Texas, Tennessee and Louisville were top-10 teams in the preseason Associated Press women's basketball poll and in the first week of ESPN's 2022-23 Power Rankings on Nov. 14. Then things started to go sideways for the trio.
By the second week of the Power Rankings, Texas and Tennessee were out. Same for Louisville in Week 4. Combined, the teams had 14 nonconference losses. But now in mid-January, the Longhorns, Lady Vols and Cardinals appear on their way back. Texas is the first of the three to reappear in the Power Rankings, returning this week after home victories against two ranked teams, Kansas and Iowa State.
Tennessee, which has won seven in a row and is tied atop the SEC, and Louisville, which went 1-1 this past week but is in a three-way tie for third in the ACC, aren't back in the Power Rankings yet, but they're moving in the right direction.
Texas now sits atop the Big 12 at 4-1, tied with Oklahoma, another Big 12 team that also returns to the Power Rankings for the first time since Week 1.
The Longhorns and Sooners perhaps should be wary: Last week's Power Rankings newcomers, Baylor and Arizona, both lost twice this past week and are out now. Two other teams are leaving the Power Rankings this week for the first time all season: Iowa State and NC State.
The recent ESPN midseason report card characterized the ACC as the deepest of the Power 5 leagues, with the Big Ten close behind. The Big 12 and Pac-12 are proving to have challenging depth, too. In this week's Power Rankings, the Big Ten still has the edge, leading the way with five teams. The ACC and Pac-12 each have three.
While defending national champion South Carolina is still firmly at No. 1, the Gamecocks are tied for the SEC lead with LSU and Tennessee, all at 6-0. It's the first season in league history that three teams have started SEC play 6-0, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
It all means there is some big-time competition over the next eight weeks for NCAA tournament seeding as teams try to stay on the right side of the bubble.
Aliyah Boston logs another double-double in a rout of Missouri, moving her into third all-time in SEC history.
Player of the Week: Aliyah Boston, South Carolina
Much has been said and written about how two factors -- the Gamecocks' depth and that they've won multiple games in blowouts -- have decreased Boston's court time and the need for her to put up big numbers. But she is still very capable of controlling games, like in the Gamecocks' victories over Kentucky and Missouri. Boston had a combined 41 points, 21 rebounds and six blocked shots, while shooting 15-of-20 from the field.
Win of the Week: USC 55, Stanford 46
USC started the season 9-0. The Trojans have since had decisive losses to Texas and Oregon, and two heartbreak losses to rival UCLA, by a combined four points. So USC had proved it could be dangerous, and then got one of the upsets of the season by beating Pac-12 favorite and national championship contender Stanford in Los Angeles on Sunday. USC held the Cardinal to 30.9% shooting from the field and was led by 18 points and six assists from Destiny Littleton, a transfer who previously played for South Carolina and Texas.
It was USC's first victory over a top-two opponent since 2008, when the Trojans also beat a No. 2-ranked Stanford team. Stanford had won 51 consecutive games against unranked opponents, which was the longest current streak in Division I, until Sunday's loss.
Coach of the Week: Lindsay Gottlieb, USC
Gottlieb knows Stanford well going back to her eight seasons with Cal, which she took to the 2013 Final Four. Before defeating the Cardinal on Sunday, she got a win Friday over her former school, beating the Bears 63-43. Gottlieb is now 13-4 in her second season at USC after spending two years with the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers. USC is 10-1 at home this season, but the Trojans will be tested by back-to-back weekends on the road coming up, at the Washington schools, Utah and Colorado.
Team of the Week: James Madison
JMU has won 13 games in a row, the longest current streak in Division I outside of the three undefeated teams: South Carolina, Ohio State and LSU, which are all 18-0. The Dukes are 16-2, with their losses in November to Maine and North Carolina.
In its first season in the Sun Belt after leaving the Colonial Athletic Association, JMU is 6-0 and in first place in the conference. The Dukes are coming off wins this past week over Appalachian State and Georgia State, with senior guard Kiki Jefferson leading the way this season at 18.2 PPG and 8.3 RPG.
After a tighter-than-expected game at Mississippi State on Jan. 8, it was as if the Gamecocks said, "Time to nail down a few things." They did that with two door-slamming wins: 95-66 at Kentucky and 81-50 against Missouri -- the only teams that beat South Carolina last season. In both games, 11 Gamecocks scored. Boston led the way, but Zia Cooke also had a combined 36 points.
Taylor Mikesell knocks down the 3-pointer
On the road Saturday, Ohio State handled Nebraska's size in a 76-67 victory in which the Buckeyes got 25 points from Rebeka Mikulasikova and 13 from Taylor Thierry, both forwards. Ohio State was eighth in our first Power Rankings, moved up to third in Week 4, and now is one spot from the top. The Buckeyes shouldn't be challenged by Northwestern, which is winless in the Big Ten. But then come the matchups everyone has been anticipating: vs. Iowa on Jan. 23 and Indiana on Jan. 26.
The ups and downs continue for the Huskies, who got guard Azzi Fudd and coach Geno Auriemma back for their victory at St. John's on Wednesday, but then saw Fudd reinjure her knee on Sunday in a win over Georgetown. Auriemma sounded philosophical in a discussion with reporters Saturday about dealing with the grief over the loss of his mother in December and the illness he has been experiencing; he will have to keep that "you can't control everything" mindset.
Aaliyah Edwards denies Georgetown Hoyas with stuff
In a rare game when their post players had some struggles, the Tigers were lifted by their strong small ball in a 77-57 win at Missouri on Thursday in which they hit 10 of 15 3-pointers. Then Sunday in front of 11,000-plus fans at home to honor program legend Seimone Augustus and see her statue unveiled, LSU beat Auburn 84-54, as Angel Reese extended her season-opening double-double streak to 18.
It doesn't seem possible that a team as talented as Stanford could score only four points in a quarter, or only 46 in a game. But it happened Sunday in the Cardinal's loss at USC, two days after winning at UCLA by 13 points. The bright side for the Cardinal is they could be propelled by this lackluster loss just as they were two years ago after back-to-back losses to Colorado and UCLA in mid-January. They didn't lose again that season as they won the national championship. Coming up this week, though, Stanford faces the two teams it is currently tied with atop the Pac-12 at 5-1.
Stanford did not look good today at all, but the Cardinal are still clearly a No. 1 seed. No one behind them on the 2-line has a better resume to supplant the Cardinal. USC will be moving into the field.— Charlie Creme (@CharlieCreme) January 16, 2023
The Hoosiers won a top-10 battle against Maryland 68-61 on Thursday, with guard Sydney Parrish's 18 points. Then they cruised over Wisconsin 93-56 with forward Mackenzie Holmes getting 29 points. Holmes is shooting 68.8% from the field, best among Power 5 players.
The Irish rebounded from a loss to North Carolina on Jan. 8 with comfortable wins over Wake Forest and Syracuse. They were also a little better from behind the arc (7-of-18) at Syracuse than in their previous two games. Notre Dame is now sitting in second place in the ACC at 5-1.
Vanessa de Jesus drops in smooth lay-in
8. Duke Blue Devils (16-1)
Previous ranking: 9
This week: at North Carolina (Thursday), vs. Syracuse (Sunday)
Duke (6-0) is the ACC leader, and guard Celeste Taylor is the Blue Devils' leader. She was the top scorer in their victories this past week over Clemson and Georgia Tech. Duke's first of two matchups with primary rival UNC is this week on the ACC Network.
The Terps jumped into the Power Rankings' top 10 last week and remain there despite going 1-1. That's because the loss was to fellow top-10 team Indiana, 68-61 on the road. Maryland took out its frustration from that defeat on Rutgers with an 80-56 victory, in which senior guard Brinae Alexander was the Terps' top scorer (20 points) for the first time this season. Alexander is in her first season at Maryland after playing four years for Vanderbilt.
10. Utah Utes (15-1)
Previous ranking: 10
This week: at Stanford (Friday), at Cal (Sunday)
After suffering their first loss of the season Jan. 6 at Colorado, the Utes almost got their second Sunday against Arizona. But the Wildcats were called for a foul on Alissa Pili, who hit the tying and winning free throws with three-tenths of a second left. The Wildcats weren't happy with the call. Utah also got a victory that was far less dramatic on Friday, as Arizona State forfeited because it didn't have enough healthy players.
Caitlin Clark nearly had the eighth triple-double of her Iowa career (20 points, 14 assists, nine rebounds) in a 93-64 victory Wednesday over Northwestern. She then had 27 points and 10 assists in a 108-67 win against Penn State on Saturday. The Hawkeyes' 34-point, 13-assist first quarter against Penn State was about as fluid as an offense can look.
The Bruins would like to have back their fourth quarter Friday, when they were outscored 21-10 by Stanford in a 72-59 loss. But UCLA came back with an 87-70 victory over Cal, led by freshman Londynn Jones' 18 points. Another freshman, Kiki Rice, led the Bruins in rebounds (eight) and assists (12) against the Bears, while also scoring 15 points. The Bruins' future was on display.
There aren't many teams that look like they have more fun than the Sooners do when they are winning. They did that last week, 89-79 at Texas Tech and then at home 80-74 against Kansas. That followed the most entertaining game to watch in the Big 12 so far this season, an 82-79 win over Iowa State on Jan. 8. Oklahoma's "Bedlam" rivalry game with Oklahoma State this week should be quite a showdown.
14. Michigan Wolverines (15-3)
Previous ranking: NR
This week: at Rutgers (Thursday)
Credit Michigan's resilience. The Wolverines were very disappointed when they lost 94-85 to Iowa in front a big crowd at home in Ann Arbor on Jan. 7. But they followed it with victories at Purdue and at home against rival Michigan State. Leigha Brown led the way in both wins with a combined 38 points and 10 assists, and the Wolverines felt more like themselves in holding both foes under 60 points.
15. North Carolina Tar Heels (12-5)
Previous ranking: NR
This week: vs. Duke (Thursday), vs. Georgia Tech (Sunday)
Yes, UNC is in the middle of the ACC pack at 3-3, but the Tar Heels look to be on the upswing. Heading into Jan. 8 against Notre Dame, they were staring into the abyss of a possible 0-4 start to the ACC season. But they won, and followed it with victories at Virginia on Thursday and against NC State on Sunday. They beat the Wolfpack 56-47 in grind-it-out fashion, not the style UNC prefers. But the Tar Heels proved they could play it. They might have to do it again this week in another rivalry game, considering how good Duke's defense has been.
16. Texas Longhorns (13-5)
Previous ranking: 10
This week: at Texas Tech (Wednesday), at Baylor (Sunday)
Not surprisingly, the Longhorns are back in the Power Rankings thanks to their defense. When it's on, it's hard to beat. The only recent time Texas didn't play well defensively was an 86-82 loss at Oklahoma State on Jan. 7, the Longhorns' lone defeat in the past 11 games. Ranked teams Kansas and Iowa State ran into the full-court press, bodying-up, constantly irritating Texas defense this past week, and both scored fewer than 60 points in losses.
Knocked out: Arizona (No. 13), NC State (No. 14), Baylor (No. 15), Iowa State (No. 16)