It wasn't simply that Notre Dame defeated rival Connecticut. It was that it did it a few days after a tough buzzer-beating loss to Maryland in the last iteration of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The 74-60 victory over the previously undefeated Huskies — albeit with limited minutes from national Player of the Year contender Azzi Fudd — is the win of the week.
This is a team led by a young standout point guard, Olivia Miles, that demolished a No. 4 NCAA tournament seed by 44 points last March and was 20 seconds away from storming over the top seed into the regional final. There are high hopes for Notre Dame (7-1) and the sophomore duo of 5-foot-10 Miles and 6-1 guard Sonia Citron.
Miles scored the first seven points for the Irish on Sunday after sitting for much of the fourth quarter against Maryland because of foul trouble. She had 13 points on a crisp 6-of-7 shooting in an 18-13 lead after the first quarter, while UConn struggled to find an answer for her drives to the basket. It was more balanced in the second quarter and the Irish took a 17-point lead into halftime that they never relinquished.
Notre Dame shot a collective 56.1% (to UConn's 36.8%, well below its 54% average in a strong schedule) and five players reached double digits, including 6-4 graduate center Lauren Ebo off the bench. It was her performance that was the most impressive turnaround. Ebo, a transfer from Texas, came into the game averaging 19 minutes, 10.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and nearly a block.
In the team's first big test against Maryland, she was largely ineffective and was 0-of-5 with one point from two free-throw attempts, nine rebounds, one assist and one steal. Notre Dame needs more from its center to make a deep run. Against UConn, Ebo was 6-of-10 for 12 points, four rebounds, two steals (season high) and two blocks in a season-high 29:39 of game time. The one drawback was she had five of the team's 18 turnovers.
The Irish demolished in paint points (46-16), hitting the Huskies where head coach Geno Auriemma has previously said they need to be great in order to have a chance this season. And they outrebounded the Huskies (39-26), building their margin on the defensive end to stop second-chance attempts.
If there's one surprising stat the Irish didn't accomplish it was getting to the free-throw line. They came into the game averaging 29 free throws per game, ranking first in Division I. They make on average 21.1 of them, eclipsing their opponents by a full 10 points on the line alone. They were a collective 4-of-7 against UConn with only Miles (1-of-3) and Maddy Westbeld (2-of-3) heading to the line multiple times.
Notre Dame's schedule loosens with Lafayette and Merrimack College before beginning its ACC schedule on the road against Virginia Tech on Dec. 18.
Winner and loser: Caitlin Clark's production
It was a big week for national Player of the Year leader Caitlin Clark, which is saying something. The junior point guard scored a season-high 45 points against NC State, one off of her career high and the fifth 40-point gamer of her career.
It was her best 2-point shooting clip of the season (11-of-15, 73.3%) and she drained three consecutive deep 3s — two on a fast break — at the start of the fourth to bring the Hawkeyes within four. It was the closest they'd come in a 94-81 loss.
Which brings us to the loser aspect of this game. Iowa is 2-3 in Clark's 40-point outings, a stat that isn't outrageous but speaks to the larger problem. The Hawkeyes need more than Clark scoring half of their points.
Iowa needs to first have Monika Czinano, who was 2-of-4 for five points, be involved early and get more touches. For the Hawkeyes to have any chance at a Final Four spot, the supporting cast around Clark needs to step up the way it did against UConn.
Clark followed up the performance with a triple-double in a 102-71 win against Wisconsin on Sunday. She scored 22 points (8-of-14) with 10 rebounds and 10 assists. It's the seventh triple-double of her career, setting the Big Ten record, after one in her freshman season and five last year.
Sabrina Ionescu holds the Division I record with 26.
The Lady Vols took a quick fall from March favorites to December question marks. Though they forced a tense final minute against then-No. 9 Virginia Tech on Sunday, it was largely behind the efforts of Jordan Horston. She had 26 points and 11 rebounds in the 59-56 loss while the Hokies (8-0) were without point guard Ashley Owusu (hand injury). Tamari Key was the only other Vol in double figures with 11 points.
Leading scorer Rickea Jackson, a transfer from Mississippi State, did not play and head coach Kellie Harper said afterward it was a coach's decision. "That'll be indefinite," she said. The 6-2 starting forward averaged a team-best 17.6 points per game and 6.6 rebounds per game.
Tennessee (4-5) came into the season ranked No. 5 in the preseason poll by a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters and have fully dropped out of the rankings. The Lady Vols are playing a tough nonconference schedule, but close wins against UMass and Colorado aren't helping their case. They're averaging 17.9 turnovers per game (249th, per Her Hoop Stats) and are often putting opponents at the free-throw line (171 fouls, ranking 336).
Winner: Coaches fully supporting their players
Indiana guard Grace Berger opted to stay for a fifth year and chase a Big Ten title after leading the Hoosiers' offense as a senior. But in her sixth game of the season, the WNBA prospect injured her right knee and is out indefinitely.
"Time will tell, but right now, she's day-to-day," Indiana head coach Teri Moren said after the 96-81 win over Auburn in the Las Vegas Holiday Tournament over Thanksgiving weekend. Moren said the court setup did not contribute to Berger's injury. The team played in a ballroom with no seating for fans and no EMTs on site.
The team's first contest after the two-game tournament was the ACC/Big Ten Challenge against then-No. 6 North Carolina at home in Bloomington. And Moren's sweatshirt fit honored her star sitting on the bench in a boot and with crutches. The piece is from The Indiana NIL Store, but is no longer listed on the site.
It was uplifting to see a coach support her star in a big game in which that player couldn't take part. A great showing by Berger in a top-10 matchup could have lifted her stardom more and thereby increased her reach for money-making opportunities in name, image and likeness deals. At least now her name was out there, as was a chance at income.
Without Berger, Indiana defeated the Tar Heels, 87-63, in its largest win over a ranked opponent since 1999-00. It solidly placed Indiana as an early Final Four contender. Days later, it escaped an upset bid by Illinois, 65-61. The Hoosiers will adjust without Berger, who hopefully returns for her last go at a conference title. Adding her back into the mix in a few months might be an advantage for Indiana's national championship chances.
Loser: Big East conference favorites
Though the Big East conference had a good time over the Thanksgiving break, the vibes aren't so great heading into the first full week of December. Four teams were ranked in the poll and each one took a loss over the weekend.
UConn, ranked No. 3 in last week's poll, lost its first game of the season to Notre Dame in another national ABC showcase. The Huskies struggled to score in the paint and Azzi Fudd played only 13 minutes after sustaining an apparent knee injury.
Creighton, then ranked No. 13, suffered its first upset with a 66-62 loss to St. John's. The Bluejays came within two, 61-59, with 1:27 to go, but they couldn't score and St. John's tacked on free throws. Jayla Everett led St. John's with 20 points and six rebounds. Lauren Jensen had a season-high 21 points in a full 40 minutes.
Marquette (7-2, 1-1), who moved into the No. 24 spot last week but dropped out this week, lost to Seton Hall, 82-78. Guard Lauren Park-Lane scored 31 points with seven assists and Marquette's Chloe Marotta nearly matched it with 30 points on a far more efficient outing with 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and block.
Then-No. 25 Villanova lost to Creighton, 67-46, in its Big East opener. It wasn't the loss as much as the no-show second half by Villanova that was problematic. The Wildcats were 3-of-12 in the third quarter (Creighton was 58.3%) and scored only two points in the final 4:54 of the game. They lost the second half, 41-19. Senior Maddy Siegrist had 25 points, eight rebounds and four steals.
Seton Hall and St. John's are now tied atop the conference at 2-0. UConn and DePaul are each 1-0.
Games to watch this week
No. 10 Iowa State (6-1) at No. 16 Iowa (6-3), 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2 — It's time for the Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series. Iowa leads the all-time series, 29-23, but the Cyclones snapped their five-game winning streak last season with a 77-70 win at Iowa State.
Princeton (4-2) at No. 6 UConn (6-1), 7 p.m. ET on SNY — Princeton's two losses are to Villanova (69-59) and Texas (74-50) when the Longhorns had point guard Rori Harmon back in the lineup. Auriemma said "he's guessing" Fudd will be available for this contest.
Minnesota (5-3) at No. 16 Iowa (6-3), 9 p.m. ET on Big Ten Network — Iowa crushed Minnesota in the first meeting last season, but slipped by in a 10-point win a month later. The Hawkeyes should have an eye kept on them as they figure out their defense and balance out the offense around Clark.
Louisville (5-4) at Kentucky (6-1), 1 p.m. ET on ESPN — It's a rocky season for Louisville, who lost to Middle Tennessee, 67-49, on Sunday. It shot 21.7% after the first quarter and were 3-of-18 from 3-point range. It's the first time it's lost back-to-back games since 2019-20.
No. 6 UConn (6-1) at No. 20 Maryland (7-3), 3 p.m. ET on ABC — It's the third ranked-contest ABC game for UConn in as many weeks. Maryland has been tricky to figure out with wins against Baylor and Notre Dame, but losses to DePaul and Nebraska.
Oregon State (6-2) at No. 17 Oregon (6-1), 7 p.m. ET on Pac-12 Networks — Oregon's only loss is to North Carolina and will open the Pac-12 slate against a rival.
AP Top 25 Poll (as of Dec. 5)
1. South Carolina (8-0)
2. Stanford (10-1)
3. Ohio State (8-0)
4. Indiana (9-0)
5. Notre Dame (7-1)
6. UConn (6-1)
7. Virginia Tech (8-0)
8t. North Carolina (6-1)
8t. NC State (7-1)
10. Iowa State (6-1)
11. LSU (9-0)
12. Arizona (7-0)
13. UCLA (8-1)
14. Michigan (9-0)
15. Utah (7-0)
16. Iowa (6-3)
17. Oregon (6-1)
18. Creighton (7-1)
19. Baylor (6-2)
20. Maryland (7-3)
21. Arkansas (10-0)
22. Gonzaga (7-2)
23. Oklahoma (7-1)
24. Kansas State (8-1)
25. Villanova (7-2)