At this point, was anyone actually looking forward to a second South Carolina vs. Connecticut showdown?
Surely Gamecock fans were excited to notch another W in the series. Nothing says "put respect on our name" like back-to-back wins against the women's college powerhouse of the era. But the question South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley rightly asked herself was, what does this game actually get us?
Their resume is already nearly unbeatable at 8-0 against Associated Press Top 25-ranked opponents, plus two wins against teams briefly ranked at some point this season. They already took down the full-strength Huskies, 73-57, at the Bad Boy Mowers Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. South Carolina won the fourth quarter, 16-3, and that was with Paige Bueckers and Christyn Williams on the floor.
Bueckers and 2021 No. 1 recruit Azzi Fudd remain out with injuries, and Williams is still working her way back from COVID-19 protocol. UConn head coach Geno Auriemma told reporters there's a "good chance" Williams won't play Thursday.
In a regular season, go for the bragging rights if you're South Carolina. But this isn't a normal anything with the pandemic still ongoing, and the Gamecocks (17-1, 5-1 SEC) have conference games to make up because of that pandemic. The big one is Ole Miss (17-2, 5-1 SEC), which only had a few available dates to reschedule. Staley said in a statement it became "more important to complete our SEC schedule to keep ourselves in the running for a conference title."
Tennessee is the only program perfect in SEC play at 7-0 (18-1 overall) and plays South Carolina in Columbia. Had the Ole Miss game not been rescheduled, each would have had nine SEC games left on the schedule. And even if South Carolina defeated Tennessee, if each won the rest of their SEC games, the Gamecocks would be a half-game back of the regular season title. That also means a No. 2 seed in the tournament, and the SEC is stacked.
Not to mention No. 1 South Carolina vs. No. 24 Ole Miss, which entered the AP poll for the first time in 15 years and features WNBA prospect Shakira Austin, sounds more enticing at the moment.
UConn was in a similar position. A win could have boosted their resume, and while we've seen plenty of upsets, the chances of that seem slim. Her Hoop Stats gave South Carolina an 87% chance of winning with a 12.5-point win margin. The Huskies have already been exposed and are working on those fixes, but they also know there's only so much they can do with their best talents on the bench.
They'll still have a quality opponent in DePaul, which leads the nation at 92.1 points per game. Their contest was also initially canceled because of COVID-19 protocols. The Blue Demons rank third in offensive efficiency and fourth in pace, per Her Hoop Stats. The flip side is their defense isn't great, allowing on average 75.9 points per game. That's a prime opportunity for UConn's offense to get rolling and at least keep some momentum and confidence within the program.
Upsets of the week
The excitement of the weekend wasn't only for the NFL divisional playoffs. At halftime of Sunday's 2 p.m. ET tipoffs, there were six games involving the Top 25 in action. Three of them were tied and one was a one-point game. Plus, a non-ranked Big 10 game had a four-point differential and Ohio State led Rutgers by six with 2:15 to play.
In all, nine Top 25 teams lost to a lesser-ranked opponent, though that includes No. 3 Louisville's loss to No. 4 N.C. State. Three teams lost multiple times in the week.
As always, for these purposes an upset is a lower or non-ranked team defeating a higher-ranked team. Rankings are as of the game, with Associated Press poll movement in parentheses.
No. 9 UConn 59, Oregon 72 (UConn down 1; Oregon ranked No. 19)
No. 22 Colorado 66, Oregon State 69 (OT) (Colorado dropped out)
No. 7 Iowa St. 48, No. 15 Texas 66 (Iowa St. down 6; Texas up 6)
No. 12 Maryland 89, Ohio State 95 (Maryland down 5; Ohio State ranked No. 22)
No. 19 Notre Dame 71, Boston College 73 (Notre Dame down 1)
No. 23 Kentucky 52, Florida 77 (Kentucky fell out for first time since Nov. 19, 2018)
No. 3 Louisville 59, No. 4 N.C. State 68 (Louisville down 2; N.C. State up 1)
No. 22 Colorado 52, Arizona State 57 (OT) (Colorado dropped out)
No. 23 Kentucky 54, Ole Miss 63 (Kentucky dropped out; Ole Miss ranked No. 24)
No. 11 LSU 72, Florida 73 (LSU down 1)
No. 14 Oklahoma 65, Kansas State 94 (Oklahoma down 6; Kansas State ranked No. 25)
No. 7 Iowa State 61, No. 15 Baylor 87 (Iowa State down 6; Baylor up 4)
Caitlin Clark, Ayoka Lee and National Player of the Year
Chicago Sky champion Lexie Brown took a break from practicing for the first Athletes Unlimited season to shout out a future WNBA draftee.
As N.C. State finished its fourth-quarter drubbing of Louisville, hoops fans flipped over to see Caitlin Clark collect a 10th assist for her fourth triple-double of the season. She is the first Big Ten player to reach four in a season and did it with a monster line in the 105-49 win over Minnesota.
this now a Caitlin Clark stan account because… pic.twitter.com/XkKHUopag1
— Lexie Brown (@Lexiebrown) January 21, 2022
Same, Lexie. Same.
No one had ever posted a 35/13/11 game, per Her Hoop Stats. The sophomore is the only collegiate basketball player with back-to-back 30-point triple-doubles and joins only six NBA players to do so in the last 22 years.
“Coach [Lisa] Bluder's system is perfect for me and makes this team great," Clark said in the postgame interview. "I couldn’t imagine being any place else or playing for any other coach. I love her to death. And I hope we get her a lot more wins.”
Clark has been on an absolute tear with Iowa back on a mostly regular schedule following starts and stops because of COVID-19 health and safety protocols. She averaged 32.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 9.2 assists in the six games culminating with the victory on Thursday. Her season totals aren't that far off: 25.6 points, 8.2 rebounds, 7.4 assists. And she nearly hit a fifth triple-double in a 26-point win against Illinois on Sunday. In 29 minutes, she was 8-of-17 (2-of-5 from three) for 18 points with eight rebounds and seven assists.
South Carolina forward Aliyah Boston has the inside track on National Player of the Year, but Clark has shot into consideration and has plenty of time to make more of a case. Not to mention Kansas State center Ayoka Lee and her recent record entry of 61 points. Take a look at this graphic by Her Hoop Stats — it says it all.
Yesterday Ayoka Lee broke the single-game scoring record with 61 points for @KStateWBB
In the process, she nearly outscored an entire ranked team on her own. Here's a fun look at a ridiculous performance pic.twitter.com/Rq4q0LSPml
— Her Hoop Stats (@herhoopstats) January 24, 2022
It might come down to the age-old question for voters: Is the most important player one who hits high marks for a good team or lifts a less-talented team herself?
Because if it's one who has proven herself as the most important player a program can't be without, the award might end up with Clark or Lee.
What to watch this week
No. 25 Kansas State (15-4, 5-2 Big 12) at No. 9 Texas (14-3, 4-2 Big 12), 8 p.m. ET on Longhorn Network
No. 10 UConn (11-4, 6-0 Big East) at DePaul (16-4, 8-1 Big East) at 8 p.m. ET on SNY
No. 24 Ole Miss (17-2, 5-1 SEC) at No. 1 South Carolina (17-1, 5-1 SEC), TBD
No. 7 Michigan (16-2, 7-1 Big Ten) at No. 22 Ohio State (15-3, 7-2 Big Ten), 6 p.m. ET on Big Ten Network
North Carolina (15-3, 5-3 ACC) at No. 21 Duke (13-4, 4-3 ACC), 7 p.m. ET on ACCNX
No. 9 Texas (14-3, 4-2 Big 12) at No. 18 Oklahoma (16-3, 5-2 Big 12), 3 p.m. ET
No. 21 Duke (13-4, 4-3 ACC) at No. 5 Louisville (16-2, 6-1 ACC), 3 p.m. ET on ESPN
No. 15 Georgia (15-4, 4-3 SEC) at No. 24 Ole Miss (17-2, 5-1 SEC), 3 p.m. ET on SECN+
No. 8 Arizona (14-2, 4-2 Pac-12) at No. 2 Stanford (14-3, 5-0 Pac-12), 4 p.m. ET on ESPN2