekend to announce the U.S. national team is extending its tour and will play UConn in January. And while they were at it, they had some fun at their old coach’s expense on Instagram.

Allow Geno Auriemma to explain his party-pooper status.

Auriemma also said Stewart, who tore her Achilles a year ago, would like to play in the exhibition and can do almost everything except sharp cutting and things off one leg, per Alexa Philippou. That’s far from dull news.

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