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The story: “There’s no parity in women’s basketball.”

The truth:

Illinois over #17 Iowa, 73-61.

Pittsburgh over #5 North Carolina, 84-59.

Miami over #4 Notre Dame, 78-63.

I’m trying to decide which upset is most surprising.

Yes, Notre Dame was on the road, but lordy, they were down 20 at the half to a team whose “best” win of the season to date was… heck, it’ s hard to point to a “good” Miami win – they’ve lost to MTU, ASU and Tulane.

“You never like to lose, but we’re just so darn young sometimes that we needed maybe a kick in the pants to kind of say we need to come out ready,” said Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw. “I don’t know mentally what they were thinking before the game but we were uncharacteristically bad in the first half. Credit their defense, that really set us back on our heels.”

That being said, one has to consider the impact (and back story) of the news that starting sophomore forward Taya Reimer, who did not travel with the team to Miami, is considering her future at the university.

Even without Xylina McDaniel, North Carolina’s loss to Pittsburgh makes me shake my head. It’s not just that it’s Pitt. (Blog followers know that they struggled early this season, losing to Duquesne, James Madison and Princeton, but they played #7 Louisville tough.) It’s the score. This wasn’t a close game.

Michigan was a big win for the Pitt women. 

Ohio State was a big win, too. 

Neither of those earlier victories — nor very many wins in the history of the program, for that matter — compare to Thursday’s 84-59 victory over No. 8 North Carolina at Petersen Events Center

The win was Pitt’s first against a ranked opponent in almost four years and was their third over a top-10 opponent. 

No, we haven’t been talking about Iowa a lot, but we have mentioned Illinois more than a few times, so perhaps you weren’t too surprised by the news that the Hawkeyes got taken down by Matt Bollant’s Illini.

Illinois finished the game on a 26-8 run and held No. 17 Iowa to only three field goals over the final 10 minutes of the game as the Fighting Illini pulled away for a 73-61 win at State Farm Center on Thursday. It marked the Orange and Blue’s second win over a ranked opponent this season and Illinois held Iowa to its second-lowest point total of the season. Illinois improves to 11-4 on the campaign, its best start in seven years, and 2-1 in Big Ten play.

Let’s start a new story: There’s no parity in men’s college basketball.

So, speaking of close games, I see that Duke escaped Syracuse by two. Is there something askew with the ACC traditional powers? (And, soon, ‘Cuse, sooon you’ve got to come out of these close losses with a win!)

Okay, I’m paying attention: MSU women make another piece of history

Stat stuffers don’t care how their lines in the final boxscore look. 

After all, if players who fill numerous columns with crooked numbers are doing their jobs, their team’s total in bold at the bottom of the page is going to be bigger than the opponent’s.

Dominique Dillingham’s numbers Thursday were far from the biggest on the final statistics for the No. 14 Mississippi State women’s basketball team’s 72-57 victory against Arkansas. But none of the 3,556 in attendance at Humphrey Coliseum would deny Dillingham had perhaps the biggest impact in helping MSU push its season-opening winning streak to 18. In the process, MSU made another piece of history in opening Southeastern Conference play 3-0 for the first time. 

Hey! Look who’s ranked! Western Kentucky! First time since the 1997-98 season.

‘‘It’s an awesome day for our program,’’ WKU coach Michelle Clark-Heard said. ‘‘It gives me chills when you say that we’re ranked. It’s a great day for everyone that’s ever tied their shoe here or had to do with WKU in the past.’’

Anyone think that Ohio State is going to be scary good next year?

Yup, that’s #18 Arizona State winning, matching the program’s best start.

The Debbie Antonelli includes, of course, Sacramento State. This time they came out on top, 93-86.

In-conference play is killing San Francisco’s mojo.

It’s kinda feeling like, this year, the A-10 is George Washington’s to lose.

I’m not going to declare the Patriot League Lehigh’s until after they face American. Twice.

The Tigers roar in Graham’s mid-majors poll (and sit in the 22nd spot in the AP poll)

Courtney Banghart developed a standard response when asked about the outlook for her Princeton team this season, the first season the Tigers began coming off anything other than an NCAA tournament appearance since the fall of 2009, when every member of the current roster was in high school or even middle school.

It was a likable group of people, really likable. But she wasn’t sure they knew how hard it is to win.

“I just didn’t know if they actually had enough edge,” Banghart said. “If they hated losing — which is different, whether you hate losing more than you like winning, or you like winning more than you hate losing. I didn’t know if they were able to make the shift. Was this team really going to hate to lose and come with that edge?”

They must really hate losing. Because they can’t stop winning.

Steve Megargee of the AP give “the other majors” some love:

The first half of the women’s basketball season produced plenty of memorable moments for mid-major programs.

Chattanooga beat Tennessee and Stanford for its first two wins over top-10 opponents in school history. Princeton is ranked 22nd and Western Kentucky is 25th. Green Bay (11-3) was in the Top 25 earlier this season.

“I think it’s great for the game, for women’s basketball,” Western Kentucky coach Michelle Clark-Heard said. “That’s what we want to have the opportunity to do, to just continue to keep working and building, so … we don’t have to be in a position where we have to win our conference (tournament) to get to the NCAA.”

Michelle writes about those “other” Huskies, and their peach of a player, Plum: Plum paces Washington to 12-2 start – Huskies set to take on No. 15 Stanford on Friday, Cal on Sunday

As a freshman last season, Kelsey Plum confesses, she sometimes felt “dumb,” even if the stat sheet didn’t show it.

“At least in terms of making plays,” the University of Washington sophomore guard said. “I guessed a lot.”

Plum seems to have found the right answers pretty quickly. The nation’s second-leading scorer at 25.0 points a game, Plum is setting the tone for a Huskies team that is about to embark on its most defining weekend in a decade.

“We are finding a quiet confidence,” said Washington second-year coach Mike Neighbors.

He saw it in the days before his team played then-No. 5 Texas A&M before the turn of the new year. Washington won that game 70-49, one of the most unexpected results of the young season.

In W news, Mechelle addresses the “You’re fired!” “You’re hired!”

There are certain sports franchises — and players and coaches, for that matter — who do weird things that at first make you say, “You’re kidding. Seriously, they did that?” But then you say, “Oh, wait a minute. This is (fill in the name) that we’re talking about.”

The New York Liberty are such a franchise. But the re-hiring of Bill Laimbeer as coach less than three months after he was fired by the organization is head-scratching even by Liberty standards.

Oh, wait a minute. Not really. This is the Liberty we’re talking about.

Let me make haste to say, though, I actually don’t think this is a bad decision at all. It’s correcting a bad decision, which was firing Laimbeer back in October without a really strong idea of whom the franchise could get to replace him.

More Liberty news: 7 ON YOUR SIDE: HOOPS PRIZE WINNER NEEDS ASSIST

A little history: Former Wayland Baptist Flying Queen Cherri Rapp has been named for induction into the Panhandle Sports Hall of Fame.

Rapp played for the Flying Queens from 1968-72 under coach Harley Redin, winning two AAU championships along with third- and fourth-place finishes as those teams combined for a 107-13 win-loss record.
 
A three-time NWIT and AAU All-American, Rapp scored 1,348 points to rank third at the time on the Flying Queens’ career scoring list; today, she’s 14th.
 
She was a member of the U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team that competed in the 1976 Montreal Games. She played in the Pan American Games in 1971 (Brazil) and 1975 (Colombia), serving as captain of the team that won the 1975 gold medal, and also played in the World Games in 1971 (Brazil) and 1975 (Mexico).

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It’s been a season where being ranked means people wanna knock you off.

Northwestern proved its record is no fluke, taking down #20 (flu-smitten) MSU, 61-57.

The Flyers stumbled at the start of the season, but they seem to have found their footing, taking down the #24 Phoenix,  72-66.

Huge, I mean HUGE win for Seton Hall: they take down #14 Georgia (though I had my suspicions about the Bulldogs) with authority, 70-51.

Northeastern (3-6) surprised the Great Danes, 70-67.

Davidson (4-8)came back in the second half to upset Virginia (9-3), 67-57.

The 5-6 Badgers added to their win total by surprising Michigan, 63-53.

Good news: Rutgers got Betnijah Laney back, and she notched her usual double-double (20 points/10 rebounds) The Scarlet Knights hold off Indiana, 66-51.

After an even first half, a nightmarish second half meant #10 Oregon State dropped their first game of the season to the #8 Vols, 74-63. Hello, Ms. Harrison!

The Irish handled the Bruins, 82-67, behind a stellar game from Allen. But boy, UCLA, learn to make your free throws! (14-27).

BAD news: UNC’s McDaniel may be out, torn calf muscle.

Good news: Leticia Romero ruled eligible for FSU women’s basketball

From around:

UND focused on repeat title

A season ago, UND was projected to finish in the bottom half of the Big Sky Conference women’s basketball race.

UND, however, was the surprise of the league last season, earning a share of the regular-season title and powering its way to the Big Sky postseason title. UND advanced to the NCAA Tournament and turned in a solid effort at Texas A&M, which went on to the Sweet 16.

From the Indy Star (and AP?): Breaking down Big Ten women’s basketball

From the Ames Tribune: Laid-back freshman Fernstrom adjusting to college basketball 

Bryanna Fernstrom wants to make one fact clear – she has feelings like a normal human being.

The 6-foot-5 center for the Iowa State women’s basketball team may not always contort her face the way her more excitable teammates do. She may not yell after a good play or pout after a bad one. As coach Bill Fennelly puts it, “her personal demeanor is so low-key, to the point where it’s like, ‘Is she breathing?,’ sometimes.”

From Washington State: EWU, WSU women’s basketball squads off to successful starts

The Eastern Washington women’s basketball team went into the Sunshine State this week as apparent alligator bait for Florida, which had a four-year run of claiming its own Gator Holiday Classic.

But the Eagles ended up securing their first victory over a Southeast Conference opponent, something a Big Sky school hadn’t done since Montana beat Mississippi in 2007.

“Everybody stepped up and took care of the things we needed,” coach Wendy Schuller said of 67-56 win. “It was a fun week.”

A little something on the Maggie Dixon Classic on Sunday, Jan 4th: WNBA Commemorative Rematch Coming To MSG

Nearly 40 years after the first-ever women’s basketball game pitted Queens College against Immaculata, these teams will see each other in court – at worldfamous Madison Square Garden. Their commemorative rematch will take place on Jan. 4, 2015, at 10:30 a.m., in the opening round of the annual Maggie Dixon Classic.

Trailblazing members of the 1974-75 team will attend the game.QC’s 1974–75 squad featured Gail Marquis and Donna Orender, and was coached by Lucille Kyvallos. Marquis earned a silver medal at the 1976 Olympics as a member of the US team and Orender would later become commissioner of the WNBA; Kyvallos was inducted to the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. All three were named to the inaugural class of the Queens College Athletics Hall of Fame in 2012.

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It’s basketball time!

TN/MD:

From the WaPo’s Gene Wagn: Terps see a ‘pretty even matchup’ with top-seeded Lady Vols

From the Diamondback: Women’s basketball looks forward to playing powerhouse Tennessee in Sweet 16

From the Baltimore Sun: After ‘limping’ to Sweet 16 in 2013, Terps women now healthy enough to charge ahead

The AP has: Lady Vols’ Simmons eyes elusive Final Four berth

Dan Fleser adds: Lady Vols hit the NCAA road as experienced travelers

While the Daily Beacon writes: ‘Battle-tested’ Lady Vols look to advance against Maryland

LSU/LOU:

From the AP: Seventh-seeded LSU faces No. 3 seed Louisville

Louisville knows that LSU will be a different team than the one it routed in November.

Not only do the seventh-seeded Tigers (21-12) enter Sunday’s regional semifinal confident following their second-round upset of No. 2 seed West Virginia, they’re unfazed by losing Jeanne Kenney and Raigyne Moncrief to injury in each of their NCAA tournament victories.

Louisville coach Jeff Walz quickly notes how LSU has overcome that adversity, an important fact he hopes his third-seeded Cardinals (32-4) remember because the Lady Tigers are hungry to prove they can play through their obstacles.

Times-Picayune: LSU women’s basketball draws on its past NCAA Tournament experience against Louisville

From the Monroe Star: LSU women limp to Louisville as we hear that a Concussion ends Jeanne Kenney’s career at LSU

From the Courier-Journal: Louisville coach Walz: Early win over LSU means nothing

Oh, and no surprise, a Big crowd is expected

PSU/STAN

From Walt Moody at the Centre Daily Times: Lady Lions take on Stanford in NCAA regional semifinal

To look at the numbers, the task would seem tall for the Penn State women’s — like Mount Everest tall.

Beating Stanford on its home court in the NCAA Tournament rarely happens.

The Pittsburg-Post Gazette’s Mark Dent writes: Familiar situation yet again for Penn State women

 

The AP’s Jane McCauley notes: Stanford’s VanDerveer offers tips to Penn State

For each of the past two summers, Penn State coach Coquese Washington has visited Tara VanDerveer at the Stanford coach’s New York home to talk basketball and, specifically, gather tips on the triangle offense.

“It’s almost like going to graduate school of coaching in six hours,” Washington said with a smile.

Rick Eymer from Palo Alto Online writes: Stanford, Penn State prepare for their Sweet 16 meeting

No surprise, Chiney is Excited to Be Back at Stanford

From Eliot Allmond: Stanford freshman Thompson hits the court running

A year ago, guard Lili Thompson was filling out NCAA brackets and watching games on television like many women’s basketball fans.

Sunday, Stanford is counting on the freshman when the second-seeded Cardinal (31-3) faces No. 3 Penn State in the Sweet 16 at Maples Pavilion.

“It’s kind of surreal,” Thompson said Saturday.

Elliot also notes, it’s a Bittersweet 16 for Stanford women: Ogwumike era winding down

With Ogwumike expected to follow her sister as a No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft next month, Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said, “Don’t worry about Chiney. Worry about us.”

Chiney, a 6-foot-4-inch forward with a personality as big as her game, will leave atop Stanford’s Mt. Rushmore of women’s basketball as the Pac-12 Conference’s career-scoring and -rebounding leader. With 2,673 points and 1,532 rebounds, and counting, she passed former Stanford stars Candice Wiggins and Kayla Pedersen in those categories, respectively.

Marcus Thompson II writes: 

For a program that’s been to five of the last six Final Fours, there’s a sense of urgency present among the Stanford women.

Star forward Chiney Ogwumike is closing her stellar career. And unlike in past years, the Cardinal doesn’t have a clear candidate to carry the torch for the storied program. The string of elite players Stanford has enjoyed looks to be on the brink of disruption.

So might Stanford’s tradition of dominance.

UNC/USC

Yup, Gamecocks Take on North Carolina Tar Heels in Sweet 16

Since UNC handed South Carolina its first loss early in the season, both teams have improved. The Gamecocks have gelled offensively after making an increased commitment to taking advantage of the athleticism in the post provided by Aleighsa Welch, Alaina Coates, and Elem Ibiam. The Tar Heels, like many young teams, have begun showing flashes of greatness late in the season, although the ugly first half against Tennessee-Martin suggests they still have streaks of bad basketball in them.

Tara’s not just mentoring Co. Writes Ann Killion at the SF Gate: VanDerveer passed on coaching’s golden rules to Staley

The Stanford women’s basketball team is back in the familiar comfort of Maples Pavilion. But one thing about this postseason isn’t so comfortable: The Cardinal are not the top seed in their own regional.

That distinction belongs to South Carolina, which has the first No. 1 seed in the history of its program. If the top two seeds meet in the regional final Tuesday night, it will be a matchup of old friends. Of mentor and protege.

Grace Raynor at the Daily Tar Heel: UNC women’s basketball team will face South Carolina in California

It hurts, North Carolina forward Xylina McDaniel said.

To see the emotion on her face, to feel the hurt in the undertones of her voice when she speaks, to know that after months of leukemia treatments and weeks in the hospital, Sylvia Hatchell is so close — yet still so far away.

With each day that passes, with each game that is played with Hatchell still sidelined, the only thing the North Carolina women’s basketball team has known to do is play in her honor. To hope — and to keep winning.

Speaking of coach, from Mike Potter at the Charlotte Observer: UNC women’s coach Sylvia Hatchell gives Tar Heels Final Four motivation

Ryan Wood says USC is ready for Payback against UNC

Michelle Smith writes: Carolinas are ready to battle it out

The Gamecocks now find themselves in a position to alter their own world in an impactful way, coming into the Stanford Regional as a No. 1 seed with a chance to earn a trip to the NCAA Final Four for the first time in school history.

So the question is, can the Gamecocks tap into their mantra of change on the court as well and defeat fourth-seeded North Carolina Sunday to advance to their first regional final?

And, yes, the Buzzing Tar Heels rely on DeShields in Sweet 16 round and USC knows Stopping UNC rookie DeShields a tough task

“You can take away something but then I’m pretty well-rounded,” DeShields said. “I feel like once you take one thing, I’ll just go do something else. If you put a short guard on me, a quick guard, then I’ll just go post up. If you put a long wing on me, and I’ll go by them.

“You know, certain players are just going to do what they do. You can only hope to contain them – and I’m blessed to have people say that about me.”

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Yup.

Thanks to Nan for doing some of my work:

UConn women face early test in No. 3 Stanford, Post
Dolson, UConn frontcourt deliver strong message, Post
No. 1 UConn women’s game day: Monday vs. No. 3 Stanford, Post
UConn Women Ready For Visit From No. 3 Stanford, Courant
Preview Capsule: No.3 Stanford At No. 1 UConn, Courant
UConn hosts Stanford in a banner matchup, Register
Younger Ogwumike sister carving out her own legacy at Stanford, Register
Stanford comes to Gampel tonight looking for some revenge, Day
No. 1 Huskies top Rizzotti, Hartford, face No. 3 Stanford Monday night, Daily Campus
Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer on the doorstep of elite coaching club, San Francisco Chronicle

From ESPN:

Michelle writes, “Cardinal must be more than Chiney”

Mechelle’s piece I linked previously is her “preview” for the UNC/Tennessee game: Time for Tennessee to just play

From Melanie Jackson: Doubleheader to introduce new faces

If you are a women’s basketball fan, there are some names you’ve likely heard a lot, but you might not have seen the players yet. Monday, you’ll have the chance.

North Carolina hosts Tennessee (ESPN2 and WatchESPN, 9 p.m. ET; Stanford plays UConn at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2 and WatchESPN) in a game that will be an early showcase for some of the top freshmen this season.

The Tar Heels’ Diamond DeShields, Stephanie Mavunga, Allisha Gray and Jessica Washington comprised what was generally ranked the No. 1 recruiting class this year. North Carolina also has two redshirt freshmen, Hillary Fuller (foot) and Hillary Summers (knee), who sat out last season with injury issues.

From Harold Gutmann at the Herald Sun: UNC’s freshmen face early test vs. Lady Vols

From the AP’s Aaron Beard: No. 12 Tar Heels host No. 4 Lady Vols

North Carolina’s youngsters didn’t get much time to prepare for their first major challenge in college.

With No. 4 Tennessee arriving Monday, the No. 12 Tar Heels will have a tough test that comes early in their work to shape a team featuring the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class and reigning Atlantic Coast Conference rookie of the year Xylina McDaniel.

Freshman Diamond DeShields says Monday means, “America’s basically going to see us and what we have to offer.”

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