by Christian Mordi / @mordi_thecomeup
The end of the regular season is near, but there are still some tough battles left to be played before we get into conference tournament play. Possibly the biggest game of the season will ensue this week with Baylor traveling to UConn for a clash of two of the nation’s top teams.
Two stars—Bria Hartley and Odyssey Sims—will be going at it in the backcourt. Sims’ numbers may be down from last year, but that may be due to her nagging injury earlier this year and the lack of minutes due to Baylor’s many blowouts. Hartley is an All-American herself who battled a couple injuries earlier this year. Both are healthy at the right time. This will be a very entertaining contest.
1. Baylor (Last Week, 1)
Texas Tech did all it could to not let Brittney Griner drop 40 on them again, yet Baylor still made it look easy with an 89-47 victory in Waco. Griner was still a force with 10 points and 11 rebounds. “I did not think they would challenge us in man-to-man like they did in Lubbock, where Griner pretty much dominated,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “We’ve seen it all. You won by more tonight than you did with Griner getting 40 because you shared the wealth. And there’s lots of scoring on that sheet.” The Bears may have cruised to victory against the Red Raiders, but the team will have to bring their best game to beat UConn this week.
2. UConn (Last Week, 2)
Stefanie Dolson was sensational last game against a solid DePaul team. Dolson led the way for the Huskies with 23 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists. The defense of UConn smothered the Blue Demons on defense, holding them to 16 baskets and 17 second half points. UConn will need to bring that same defensive intensity next game, as they will face the nation’s No. 1 team in Baylor.
3. Notre Dame (Last Week, 3)
The Fighting Irish won its 18th straight game in a dominant fashion with a 93-64 victory against 10th ranked Louisville. Natalie Achonwa was a force down low for the Irish with 22 points and 12 rebounds in the game. Senior point guard Skylar Diggins navigated through the Cardinal defense with ease with 21 points on 9-13 shooting from the field.
4. Duke (Last Week, 4)
Chelsea Gray led the way with 28 points to help the Blue Devils beat 7th-ranked Maryland, 71-56. Duke remains undefeated in conference play at 12-0 on the season. This game was not one for the faint of heart, as both defenses bought a great effort in the contest. Duke was held to 37 percent shooting, but knocked down 21-22 free throws in the game, which made a huge difference.
5. Stanford (Last Week, 5)
Stanford’s role players are beginning to show signs of life with a nice overall team performance against Arizona State, winning 60-45. Chiney Ogwumike was sensational as always with 26 points and 14 rebounds, but Bonnie Samuelson was also a force with 19 points in the game. If the Cardinal can get consistent contributions on the offensive end, this team will become a much more dynamic unit.
6. Kentucky (Last Week, 7)
Senior guard A’dia Mathies scored a season-high 28 points, including 5 three-pointers, as Kentucky beat Vanderbilt 75-53 on Sunday. Despite a record of 21-3 the Wildcats sit at third in the conference with a 9-2 record against conference foes. Kentucky also will have five of their final seven games on the road the year. Kentucky will look to ride the hot hand of their star player during this tough road stretch.
7. California (Last Week, 6)
The Golden Bears won a high-scoring affair against Arizona, 91-86. California is in the midst of its longest winning streak in four years with nine-straight Ws. “It’s cool when you see your hard work pay off,” said senior center Talia Caldwell, who shot 7-9 from the floor. “It’s really cooler getting those wins. I knew I would break open.” The Golden Bears are competing for first Pac-12 title and are in first place in the conference.
8. Penn State (Last Week, 9)
Penn State continues to put the upset against Wisconsin behind them with a solid victory against Michigan State, 71-56. Senior point guard Alex Bentley was locked in with 24 points in the game. Maggie Lucas also added 19 points as the Lady Lions won their 18th straight home game and built a two-game lead in the Big Ten Conference with that last victory. Bentley hit the Penn State record books by becoming only the fourth Penn State player to make 300 steals and the fourth player in the Big Ten to score 1,500 points, record 500 assists and have 300 steals in a career.
9. Maryland (Last Week, 8 )
The Terps couldn’t buy a bucket all night in Durham. Reigning ACC Player of the Year Alyssa Thomas was 2-15, and yet Maryland was still in the game until the final minutes. The Terps couldn’t find a way to get to the line and get easy baskets, as Chelsea Gray of Duke alone shot more free throws than the whole Maryland team combined. Senior forward Tianna Hawkins finished with 6 points on 3-11 shooting and 7 rebounds, which was well below her season averages of 19.6 points and 9.9 boards. Look for Maryland to find ways to get easy baskets next time around against Duke.
10. Louisville (Last Week, 10)
The Cardinal took a tough loss against Notre Dame earlier this week, losing 93-64. Louisville shot the ball fairly well from the field at 43 percent and also knocked down more threes, but the huge (and I mean huge) discrepancy was at the free-throw line. Louisville got to the line for only 7 attempts while Notre Dame made camp at the charity stripe with 26 attempts in the contest. “I thought we came out, we attacked and we went at them inside,” said Louisville coach Jeff Walz. “We get to the line seven times, and I thought we attacked and went hard at the basket. Somehow they got to the line 26 times. Stuff happens, I guess.” It will be interesting to see these two teams lock up again when there is more balance in that aspect of the game.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Chelsea Gray, Duke, guard
The Duke guard was unstoppable in the biggest game of the season for the Blue Devils, with 28 points against Maryland. The 5-11 point guard is usually known for her ability to create easy shots for others, but she showed her scoring prowess against the Terps.
Gennifer Brandon, California, forward
Brandon has been a force for the Golden Bears all year in the paint. Last game against Arizona, Gennifer operated with ease down low with 22 points and 14 rebounds in the contest.
GAME OF THE WEEK: Baylor vs UConn
This game will be a battle of wills on both ends of the floor. Baylor will look to pound the ball down low to Griner, while UConn will look to get this game in transition and feed off the energy of their home crowd. The match-up of guards Bria Hartley and Odyssey Sims will be worth the price of admission alone. On paper, this has the potential to be the best game this season in women’s college basketball.