Women's college basketball Power Rankings: Can Caitlin Clark power Iowa back into top 16?

When Anne Nizzi-Clark makes the two-hour drive from home in West Des Moines, Iowa, to Iowa City, she typically takes along baked goodies. Not just for her daughter, Iowa sophomore guard Caitlin Clark, but for the whole women's basketball program.

"We're a big dessert family," Clark said. "She's usually got homemade brownies, homemade cookies. I definitely have a big sweet tooth. The coaches love it, as well, and the girls on the team. They're like, 'What is your mom bringing?' She's awesome."

An extra sweet or two isn't going to hurt Clark, not with the energy she burns off playing nearly 35 minutes per game and leading Division I women's basketball in scoring (27.6 PPG) and assists (8.1 APG). She is also Iowa's top rebounder at (8.2 RPG).

Iowa is 16-6 overall and 10-3 in the Big Ten, a projected No. 6 seed in Charlie Creme's ESPN Bracketology. Iowa started this season as No. 7 in ESPN's weekly Power Rankings but fell out by the second week in December. But with a strong showing the rest of February, the Hawkeyes have a chance to improve their résumé.

It starts Monday at home against No. 15 Maryland (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2). Then the Hawkeyes have consecutive games against conference-leading Indiana, a trip to Rutgers and a rematch with Michigan (11-3 in the league).

Like many teams this season, Iowa has dealt with injuries, COVID-19 delays and rescheduling. A COVID-19 shutdown meant no games between matchups on Nov. 17 and Dec. 2, and a canceled trip to the Cancun Challenge.

Through it all, Clark has remained a superstar, building on an outstanding freshman season. But the weight she carries for the Hawkeyes can be quite heavy, and coach Lisa Bluder said she talks to Clark about the pressure and tries to ease that.

"She is a competitor, through and through," Bluder said. "She will carry a team if she needs to, and she won't back away from that. She knew there was a lot on her shoulders when she came here, and she embraces that. Our team, though, wants to support her as much as it can."

Clark's scoring abilities -- including her shots from the logo -- have gotten a lot of the attention. But her all-around game is at a very high level, and she already has put her name in with legends of college basketball. She's coming off an epic January in which she became the first Division I men's or women's player to post back-to-back triple-doubles with at least 30 points in each game.

Her 44 points against Evansville on Jan. 2 set a Carver-Hawkeye Arena record, and she hit the 1,000-point mark in that game. Clark became the fastest player in Big Ten women's history to reach the milestone (40 games), and the eighth-fastest in Division I history. The last player to reach it in fewer games was Delaware's Elena Delle Donne (38 games), who has gone on to be a two-time WNBA MVP.

Clark totaled 304 points, 77 rebounds and 91 assists in January -- the only Division I player, men's or women's, with a 300-75-75 month over the past 20 seasons. And she hasn't slowed down in February, averaging 35.0 points, 9.0 assists and 7.7 rebounds in the Hawkeyes' three games this month.

Oregon's Sabrina Ionescu had 26 triple-doubles at Oregon from 2016 to 2020 and brought a spotlight to her versatility as a guard. The 6-foot Clark has six career triple-doubles so far -- five this season -- and is doing the same thing.

Some fans have suggested Clark is the current women's hoops equivalent of Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes: players who are a blast to watch no matter what team you root for, and who have the panache and ability to make you gasp at what they just pulled off.

"She does play with that joy," Bluder said. "She has always played like that. I never, ever want her to lose that fire. I'm never going to do anything to dampen that. That is just her. It would be like snuffing out a candle."

Or, considering the magnitude of Clark's game, like pouring water on the roaring fire that has helped warm the hearts of Hawkeyes fans the past two winters. Clark could have gone virtually anywhere to college; that she chose to stay in her home state endears her even more to Iowa faithful.

Clark struggled through a shooting slump from 3-point range to start the season. In her first 14 games, she was 27-of-119 (22.7%) from behind the arc, a big dropoff from her 40.6% clip (116-of-286) as a freshman. But in her past eight games, she is 31-of-68 (45.6%).

"The biggest thing was watching a lot of film," Clark said. "And I kept shooting, getting in the gym. I wouldn't say my shot really changed [during the slump], but my balance was a little weird. I wasn't landing on two feet all of the time, and taking too many off-balance shots.

"I had made a lot of those previously, so it didn't really feel wrong. But I had to keep working on it. I knew my shot was going to come back, even though it was a little frustrating. It was also a blessing in disguise, though, because I really had to evolve more with other parts of my game: getting to the basket and my midrange. Now that my 3-point shot is starting to fall like it should, I think it's made me a better player."

Bluder said Clark was fading a bit on her 3-pointers and sometimes taking them from too far out, even though Clark's range often appears to be just about anything over half court. Bluder didn't want Clark to remove her signature "bombs" -- or the off-balance stepbacks she sometimes needs to take as the shot clock is winding down -- entirely from her repertoire. But Bluder encouraged Clark to make it a little easier on herself and take closer 3s as she built back her confidence. That has worked.

In a Feb. 6 loss at Michigan, Clark scored a career-high 46 points. The Hawkeyes were down injured starters McKenna Warnock and Gabbie Marshall, but made a game of it behind Clark's heroics and a combined 24 points from forward/center Monika Czinano and guard Kate Martin, plus some players off the bench who have been getting more time.

Last year, the Hawkeyes went on postseason runs to make the Big Ten tournament title game (where they fell to Maryland) and the Sweet 16 (where they lost to UConn). The top half of the Big Ten this season might be as tough as it has ever been, and as mentioned, the Hawkeyes have a challenging end to the regular season.

But they've also got one of the top weapons in college hoops, and Clark said she's going to keep being herself and doing all she can for Iowa.

"I hope people watching have as much fun as I do, especially when I'm making shots and getting into it with the crowd and showing my emotion," she said. "I feel like that's what people love, and it's coming from the best interests of my team."

Player of the Week: Alexis Morris, LSU Tigers

The senior guard led the Tigers to victories over Ole Miss, Georgia and Texas A&M, averaging 22.7 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.7 assists. She has played 40 minutes in three of the Tigers' past four games, and 39 minutes in the other.

Teammate Khayla Pointer was one of the other top contenders for top player honors this week, as she averaged 20.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG and 5.3 APG. Both have been iron women for the Tigers, with Pointer averaging 36.4 minutes per game and Morris 34.3.

Team of the Week: Virginia Tech Hokies

For the first time in program history, the Hokies beat ranked opponents back-to-back. They started the week with a 73-42 win over Clemson. That was followed by victories over No. 11 Georgia Tech (73-63) on Thursday and No. 23 North Carolina (66-61) on Sunday. The Hokies were a combined 30-of-70 (42.9%) from behind the arc in the three games.

Virginia Tech is 19-6 overall and 11-3 (third place) in the ACC.

"I can't be more proud of the week that we had," Hokies coach Kenny Brooks said. "Not just because of the results we got, but because of the way [the players] conducted their business. Coming off a very disappointing loss to Notre Dame, they willed themselves."

The Hokies' Aisha Sheppard made four 3-pointers and is now the ACC's career leader in treys with 377. This is her fifth full season after the blanket eligibility waiver last season, so Sheppard has played 151 games thus far. The previous record holder, Louisville's Asia Durr, played 140 games over four seasons with 374 3-pointers.

Virginia Tech is poised to make its second consecutive NCAA tournament appearance after a 14-year absence, which includes the 2020 season, when there was no tournament because of COVID- 19 and the Hokies were 21-9.

Win of the Week: Villanova Wildcats 72, UConn Huskies 69

No conference opponent had defeated UConn since 2013, when Notre Dame did it in the old Big East. That changed Wednesday, when the Wildcats went into Hartford, Connecticut, and came out with a Big East victory.

Admittedly, the Huskies used just six players because of injury and illness. But nonetheless, it was a big feat for Villanova, which followed it with an overtime victory against Marquette on Friday. However, the Wildcats then fell 72-60 on Sunday at Seton Hall at the end of a busy week.

Maddy Siegrist was another strong player of the week candidate, averaging 30 points and 12 rebounds in the three games.

Coach of the Week: Tammi Reiss, Rhode Island Rams

Dawn Staley's No. 1 South Carolina team leads the nation and the SEC, but her former Virginia teammate is doing well, too. Tammi Reiss has the Rams atop the Atlantic 10 at 10-0 after victories this past week against St. Joseph's and Fordham. Meanwhile, VCU's victory over Dayton on Sunday dropped the Flyers to 10-1 in the league. That sets up a showdown Wednesday between the Flyers and the Rams at Rhode Island.

The Rams are 20-3 overall and on a 13-game winning streak. Reiss, now 44-27 in her third season with the Rams, was the A-10 coach of the year last season. She and Staley were standout guards for Virginia from 1988-92, making three Final Four appearances.

Power Rankings

1. South Carolina Gamecocks (23-1)
Previous ranking:
This week: vs. Auburn (Thursday), vs. Tennessee (Sunday)

The Gamecocks' 59-50 win over Kentucky on Thursday was a little closer than they wanted, but they came back with a dominant 72-54 victory Sunday against Georgia. Aliyah Boston now has 17 double-doubles in a row, the second-longest streak in SEC women's history behind 19 by former LSU great Sylvia Fowles.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, only two SEC teams -- both from Tennessee -- have won their first 10 games against ranked opponents in a season. In 1997-98, the Lady Vols went 17-0 against top-25 teams and won the NCAA title. In 1993-94, the Lady Vols won their first 11 games against ranked opponents. With the win over No. 17 Georgia, South Carolina has now won its first nine games this season against ranked foes. The Gamecocks have one opponent left in the regular season that is currently ranked: Tennessee.

2. Stanford Cardinal (21-3)
Previous ranking:
This week: at Oregon State (Friday), at Oregon (Sunday)

This season is shaping up the same as what was the case for many years in the Pac-12: Stanford cruising at a higher altitude than anyone else. The Cardinal plowed past Oregon State, Utah and Colorado this past week, winning by an average of 22 points to move to 12-0 in the league. The next-closest teams, Oregon and Arizona, each have four losses.

3. Louisville Cardinals (22-2)
Previous ranking:
This week: at North Carolina (Thursday), vs. Virginia Tech (Sunday)

The Cardinals somehow seem under the radar despite the fact that their only two losses have been in overtime to Arizona in November and to NC State in January. This past week was a little easier than Louisville expected, as Virginia forfeited due to travel difficulties and the Cardinals then blitzed Notre Dame 73-47.

4. NC State Wolfpack (23-3)
Previous ranking:
This week: vs. Wake Forest (Thursday), vs. Syracuse (Sunday)

It was a challenging week for the Wolfpack with three games, but they rose to the occasion and won all of them. After beating Georgia Tech 59-48 on Monday, NC State got a scare at Boston College on Thursday but took charge in the extra period to win 85-78 in overtime. Then at Duke on Sunday, the Blue Devils were within two points with 5:12 left, but the Wolfpack outscored them 21-8 the rest of the way.

5. Baylor Bears (19-5)
Previous ranking:
This week: vs. TCU (Wednesday), at TCU (Saturday)

The Bears avenged their loss at Kansas State on Jan. 2 in a big way this past Wednesday, crushing the Wildcats 95-50 at Baylor. They followed that with a 75-57 victory over West Virginia. Queen Egbo had double-doubles in both games, with 19 points and 16 rebounds against K-State and 13 and 12 against West Virginia. Baylor is now tied with Oklahoma at 9-3 in second place in the Big 12 behind 10-2 Iowa State. The Bears still have an upcoming trip to Ames, Iowa, at the end of February.

6. Maryland Terrapins (18-6)
Previous ranking:
This week: at Iowa (Monday), Ohio State (Thursday), at Michigan (Sunday)

The Terps had an easy time with a 70-43 victory over Wisconsin last week, but this week is the exact opposite with three games against ranked teams. Maryland is currently in a three-way tie with Iowa and Ohio State for third in the Big Ten at 10-3 behind 10-1 Indiana and 11-3 Michigan. So the Terps can really help themselves with a big week. Will they have star guard Ashley Owusu back? She missed Maryland's last two games with a right ankle sprain suffered Feb. 3 in a win over Michigan State. But her status is day-to-day, coach Brenda Frese said.

7. LSU Tigers (21-4)
Previous ranking:
This week: at Mississippi State (Thursday), vs. Florida (Sunday)

Just like Baylor, LSU made a big jump this week in the Power Rankings thanks to victories over Ole Miss, Georgia and Texas A&M. LSU's guard play continues to shine, as our player of the week award notes. And that didn't even mention guard Jailin Cherry's combined 34 points and 20 rebounds last week. But the Tigers' post play deserves some props, too: Senior center Faustine Aifuwa had a double-double against Ole Miss, and senior forward Autumn Newby had a season-high 13 rebounds against Texas A&M.

8. Indiana Hoosiers (18-3)
Previous ranking:
This week: at Nebraska (Monday), vs. Northwestern (Thursday), vs. Iowa (Saturday)

The Hoosiers are still holding things together without top scorer and rebounder Mackenzie Holmes (knee injury). They beat Illinois and Michigan State this past week, led by Grace Berger's combined 42 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists. But it's a tough closing stretch for the Big Ten-leading Hoosiers; if they do win the league regular-season title, they will have earned it.

9. Arizona Wildcats (18-4)
Previous ranking:
This week: at Washington (Friday), at Washington State (Sunday)

There is something about rivalry games, especially those of the in-state variety. Arizona knew Arizona State was dangerous, as the Sun Devils were coming off victories against Oregon State and Oregon before their matchup with the Wildcats in Tempe, Arizona, on Friday. And the Sun Devils were indeed a handful, scoring a surprising 81 points in beating Arizona. In the rematch in Tucson on Sunday, though, the Wildcats' defense held up and they won 62-58.

10. Michigan Wolverines (20-4)
Previous ranking:
This week: vs. Maryland (Sunday)

Speaking of in-state rivalries, that got to the Wolverines, who lost 63-57 at Michigan State on Thursday. And still feeling the effects of not having injured forward Leigha Brown, Michigan lost again Sunday 71-69 in double overtime at Northwestern. It was the worst week of the season, resultswise, for the Wolverines. But they have some time to regroup before meeting Maryland. Brown (leg) hasn't played since Jan. 31, but is expected back this season.

11. UConn Huskies (17-5)
Previous ranking:
This week: at Xavier (Friday), vs. Georgetown (Sunday)

The Huskies saw their nine-year conference winning streak end against Villanova on Wednesday, but things took a turn for the better the rest of the week. UConn beat DePaul by 24 on Friday after defeating the Blue Demons by just two points last month in Chicago. Then the Huskies had a big fourth quarter in downing Marquette by 14 points Sunday. Xavier and Georgetown are a combined 5-24 in league play this season, so this week should not be taxing for UConn.

12. Tennessee Lady Vols (21-4)
Previous ranking:
This week: at Alabama (Thursday), at South Carolina (Sunday)

The Lady Vols got exactly what they needed with two solid victories at home after losing three of their previous four. Tennessee beat Missouri by 76-62 on Thursday and Vanderbilt 66-52 on Sunday. Jordan Horston led the Lady Vols with a combined 37 points, 26 rebounds and 12 assists. Coming up this week: a trip to face the No. 1 Gamecocks.

13. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (19-6)
Previous ranking:
This week: vs. Notre Dame (Thursday), vs. Miami (Sunday)

Delicia Washington scored 40 points; the Yellow Jackets have had 12 games this season when they kept the entire opposing team to fewer than 50 points. So while that was an uncharacteristic game for the defense, Georgia Tech at least avoided what would have been a very damaging loss.

14. Iowa State Cyclones (21-3)
Previous ranking:
This week: at Texas (Wednesday), vs. Oklahoma (Saturday)

With Texas' win over Oklahoma on Saturday, the Cyclones' victory at TCU put them in sole possession of first place in the Big 12 at 10-2. Ashley Joens had a season-high 32 points against the Horned Frogs, and Emily Ryan had 14 points and a school-record 17 assists. This week, can Iowa State hold off the two teams right behind it in the Power Rankings?

15. Texas Longhorns (17-6)
Previous ranking:
This week: vs. Iowa State (Wednesday), at West Virginia (Sunday)

After losing three in a row and falling out of the Power Rankings, the Longhorns are back this week after victories at Texas Tech and over Oklahoma. The fact that Texas was still in the NCAA's top 16 seeds in last Thursday's reveal -- even before the win over the Sooners -- has to make the Longhorns feel pretty good about where they stand even though they are now 7-5 in the Big 12.

16. Oklahoma Sooners (20-4)
Previous ranking:
This week: vs. Texas Tech (Wednesday), at Iowa State (Saturday)

The Sooners split with the Longhorns, winning the matchup in Oklahoma in January and losing at Texas on Saturday. Oklahoma's high-powered offense hasn't stalled much this season, but it did in the 78-63 loss to the Longhorns. The Sooners hope to get that back on track this week, which includes a key rematch with Iowa State. The Cyclones won at Oklahoma 81-71 on Jan. 5.

In the waiting room

Notre Dame Fighting Irish (19-6): The Irish drop out of the Power Rankings -- they were No. 16 last week -- not so much because they lost to Louisville on Sunday but because of the noncompetitive 73-47 score. That said, the Irish have a chance to make up some ground this week against Georgia Tech on Thursday.

Florida Gators (18-6): The Gators moved into the Associated Press poll last week at No. 19, their first time in the rankings since 2016. Florida beat Mississippi State on Thursday and has just one ranked foe (LSU) remaining on the schedule.

Ohio State Buckeyes (18-4): They have won 11 of their past 13, with both losses in that stretch coming to Michigan. Ohio State has just one ranked foe left: Maryland on Thursday.