Baylor's rocky Big 12 start shakes up women's college basketball; ACC powers to clash

·8 min read

The Big 12 women's college basketball standings look different than many would have expected a quarter of the way into the 2021-22 season. There are plenty of games left to play, but it became even more clear this week that Baylor is no longer the unrivaled power it had been.

Baylor rallied to defeat Kansas, 82-79, at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas, on Sunday to earn its first Big 12 win of the season in three tries. The Bears trailed by four with 25 seconds left when Ja'Mee Asberry hit a 3-pointer on an assist by Sarah Andrews to bring it within one at :12. Asberry stole the inbound from Ioanna Chatzileonti and was fouled, sending her to the line. She made both and Andrews hit two more following a defensive rebound by NaLyssa Smith to ice it.

It was Nicki Collen's first Big 12 victory as head coach after a bumpy conference beginning. The Bears (11-4, 1-2 Big 12) fell to Kansas State, briefly ranked No. 25, 68-59 to ring in the new year and to then-No. 23 Oklahoma, 83-77, on Wednesday. Falling to 0-3 in conference play is a sizable hole the way the conference is playing this season. And the Bears' nonconference schedule isn't as solid as many other top teams, though they've held on to stay tied at No. 15 in Monday's Associated Press Top 25 poll.

Their quality win would be a 70-68 mark over Missouri, which looks better after the Tigers upset No. 1 South Carolina and lost to LSU by a bucket in overtime. They've played three teams ranked at the time of tipoff and lost every one: 79-76 to No. 3 Maryland, 74-68 in overtime to No. 13 Michigan and the Oklahoma game.

Their offensive rating has dropped from last season, a continuation of a downward trend since 2016-17, and their defense isn't as stiff. They rely on 20.7 average points per game by Smith, a national Player of the Year contender, with Jordan Lewis (11.3 ppg) and Andrews (11.5 ppg) the only other players hitting double digits. And barely.

Baylor forward NaLyssa Smith goes to the basket, guarded by Oklahoma guard Madi Williams during their women's college basketball game.
Baylor forward NaLyssa Smith, a national Player of the Year candidate, is leading the Bears, but Big 12 women's college basketball is going through a big shake-up this season. (AP Photo/Garett Fisbeck)

Meanwhile, other programs are blooming. Baylor's streak of 11 consecutive Big 12 regular season titles is in jeopardy. It's the longest active mark in the country and appears poised to end come March.

Last season, the Bears won the conference with a 17-1 record (25-2 overall), while West Virginia and Oklahoma State were each 13-5 in conference play. They were 2-1 against AP Top 25 teams, equaling the AP win total of only Iowa State, which was 2-4.

The last time Baylor lost two conference games was 2014-15. The Bears haven't lost more than that since a 9-7 mark in 2009-10 when they went on to the NCAA Final Four.

Oklahoma rising

Baylor is in the bottom of the Big 12 pack after a small sample size of games. Four teams have one win apiece and three have two apiece in trailing the top three Big 12 records.

Iowa State continued its rise in the AP ranking, hitting No. 7. The Cyclones (16-1, 5-0) added wins over Kansas State (73-70) and Oklahoma State (74-60) over the past week. They host Texas on Wednesday (12-3, 2-2 Big 12) and play at Baylor on Sunday.

Oklahoma took the biggest leap of any team by going from No. 23 to No. 14. It rivals only that of Arizona, (No. 22 to No. 11) and Texas (No. 25 to No. 12) when they leapt from their preseason positioning to the second poll on Nov. 15. It's the Sooners' best ranking since No. 12 in 2016.

The Sooners (15-2, 4-1) crushed TCU, 100-71, on Sunday. It was the second-highest point total for a Big 12 game in program history. Their only conference loss is 81-71 to Iowa State and though their nonconference resume isn't shimmering, their stats can do that for them.

Oklahoma ranks second in scoring (88.4 ppg) behind DePaul (91.3) and is led by 6-foot senior guard Madi Williams (18.6). The Sooners' next test is a road trip to West Virginia (8-6, 1-3) on Wednesday and Kansas State (13-4, 3-2) on Sunday.

ACC conference favorites face off

The ACC is so far living up to its expectations of having No. 3 Louisville (15-1, 5-0 ACC) and No. 4 N.C. State (16-2, 7-0 ACC) at the top. Their matchup on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN) could be what determines the regular season champion and top seed for the conference tournament. It will also have an impact on NCAA tournament seeding, with a head-to-head matchup potentially deciding a 1-seed line versus 2-seed line if it comes to that.

The Wolfpack are reigning regular season and tournament champions, while Louisville won the regular season title in 2020. Both teams thrive on defense, but it's the Cardinals who rank third allowing 49.4 points per game and a nation-best 69.9 points per 100 possession. The Wolfpack can fire up more offense. They're 10th in the nation at 79.7 points per game, and second with 113.1 points per 100 possessions, via Her Hoop Stats.

Elissa Cunane guides N.C. State at 14.1 ppg and 7.6 rpg. The 6-foot-5 center is a WNBA lottery prospect and has help off the bench from Diamond Johnson, a transfer averaging 12 ppg.

The Cardinals have rebounded nicely from losing Dana Evans, who won a WNBA title with the Chicago Sky. Transfer Emily Engstler is key, averaging 8.3 rpg and 10.5 ppg. Hailey Van Lith (11.9 ppg) is taking over the late-game, clutch shot-maker spot Evans held. She helped put away Syracuse last week, turning a four-point game with 3:10 left to a 84-71 victory.

N.C. State's losses are to No. 1 South Carolina in the season opener and an 82-80 overtime loss to Georgia last month. Louisville fell to Arizona, 61-59, in overtime at The Invitational in November. It's the two programs' only meeting of the regular season.

Hailey Van Lith of the Louisville Cardinals goes up to the basket for a layup in a women's college basketball game against Syracuse.
Hailey Van Lith and the No. 3-ranked Louisville Cardinals face No. 4 N.C. State in an ACC women's college basketball clash that could determine the regular season champion and top seed for the conference tournament. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Upset tracker

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. 16 Duke 54, Virginia Tech 65 (Duke down 5; Virginia Tech receiving votes)

  • No. 7 Arizona 66, Oregon 68 (OT) (Arizona down 3; Oregon receiving votes)

  • No. 25 Kansas State 45, Texas Tech 64 (Kansas State receiving votes)

  • No. 8 Maryland 49, No. 11 Michigan 69 (Maryland down 4; Michigan up 3)

  • No. 15 Georgia Tech 45, Miami 46 (Georgia Tech down 3)

  • No. 24 South Florida 51, UCF 67 (South Florida, UCF receiving votes)

While these were the actual upsets, there were a plethora of close games throughout the weekend. Multiple screens were needed on Thursday night, particularly as Van Lith pulled Louisville away from an upset-minded Syracuse squad of transfers.

What to watch this week

Wednesday

No. 15 Texas (12-3, 2-2 Big 12) at No. 7 Iowa State (16-1, 5-0 Big 12), 7:30 p.m. ET on Big 12/ESPN+

Thursday

No. 3 Louisville (15-1, 5-0 ACC) at No. 4 N.C. State (16-2, 7-0 ACC), 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN

No. 18 Georgia Tech (13-4, 4-2 ACC) at Syracuse (8-8, 1-5 ACC), 8 p.m. ET on ACCN

No. 25 Iowa (10-4, 4-1 Big Ten) at Minnesota (9-9, 2-4 Big Ten), 8 p.m. ET on Big Ten Network

Sunday

No. 20 North Carolina (14-2, 4-2 ACC) at No. 18 Georgia Tech (13-4, 4-2 ACC), noon ET on ACCN

No. 5 Tennessee (17-1, 6-0 SEC) at No. 13 Georgia (14-3, 2-2 SEC), 2 p.m. ET on SECN

No. 2 Colorado (13-1, 2-1 Pac-12) at No. 10 Arizona (12-2, 2-2 Pac-12), 2 p.m. ET on Pac-12 Network

No. 7 Iowa State (16-1, 5-0 Big 12) at No. 15 Baylor (11-4, 1-2 Big 12), 3 p.m. ET on ESPN2

No. 6 Indiana (14-2, 6-0 Big Ten) at No. 25 Iowa (10-4, 4-1 Big Ten), 6 p.m. ET on Big Ten Network