Women's college basketball winners and losers: Injuries impacting top contenders; Maryland's historic win
Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma looked down his bench on Sunday to a group of players in street clothes. The Huskies had dropped to seven available players after Nika Mühl entered concussion protocols in Thursday’s slim win over Princeton.
Auriemma wasn’t the only coach looking down the bench to see a top player unable to take the court. The injuries are piling up early in the season, before conference play is underway for many teams, and impacting title contenders.
It’s a loss for the entire sport that these established star student-athletes aren’t able to play, and play against one another. It could also shake up the early favorites for the Final Four.
Loser: Injuries impacting top contenders
UConn’s situation is the headliner in the shorthanded team department. The Huskies are without 2021 National Player of the Year Paige Bueckers (ACL), top freshman recruit Ice Brady (dislocated knee), 2023 National Player of the Year contender Azzi Fudd (right knee), fifth-year forward Dorka Juhász (thumb) and Mühl (concussion). Lou Lopez Sénéchal is also dealing with a foot issue she is playing through.
The Huskies (7-2, 1-0 Big East) have made it through the toughest of their non-conference schedule despite the injuries and should have Juhász and Mühl back soon with Fudd estimated to return anywhere from Dec. 27 to Jan. 17. They have the week off before playing Florida State in the Basketball Hall of Fame Women’s Showcase at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut, on Sunday.
Tennessee (6-5) has not had as easy of a time with its eighth-ranked schedule and had been without senior Rickea Jackson for two games. The Lady Vols’ outlook moving forward took another hit when the team announced that senior center Tamari Key would miss the rest of the season with blood clots in her lungs. They still have a meeting with Stanford on Sunday before SEC play.
Iowa (8-3, 2-0 Big Ten) found its proper footing again in an impressive rivalry win over Iowa State, 70-57, last week, but might be without one of its starters. Senior guard Kate Martin left in the third quarter of Saturday’s win against Minnesota with what head coach Lisa Bluder said that night looks to be a deep bone bruise to her shin. She was scheduled to receive X-rays Sunday or Monday.
The Hawkeyes need more senior partners in the Law Firm of (Caitlin) Clark and (Monika) Czinano to make a Final Four run. Martin had stepped up in big games recently to be that, first shooting 70% overall, 6-of-6 from 3, and scoring a career-high 20 points against UConn and then going 5-of-8 for 13 points, including 3-of-4 from 3, to defeat Iowa State. Martin averaged a career-high 7.2 points per game last season.
Iowa has a little time to have her back in the starting rotation, as long as she’s healthy. She is officially listed as day-to-day and there's hope she'll play this weekend, team communications said on Monday. The Hawkeyes play Northern Iowa and Dartmouth before Christmas, but return out of the mini-break to face Purdue (9-2) and Illinois (9-2) in Big Ten play. Both clubs have taken top teams to the final possessions.
NC State (9-1) is without senior forward Jada Boyd and junior point guard Diamond Johnson, who sustained an ankle injury on Sunday. Texas (5-4), a preseason Final Four favorite, was without point guard Rori Harmon for five games. Indiana has been without Grace Berger for four games and is still undefeated (10-0), but will have that tested come January with the highly competitive Big Ten schedule.
Oregon (7-1, 1-0), already without Sedona Prince, is without freshman center Kennedy Basham for a few more weeks after she injured her knee in the season opener. She should return by the end of the month or January. And Baylor (7-2), who started the season without Caitlin Bickle, remains without transfer guard Aijha Blackwell, who sustained a lower leg injury in the third game. Head coach Nicki Collen said previously Blackwell has not signed off on sharing medical information, but on Sunday Blackwell shared to Twitter it is a right knee injury and she will "return soon." The Bears kept it tight with Maryland and Michigan, and defeated Villanova.
Winner: Players stepping up
The flip side of injuries is someone has to step up, and sometimes it’s in a big way.
Kansas State’s chances nearly bottomed out in many’s eyes when Ayoka Lee, who holds the NCAA record for points in a single game (61), was ruled out for the season after knee surgery in August. She averaged 22 points, shooting 56.3%, 10.3 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game.
The Wildcats (9-2) have taken it in stride and notched a win over Iowa for their resume. Big 12 play begins on Dec. 31 at Texas.
Sophomore guard Serena Sundell is hitting a higher percentage of shots (36.4% to 43.2%), rebounding more (3.4 to 4.6) and is limiting her turnovers (2.9 to 1.6) while Jaelyn Glenn has doubled her scoring output (6.6 to 13.6 ppg) in the same minutes.
Bigger still for the Wildcats is Oklahoma transfer Gabby Gregory averaging a career-high 21.2 points (41.9% FG), 6.1 rebounds and two assists per game.
As is always the case in Storrs, the UConn reserves are stepping up to fill the voids. Aubrey Griffin was crucial against Princeton and Aaliyah Edwards put up another solid game with 25 points against Maryland. But it is freshman guard Inês Bettencourt who has been most impressive.
Bettencourt was ready to head to Northwest Florida, a junior college, to get into the U.S. college system as a prospect from Portugal. In August, after Bueckers tore her ACL, she caught the eye of UConn coaches after the U18 European Championships.
"Well the flight over took longer than the recruiting process, so that tells you how long we were recruiting her...if that kid never makes another basket the rest of her life, she's gonna remember tonight"
- Geno Auriemma on Inês Bettencourt pic.twitter.com/W7ul0BbJne
— UConn Videos (@SNYUConn) December 9, 2022
She flew to Connecticut the day classes started and is now “getting baptism by fire,” Auriemma said, with so many more injuries forcing her into the starting point guard role.
“The kid’s never been in a situation like this in her life,” Auriemma said after her free throws helped seal the Princeton win.
Bettencourt then started against the ranked Maryland squad and performed better than the box score showed. She’ll have a full week of practice at the position before Sunday’s game.
Winner: Maryland’s historic victory
For the first time in eight tries, Maryland defeated UConn, 85-78, on Sunday and added another solid win to the resume — this time without needing the buzzer-beating theatrics.
The Terrapins, who were ranked No. 20 last week, hit bumps with losses to DePaul and Nebraska (a loss to South Carolina was expected). They were sandwiched around the Notre Dame game won by a buzzer-beating bucket by Diamond Miller. And on Thursday, Maryland escaped an upset at the hands of Purdue with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Shyanne Sellers.
It looked like it would come down to another Terrapins winner at Maryland’s Xfinity Center, but UConn trailed by four with 1:05 to play. Miller hit a 3-pointer to make it 83-76 and essentially end it after struggling in the first half.
Miller scored 17, Sellers added 19 and Abby Meyers led the offense with 20 in a well-balanced game for Maryland. They scored 42% of their output from 3-point range (12-of-30), better than their 28.7% clip on the season. Their 21 points off 22 UConn turnovers were crucial and they celebrated in front of 12,566 fans, the most since Maryland last played UConn at home in December 2016.
It’s the first time since December 2010 the Huskies have committed at least 20 turnovers in back-to-back games.
Loser: Record books
Aneesah Morrow, the 2021-22 Freshman of the Year, is out to crash through record books. DePaul’s 6-foot-1 sophomore power forward crossed 1,000 career points in a 81-63 win over Northwestern on Saturday. It took her 43 games to reach it, ranking 13th fastest in Division I history. She’s averaging 28.5 points per game through 10 games this year and 23.4 points per game over her career.
Her 45 points against Northwestern broke the program’s single-game record previously held by Beth Hasenmiller, who set it at 42 points against Valparaiso in March 1991. Morrow came one point shy of the mark last February. She also fell one rebound shy of DePaul’s single-game rebound record of 28 set by Latasha Byears in 1996.
Olivia Miles continues to write her name into Notre Dame’s books. The sophomore point guard became the first player in program history with three triple-doubles after a 13-point, 13-rebound and 14-assist game against Merrimack on Saturday. She played 28 minutes.
It pushes her past Notre Dame greats Skylar Diggins-Smith and Jackie Young, who each have two.
Games to watch this week
No. 1 South Carolina (9-0) at South Dakota State (6-4), ESPN2 at 7 p.m. ET — South Dakota State will have another chance at a resume-builder after wins against Louisville and Kansas State. It fell short against Creighton and UCLA.
UCLA (9-1) at USC (9-0), Pac-12 Networks at 10 p.m. ET — It’s the Pac-12 opener for both teams. USC is one of the 12 remaining undefeated teams as of Monday morning, but has been largely untested.
Arkansas (12-0) at Creighton (8-1), FloHoops at 2 p.m. ET — The Razorbacks are one of those undefeated programs and the one with the most wins. Their current signature win is Kansas State.
Florida State (10-1) at UConn (7-2), ESPN at 1 p.m. ET — UConn will have had time to rest and possibly have healthy players back. Florida State’s Ta’Niya Latson is averaging 25.5 ppg and the team ranks top-50 in field-goal percentage (45.9%).
Florida Gulf Coast (8-2) at Kentucky (7-2), SECN+ at 1 p.m. ET — FGCU remains the Division I leader in 3-point attempts (33.8 per game) and in makes per game (11).
Tennessee (6-5) at Stanford (10-1), ABC at 3 p.m. ET — Four players are averaging between 10.5 and 12.4 points per game for a balanced Stanford team. They’re out-rebounding teams by a margin of 19, ranking third behind LSU and South Carolina.
Iowa State (7-2) vs Villanova (9-2), 3:30 p.m. ET — It’s the second game of the Hall of Fame Women’s Showcase in Uncasville, Connecticut. Iowa State’s Ashley Joens is averaging 19.6 ppg and 9.1 rpg. Stephanie Soares is averaging 16 and 9.1, respectively, in 23.6 minutes per game.
Notre Dame (8-1) at Virginia Tech (10-0), ACCN at 4 p.m. ET — Notre Dame’s offense ranks fourth (88.2 ppg) and Virginia Tech’s defense is third allowing 48.5 ppg.
Arizona (7-1) vs Baylor (7-2), ESPN2 at 7:30 p.m. ET — Arizona is coming into the week off a crushing loss to Kansas, 77-50.
Oregon State (6-2) vs. LSU (9-0), Pac-12 Networks at 11 p.m. ET — LSU will play its first Power Five team after a lopsided non-conference schedule.
AP Top 25 poll (as of Dec. 12)
1. South Carolina (9-0)
2. Stanford (10-1)
3. Ohio State (10-0)
4. Indiana (10-0)
5. Notre Dame (8-1)
6. Virginia Tech (10-0)
7. North Carolina (8-1)
8. NC State (9-1)
9. UConn (7-2)
10. UCLA (9-1)
11. LSU (9-0)
12. Iowa (8-3)
13. Utah (8-0)
14. Iowa State (7-2)
15. Maryland (9-3)
16t. Oregon (7-1)
16t. Creighton (8-1)
18. Baylor (7-2)
19. Michigan (9-1)
20. Arizona (7-1)
21. Arkansas (12-0)
22. Kansas (9-0)
23. Gonzaga (9-2)
24. Oklahoma (8-1)
25. Villanova (9-2)