by Christian Mordi / @mordi_thecomeup
Boom Shaka Laka. Brittney Griner continues to show the world why this year’s draft class may be the most exciting in WNBA history. “How many times is a fan going to go to a women’s basketball game and get to see a dunk?” said Baylor coach Kim Mulkey. “She pretty much dunked it…it wasn’t just over the front of the rim. She took one step and, bam, it went down.”
Above the rim play and SportsCenter highlights are becoming a regular occurrence with Women’s college basketball. Even better is that it doesn’t come at the price of a trend of players being less fundamentally solid. Look for the season to go to another level with conference play beginning this week.
1. UConn (Last Week, 2)
UConn forced their will upon Stanford, winning in dominant fashion in the Maples Pavilion, 61-35. Despite being the away team in a huge game, the Huskies were cool as a cucumber under pressure. They shot over 90 percent from the free-throw line, and at one point, extended the lead to 27 points. To add icing on the cake, the victory put an end to the nation-leading 82 home game winning streak of Stanford.
2. Baylor (Last Week, 3)
It was business as usual for the Bears, cruising early against TCU, until Brittney Griner woke the crowd up with a rim-rattling jam six minutes in. Quite a way to welcome TCU to the Big 12, huh? Baylor continues to build momentum after the early season loss to Stanford, and now have a nine-game winning streak. Next game is against 11th ranked Oklahoma State, which will be looking to make some noise in the national spotlight.
3. Duke (Last Week, 4)
Duke continues to rise up the rankings with a loss by No. 1 Stanford. Despite riding an 11-game winning streak, Duke is still a work in progress, as they are working All-American center Liz Williams back to 100 percent. While bringing along Williams slowly another star has emerged in Chelsea Gray. “Chelsea, I think, is the best point guard in the country,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “She is because she does everything. That productivity day in and day out is something she takes a lot of pride in.”
4. Kentucky (Last Week, 5)
The Wildcats have been vicious on the defensive side of the ball, which has fueled their 11 game winning streak. Last game against Marist, Kentucky forced 26 turnovers.The Wildcats have been balanced on offense as well, as their three-guard offense has been virtually unstoppable off the dribble this season. The Wildcats will look to keep the ball rolling at home next game against Florida.
5. Stanford (Last Week, 1)
Last game’s film against UConn will definitely be tough to watch for the Cardinal. Outside of the steady hand of Chiney Ogwumike, who had 18 points and 13 rebounds, the rest of the team crumbled under the pressure defense of UConn, shooting 19 percent during the game. Chalk this game up as a learning experience for Stanford, and hopefully they will use this game as fuel for the rest of the season.
6. Notre Dame (Last Week, 6)
The Fighting Irish have made great strides in their team game since the loss to Baylor on December 5. Since then, Notre Dame has a six-game winning streak, two against top-25 opponents. The last top-25 victory was a big win against 11th-ranked Purdue, 74-47. Natalie Achonwa was a beast down low against the Boilermakers with 15 points and 17 rebounds in the contest. Notre Dame has a chance to redeem their early season loss against another top-5 ranked opponent against No. 1 UConn on Saturday.
7. Maryland (Last Week, 9)
Maryland has been riding its frontcourt players in their six-game winning streak. Last game Maryland beat a solid Hartford team 72-40 winning the championship of the Terrapin Classic. Tianna Hawkins scored 16 points, earning the tournament’s Most Valuable Player honors. The Terrapins improved to 96-5 in non-conference games at Comcast Center. A regained confidence will be key for Maryland, as they head into ACC play. Their first conference game will be today against a tough UNC team.
8. California (Last Week, 10)
California gets its first victory against a top-20 opponent, beating 19th-ranked Kansas, 88-79. The Golden Bears were able to overcome a team that shot the ball better across the board with the hot shooting of Layshia Clarendon. The senior guard scored a season-high 28 in the contest. California has a tough stretch coming up playing 20th-ranked Colorado and back-to-back games against fourth-ranked Stanford.
9. Penn State (Last Week, NR)
They dynamic duo of Alex Bentley and Maggie Lucas continue to reign terror on opposing backcourts this season. Last game against NJIT they forced 15 turnovers—six caused by Bentley—which led to a 44-9 lead at half. The Lions begin conference play this week with a game against Northwestern.
10. Tennessee (Last Week, 7)
The Vols may be 9-3, but they have played one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the nation. Last game, they put forth a dominant performance against Rutgers winning, 66-47. Tennessee played stifling defense against the Scarlet Knights, holding them to 34 percent shooting from the field. Tennessee begins conference play with a tough game against 18-ranked South Carolina tonight.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, UConn, forward
Kaleena has really stepped her game up offensively as of late for the Huskies. At Stanford, Mosqueda-Lewis shot the ball well with 19 points on 7-13 shooting. Against Oregon, the sophomore forward kept the ball rolling with 19 points and 5 rebounds in limited minutes due to a blowout victory.
Alyssa Thomas, Maryland, forward
The Pennsylvania native continues to be a jack-of-all-trades for the Terps. Against Brown, Thomas posted a chunky box score of 16 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists. The next game against Hartford, Thomas took her game to another level with 22 points, 11 rebounds and 3 steals. Thomas seems to be a lock this year for back-to-back ACC Player of the Year.
GAME OF THE WEEK: No. 5 Notre Dame vs No. 1 Connecticut
There is a lot riding on this game for the Fighting Irish. If Notre Dame wants any chance at locking up a No. 1 seed come March, this will be a game people will look back on to determine if they are one of the elite teams. UConn is on a tear and are at home for this big game, but have struggled as of late against Diggins. It will be interesting to see if the best point guard in the country can lead her team to victory against the swarming defense of UConn.