Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors wasn't surprised most of the preseason attention for the SEC was on three teams: South Carolina, LSU and Tennessee. But he thinks his 13-0 Razorbacks are ready to get some of the limelight.
"We've got to earn it," said Neighbors, whose team debuts in this season's ESPN women's college basketball Power Rankings, at No. 16. "But what I told our team heading into this stretch of games, even if we go 0-for-4, we'll be better for it. But you've also got the opportunity to go 4-0."
So far in what could be four consecutive top-25 matchups, Arkansas is 1-0 after beating Creighton 83-75 Saturday in Omaha, Nebraska, behind Samara Spencer's 26 points. The Razorbacks go to the San Diego Invitational this week, where they first face Oregon on Tuesday and might meet a fellow unbeaten team, Ohio State, on Wednesday.
Arkansas, which lost in the first round of the 2022 NCAA tournament, starts SEC play at home against LSU on Dec. 29 (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2). The Tigers are 12-0 after winning the Maui Classic in Hawai'i on Sunday and won't play again until traveling to Fayetteville, Arkansas.
UConn transfer Saylor Poffenbarger (8.3 RPG) is Arkansas' top rebounder. Spencer, a 5-foot-7 guard who was last season's SEC freshman of the year, leads Arkansas in scoring (16.5 PPG) and assists (4.4).
"What I like about (Spencer) most is how she prepares," Neighbors said. "She knows our scouting report before we give it to her, and if we make a mistake on it, she's correcting it. That's how dedicated and confident she is."
He acknowledges that he didn't expect at this stage to be unbeaten along with South Carolina and LSU. He also thinks despite its struggles with a 7-6 record, Tennessee is "still one of the top teams."
"I understand people had a lot of question marks about us," Neighbors said. "Nobody really knew how good Saylor was. They probably thought Sam would have a sophomore slump. But I think this team has a chance to be one of the better ones we've had.
"As for the SEC ... it may be a little top-heavy. But I do think there are there are still good teams throughout the league. It's gonna be a fun year."
Angel Reese gets inside the lane and draws a pair of and-1 opportunities for LSU.
Player of the Week: Angel Reese, LSU Tigers
When your name gets mentioned with the likes of Sylvia Fowles and Maree Jackson (yes, Lauren Jackson's mother) at LSU, you are doing something really good. In Reese's case, her 25-point, 20-rebound game in a victory Sunday over the Oregon State Beavers in the Maui Classic made her the fifth LSU women's player to have a 20/20 game. That list includes Fowles, Jackson, Julie Gross and Cornelia Gayden.
Jackson did it 12 times in her LSU career, Fowles four times. Fowles is the last player to do it before Reese did; in the 2008 women's Final Four semifinals against Tennessee.
Earlier in the Maui Classic, Reese had 32 points and 15 rebounds in a victory over Lamar, which was followed by 30 points and 12 rebounds against Montana State.
For the tournament, Reese had 87 points and 47 rebounds while shooting 67.3% from the field. We would say she really likes Hawai'i, but Reese has had a double-double in all 12 games this season.
Team of the Week: UCLA Bruins
The program's most famed coach, Billie Moore, died Wednesday after battling cancer, prompting many tributes to the Naismith Hall of Famer. Moore was the first U.S. Olympic coach in 1976. Ann Meyers Drysdale -- who played for Moore on the Olympic team and the 1978 AIAW championship team at UCLA -- said Moore really understood the personality and motivation of those who played for her.
The night after Moore's death, the Bruins beat cross-town rival USC 59-56. UCLA followed that with a 75-47 victory over Cal State Bakersfield. After an injury-riddled 2021-22 season in which the Bruins went 18-13 but made the WNIT semifinals, this appears to be a team ready to be back in the NCAA tournament. The Bruins' only loss thus far was at No. 1 South Carolina in November.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Virginia Tech Hokies: Full Highlights
Win of the Week: Notre Dame 63, Virginia Tech 52
Two weeks after their double-digit victory over visiting UConn, the Irish beat another top-10 team, this one on the road. Holding the Huskies to 60 points and the Hokies to 52 shows how strong the Notre Dame defense can be. Virginia Tech shot just 29.4% from the field.
Sunday's game at Blacksburg, Virginia, was another showcase for Olivia Miles, who led Notre Dame with 16 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and five steals.
Coach of the Week: Shauna Green, Illinois Fighting Illini
From 1995-2007, Theresa Grentz went 210-156 and made five NCAA tournament trips and five WNIT appearances at Illinois. But in the last 15 seasons under three different coaches, the Illini have struggled, getting a winning record just three times. Nancy Fahey, a successful Division III coach, went 42-99 overall and 7-77 in the Big Ten over the last five seasons at Illinois. Twenty years have passed since the Illini's last NCAA tournament berth in 2003.
But so far, Green -- 127-50 in six seasons at Dayton with four NCAA tournament appearances -- has brought a new energy to the Illini (10-2). Their only losses: by three points to Delaware in Daytona Beach, Florida, and by four points at top-five Indiana.
Sunday, they won 76-66 at Missouri. Illinois has just one remaining nonconference game, this week against Florida Atlantic. Then we'll see how the Illini do with the rest of their Big Ten schedule. If their performance against Indiana is an indication, keep an eye on the Illini.
South Carolina defeats Charleston Southern to remain undefeated on the season.
1. South Carolina Gamecocks (11-0)
Previous ranking: 1
This week: vs. Coastal Carolina (Wednesday)
Notable in wins last week over South Dakota State and Charleston Southern: Zia Cooke led South Carolina in scoring. She has scored in double figures in all but two games this season.
2. Stanford Cardinal (11-1)
Previous ranking: 2
This week: vs. Creighton (Tuesday), vs. California (Friday)
Tennessee made Stanford work for it in the teams' annual matchup Sunday. But the Cardinal's "big three" -- Cameron Brink, Haley Jones and Hannah Jump -- took over, combining for 59 of Stanford's points in a 77-70 win. Brink also had 17 rebounds and six blocked shots. Not many foes will have answers for all of that.
Cameron Brink elevates for the bigtime stuff
3. Ohio State Buckeyes (11-0)
Previous ranking: 3
This week: vs. South Florida (Tuesday), vs. Arkansas/Oregon (Wednesday); both games at San Diego Invitational
The Buckeyes remained unbeaten with an 82-57 win over Albany on Friday, but could be tested in San Diego this week. Injured guard Jacy Sheldon has not played since Nov. 30 at Louisville. But players such as freshman Cotie McMahon and sophomore Taylor Thierry, both forwards, have raised their level of play.
4. Indiana Hoosiers (11-0)
Previous ranking: 4
This week: vs. Butler (Wednesday)
The Hoosiers cruised over Morehead State by 63 points Sunday and 10 Indiana players scored. It could look a lot the same against Butler this week before Indiana heads into the holiday break undefeated and ready for Big Ten season.
5. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (9-1)
Previous ranking: 5
This week: vs. Western Michigan (Wednesday)
We mentioned Miles and the Irish defense against Virginia Tech in the "win of the week" above. But kudos also to interior players Maddy Westbeld and Lauren Ebo, who combined for 25 points and 14 rebounds in beating the Hokies.
6. NC State Wolfpack (11-1)
Previous ranking: 6
This week: No games
Balance is what the Wolfpack are all about. After cruising past Davidson last week, NC State opened ACC play beating Clemson 77-59. Madison Hayes had 20 points against Clemson, the seventh different player to lead the Wolfpack in scoring this season.
7. North Carolina Tar Heels (9-1)
Previous ranking: 7
This week: vs. Michigan (Tuesday)
The Tar Heels cruised over South Carolina Upstate last week. Their matchup with Michigan is part of the Jumpman Invitational in Charlotte, North Carolina, and will be their fourth game against a ranked team. It's also their last nonconference game; they begin ACC play Dec. 29 against Florida State. Junior guard Kennedy Todd-Williams already has made 22 3-pointers -- she had 25 last season -- and is shooting 43.1% from behind the arc.
UConn pulls off the win vs. Florida State, 85-77
8. UConn Huskies (8-2)
Previous ranking: 9
This week: vs. Seton Hall (Wednesday)
With players' injuries and coaches' illnesses, it has already been a trying season for the Huskies. But with coach Geno Auriemma not feeling well and not on the sidelines, UConn still defeated a Florida State squad that has one of the nation's top freshmen in guard Ta'Niya Latson. She had 24 points Sunday, but UConn had Dorka Juhász (15 points) and Nika Mühl (12 assists) back from injury in an 85-77 win.
9. Virginia Tech Hokies (10-1)
Previous ranking: 8
This week: at High Point (Wednesday)
The Hokies had a chance to make a statement against their first ranked foe this season, with Notre Dame visiting Sunday. It didn't happen. Other than center Elizabeth Kitley and guard Georgia Amoore, who combined for 36 of the Hokies' 52 points, Virginia Tech had little to offer offensively. Considering how good the Irish are, though, the Hokies stay in the Power Rankings top 10 for now.
10. LSU Tigers (12-0)
Previous ranking: 12
This week: No games
Everyone has been waiting for the Tigers to face a Power 5 opponent for the first time this season, which they did against Oregon State at the Maui Classic. It was close for a quarter, then LSU took control. An 87-55 victory won't quiet all the critics of LSU's schedule, but the Tigers aren't worried about that. Next stop: SEC season.
11. Iowa Hawkeyes (9-3)
Previous ranking: 10
This week: vs. Dartmouth (Wednesday)
The in-state rivalry games in Iowa can be tricky: The Hawkeyes had to go to overtime to beat Drake in November. But they defeated Iowa State by 13 on Dec. 7, and then Sunday topped Northern Iowa by 14. If you guessed Caitlin Clark led Iowa in points (26), rebounds (8) and assists (7) -- well, of course she did.
12. Iowa State Cyclones (8-2)
Previous ranking: 11
This week: vs. Drake (Thursday)
Speaking of state of Iowa rivalry games, the Cyclones finish theirs this week with Drake. They go into it feeling good after an important win against Villanova in the Basketball Hall of Fame Women's Showcase in Connecticut on Sunday. After losing to North Carolina and Iowa, the Cyclones really needed a win over a ranked team and got it, led by double-doubles from Ashley Joens (17 points, 10 rebounds) and Emily Ryan (16 points, 10 assists).
13. UCLA Bruins (11-1)
Previous ranking: 14
This week: vs. Fresno State (Tuesday)
Senior Charisma Osborne and freshman Kiki Rice have been leading the way for the Bruins. But also keep an eye on sophomore forward Emily Bessoir, who led UCLA in scoring last week in wins over USC and Cal State Bakersfield. Bessoir missed last season with a torn ACL but had some big games as a freshman in 2020-21.
14. Utah Utes (10-0)
Previous ranking: 13
This week: at Weber State (Tuesday), vs. Southern Utah (Thursday)
Utah got its first Pac-12 win of the season with an 85-58 romp over Colorado, then blew out UC Riverside 92-45. After two in-state rivalry games this week for the Utes, we'll see what they can do with the rest of the Pac-12 schedule.
15. Oregon Ducks (9-1)
Previous ranking: 16
This week: vs. Arkansas (Tuesday), vs. Ohio State/South Florida (Wednesday); both games at San Diego Invitational
The Ducks dominated Eastern Washington and Charleston last week but should be challenged in San Diego this week. Phillipina Kyei, a 6-8 sophomore, is leading Oregon in rebounding at 11.2 RPG and could play a key role.
16. Arkansas Razorbacks (13-0)
Previous ranking: NR
This week: vs. Oregon (Tuesday), vs. Ohio State/South Florida (Wednesday); both games at San Diego Invitational
Neighbors said the Razorbacks played their most cohesive game this season in their win at Creighton last week. It was also helpful to have senior guard Makayla Daniels back after she had missed three games with injury. She really helps make their offense run smoother.
Fell out: Creighton