Two mega-matchups involving four teams in the top five of the ESPN women's college basketball Power Rankings are on tap this week. The winners will take a firmer grip in their conference races in the Big Ten and SEC.
First up is Thursday's Big Ten showdown in Bloomington, Indiana, between Indiana and Iowa, Nos. 4 and 5 in this week's Power Rankings. Then Sunday (2 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN App), No. 1 South Carolina hosts No. 3 LSU.
The Gamecocks and Tigers are the last two unbeaten teams in Division I women's basketball. This past week, South Carolina withstood a challenge from UConn, while LSU survived three single-digit wins, including over Georgia in overtime. The Tigers have this next week to prepare for the Gamecocks, who have to play Auburn on the road Thursday.
The Gamecocks' win Sunday featured the individual showcase of premier post players Aliyah Boston and Aaliyah Edwards. Another such matchup will come when Boston faces off against LSU's Angel Reese, who is second in Division I in rebounding (15.8) and fifth in scoring (23.5). Reese has put herself into the national player of the year race -- with top contenders Boston and Iowa's Caitlin Clark -- with her 23-game streak of double-double performances.
Boston's numbers (13.5 PPG, 10.0 RPG) don't reflect just how dominating she is, because she hasn't had to play as much with the Gamecocks' depth and how commandingly they have won a lot of games. But just look at what she did against UConn -- 26 points, 11 rebounds, 2blocked shots -- if you need any reminder of how good she is.
Both teams have top scoring guards, Zia Cooke for South Carolina and Alexis Morris for LSU. Brea Beal has been exceptional as the Gamecocks' defensive leader, and center Kamilla Cardoso follows Boston on the boards at 8.2 per game. And LSU's Flau'jae Johnson is one of the country's most exciting freshmen.
Meanwhile in the Midwest, the Hoosiers had their biggest regular-season crowd on Jan. 26 vs. Ohio State but might have an even bigger one when triple-double whiz Clark and the Hawkeyes come to town. Indiana (12-1 Big Ten) has played one more conference game than Iowa (11-1), and the teams sit first and second in the league.
Indiana is on a 10-game winning streak and hasn't lost at home this season; Iowa is on an eight-game winning streak and already has won two Big Ten road games against ranked teams. Both teams have superefficient post players, Indiana's Mackenzie Holmes and Iowa's Monika Czinano, who are second and third in Division I in field goal percentage and are the top two among Power 5 conference players.
Both teams have excellent playmakers, with Iowa's Clark and Indiana's Grace Berger and Chloe Moore-McNeil. And both have freshmen who have really made an impact: Indiana's Yarden Garzon and Iowa's Hannah Stuelke.
This week also brings the NCAA's first reveal of the projected top 16 seeds, which comes at halftime of Thursday's game between Stanford and the Arizona Wildcats (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN App).
Caitlin Clark finishes with 23-14-10 scoreline as the Hawkeyes defeat the Lady Lions 95-51.
Player of the Week: Caitlin Clark, Iowa Hawkeyes
Clark is our first repeat winner for Player of the Week this season (previously won Dec. 5). She had some stiff competition, including LSU's Morris and South Carolina's Boston, who won Jan. 16.
But it was hard to top Clark's performances against Maryland (42 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists) and Penn State (23/10/14, for her third triple-double of the season and ninth of her career). Also notable was how well Clark shot the ball this past week: a combined 22-of-36 (61.1%), including 8-of-17 (47%) from 3-point range, in the two victories.
Team of the Week: UNLV Lady Rebels
It was a tough week for Stanford with an unexpected loss, but another good week for Stanford alum Lindy La Rocque, who played for the Cardinal 2008-12. Her UNLV team scored 90-plus points in beating both New Mexico and Air Force on the road to stay unbeaten in the Mountain West. The Lady Rebels, 22-2 overall, lead the league at 12-0 and have won 13 consecutive games.
Junior center Desi-Rae Young, the MWC Player of the Year last season, leads UNLV at 17.8 PPG and 10.5 RPG. The Lady Rebels have a hometown feel to them, too: Three starters -- Young, Essence Booker and Justice Ethridge -- plus La Rocque are Las Vegas natives.
Elle Ladine drops 21 points as Washington defeats No. 2 Stanford to pull off the upset in the Pac-12.
Win of the Week: Washington 72, Stanford 67
We'll address what went wrong for Stanford below. But let's focus here on what went right for Washington. The Huskies have had their struggles, coming into the game at 4-7 in the Pac-12. From Dec. 30 to Jan. 27, they lost seven of eight games.
But most of those games were close, and now UW has won three in a row -- including this shocker over Stanford. The Huskies' execution was what it needed to be for such a big upset. They were the more aggressive team -- 16-of-21 from the foul line to Stanford's 12-of-13 -- and beat the Cardinal on the boards 34-24. They had just 11 turnovers to Stanford's 16.
After trailing 17-8 following the first quarter, the Huskies roared back with a 30-point second quarter that changed the whole vibe of the game. Then, down by one after three quarters, they won the fourth quarter 19-13, including making five free throws in the final 22 seconds.
Coach of the Week: Tammi Reiss, Rhode Island Rams
Reiss had the opportunity to move after last season's 22-7 record. Many thought she might want a chance to go to Virginia, where she and South Carolina coach Dawn Staley were in the same backcourt from 1988-89 through 1991-92. But Reiss said she wanted to keep building the program at Rhode Island.
The success has continued into this season, with the 19-3 Rams leading the Atlantic 10 at 10-0. They've won 10 in a row, including victories this past week over Saint Joseph's (in double overtime) and Davidson. This week, the Rams take on George Washington on Wednesday and VCU on Sunday (noon ET, ESPNU/ESPN App). On Feb. 16, Rhode Island has a rematch with 19-4 UMass, which is second in the A-10 at 9-1. The Rams won their first meeting 75-68 on Jan. 4.
Reiss, the A-10 Coach of the Year in 2020-21, is 65-34 in her fourth season at Rhode Island.
Aliyah Boston puts up her 75th career double-double (14 points, 14 boards) to lead the Gamecocks past the Wildcats, 87-69.
1. South Carolina Gamecocks (23-0)
Previous ranking: 1
This week: at Auburn (Thursday), vs. LSU Tigers (Sunday)
The Gamecocks topped Kentucky and UConn last week. Their depth is due to everyone accepting their role on the team, and it's not easy to get that buy-in. But Dawn Staley has it. The result: Even though the Huskies' starting five played as well as they did Sunday, the Gamecocks had 37 points and 17 rebounds off the bench in their 81-77 victory. With this marquee game in South Carolina's win column, another big matchup awaits with LSU.
A victory over the Gamecocks would have been huge, but playing the top-ranked team as close as they did was also big for the Huskies. They hope to have guard Caroline Ducharme -- who last played Dec. 31 -- back soon, perhaps this week, as she has been in the concussion protocol. UConn still has a rematch with Villanova on the road Feb. 18, but that might be the Huskies' last real challenge in the regular season.
3. LSU Tigers (23-0)
Previous ranking: 3
This week: at South Carolina (Sunday)
The Tigers walked a tightrope last week, as their unbeaten record looked in jeopardy more than once. But all was well that ended well: They defeated Tennessee, Georgia and Texas A&M. Still, in Sunday's win at Texas A&M, the fatigue of a challenging week did show a bit. That didn't stop Reese from getting her third double-double this season that included 20 or more rebounds (26 points, 22 boards), though. And Morris came up big on the perimeter with point totals of 31, 15 and 22.
4. Indiana Hoosiers (22-1)
Previous ranking: 5
This week: vs. Iowa (Thursday)
The Hoosiers beat Minnesota and Purdue, both by 23 points on the road, setting up their showdown with Iowa this week. The Hoosiers helped draw a sold-out crowd at Purdue on Sunday. Indiana's only loss this season is at Michigan State on Dec. 29. Closing out the regular season without another loss will be a test, as the Hoosiers face ranked teams Iowa (twice), Ohio State and Michigan and have a rematch with Purdue.
We've detailed Clark's big week, but there was more to the Hawkeyes' show. Czinano was 21-of-28 (75%) from the field in the wins over Maryland and Penn State. And fellow post player Stuelke is improving game by game in her first season, as she was a combined 9-of-10 from field for 22 points. The Hawkeyes are back in the top five for the first time since Week 1 of the Power Rankings in November.
The Cardinal have lost twice in Pac-12 play, and that is two times more than most were expecting from a team that was practically penciled into the Final Four when the season began. Sunday's 72-67 loss at Washington was another example of Stanford's offensive woes. After scoring 90 and 101 points in the team's first two league wins, against California and Arizona State, the Cardinal have averaged 65 points the past 10 games. That is enough when their defense is up to snuff. That wasn't the case against Washington. And will it be enough in the NCAA tournament?
Diamond Miller fights her way through contact to finish an and-1 layup and flexes on her defender.
The Terps stayed in place in the Power Rankings after wins over Penn State and Ohio State and a loss at Iowa. Maryland's defense struggled against the Hawkeyes, but the Terps are far from the only team to experience that against Iowa. Then Ohio State bore the brunt of Maryland's frustration three days later as the Terps crushed the Buckeyes 90-54 Sunday. The Terps will play Iowa and Ohio State again to close out the regular season.
Look who's tied with Stanford for first place in the Pac-12: the Utes and the Cardinal are 10-2 in league play. Utah survived 75-73 in overtime at Oregon State and then reached 100 points for the third time this season in beating Oregon. Utah's Alissa Pili was another contender for national player of the week, with a combined 53 points, 13 rebounds and 8 assists. Stanford won the first matchup with Utah on Jan. 20. Might the regular-season finale between the two in Salt Lake City on Feb. 25 be for the Pac-12 title?
Jade Loville sinks the jumper as Arizona grabs 2OT win.
The Blue Devils are atop the ACC at 10-2 after wins over Pitt and Notre Dame. But the victories got much less attention than coach Kara Lawson's allegation -- which came after Thursday's win vs. Pitt -- that a men's basketball had been used for the first half of Duke's 70-57 loss at Florida State on Jan. 29. Florida State said that wasn't the case, and the ACC released a statement saying that after a thorough review, no evidence was found to support Lawson's claim. The Blue Devils scoring 57 points in that loss was no outlier; they have averaged 60.5 PPG in their past 10 games. What they are winning with is defense.
Incidentally, if the Seminoles, now tied in second at 9-3, face Duke in the ACC tournament, that game might have some heat after Lawson cast doubt on Florida State's win over the Blue Devils.
The Irish are 2-2 since losing guard Dara Mabrey to a season-ending injury on Jan. 22, including this past week's defeat against visiting Duke. Notre Dame still has a lot of talent, and the schedule might be in the Irish's favor as their last six games are against unranked foes. That includes two meetings with last-place Pitt. However, they also play Louisville twice, and the Cardinals are still dangerous.
11. North Carolina Tar Heels (17-6)
Previous ranking: 8
This week: at Syracuse (Thursday), vs. Boston College (Sunday)
The Tar Heels can attest to how challenging it still is to play Louisville despite the Cardinals being unranked. North Carolina lost 63-55 at Louisville after a 73-62 victory over Virginia this past week. The 55 points was a season low for the Tar Heels, who had their eight-game winning streak snapped. However, North Carolina was without its leading rebounder and third-leading scorer, junior Alyssa Ustby, who has a lower-body injury and missed a game for the first time in her Tar Heels career. Another starter, Eva Hodgson, has been out the past four games.
Texas is making the case for "It's not how you start but how you finish." The Longhorns lost four of their first seven games this season but have lost just two since. They lead the Big 12 at 9-2 and are on a five-game winning streak that includes victories on the road this past week against West Virginia and Kansas.
Things can change very quickly in a competitive conference like the Big 12. A week ago, Iowa State was tied for first and looking good after two victories, while the Sooners had just lost two games. It's the opposite this week, with the Cyclones losing twice and dropping from the Power Rankings and the Sooners climbing three spots after victories over TCU and West Virginia.
Three-point record holder Taylor Robertson also got a chance to meet idol Steph Curry when the Golden State Warriors faced the Oklahoma City Thunder, so it was an all-around good week in Soonerland. But their foes this week, the Bears and Wildcats, are the two teams that just upset Iowa State.
The good news for Ohio State is that star guard Jacy Sheldon returned Sunday at Maryland, after not playing since Nov. 30 because of a foot injury, and had five points and five rebounds in 25 minutes. The bad news is that the Buckeyes' slide continues; they've lost four of their past five after starting 19-0. Their only win in that stretch was against Wisconsin , which is 2-10 in league play. And even with Sheldon, the Buckeyes were not competitive in their 90-54 loss to the Terps. The Buckeyes will try to put the pieces back together this week.
Part of the four-team logjam tied for fourth at 8-4 in the ACC, the Hokies return to the Power Rankings for the first time since Jan. 2. They are 7-2 since Jan. 1, including a win over Syracuse this past week in which center Elizabeth Kitley led the way with 20 points and 11 rebounds. But the Hokies are facing a difficult week ahead against two ranked teams.
Since making their Power Rankings debut Dec. 5, the Wolverines have dropped out three times. But they keep getting back in again, including this week after wins over Illinois and Michigan State, which has been without coach Suzy Merchant the past three games for medical reasons. Leigha Brown had a combined 56 points, 16 rebounds and 13 assists -- she was also a player of the week contender -- to fuel Michigan.
Knocked out: Iowa State (No. 12), UCLA (No. 15)