Iowa State hits women’s AP Top 25 milestone; Gamecocks No. 1

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Iowa State has reached its best ranking in 20 years in The Associated Press women’s basketball poll while South Carolina remained the unanimous choice at No. 1.

Iowa State (21-3) moved up three spots to sixth on Monday – it’s highest mark since the 2002 season – and has a huge week ahead with games against No. 14 Texas and No. 15 Oklahoma. The Cyclones, who were sixth on Jan. 7, 2002, hold a one-game lead over Oklahoma and Baylor in the Big 12 standings. Iowa State has only won the conference’s regular season crown once, in 2000.

The Gamecocks received all 30 votes from a national media panel after beating Kentucky and Georgia on the road last week. Stanford, Louisville, N.C. State and Indiana round out the top five.

No. 7 Baylor and No. 8 Arizona follow Iowa State while Michigan fell from fourth to ninth after losing at Michigan State and Northwestern. UConn dropped two spots to No. 10.

Virginia Tech is back in the Top 25 at No. 23 after beating then-No. 11 Georgia Tech and former No. 23 North Carolina last week.

CONFERENCE RANKINGS

Louisville and N.C. State are two of six Atlantic Coast Conference teams ranked this week. The SEC and Big Ten each have five teams in the poll. The Big 12 has four and the Pac-12 two among Power Five conferences.

SNAPPED

UConn’s nine-year undefeated run of conference wins ended against Villanova last week; the Huskies hadn’t lost a regular season or postseason conference game in either the Big East or American Athletic Conference since 2013, when they fell to Notre Dame. UConn rebounded with wins over DePaul and Marquette and still has not had back-to-back losses since 1993.

GAME OF THE WEEK

No. 12 Tennessee at No. 1 South Carolina, Sunday. The top two teams in the SEC will square off with the Gamecocks hoping to put some space between themselves and the rest of the conference. ESPN will be on hand for the third-ever “College GameDay” at a women’s basketball game.

Dixon scores 24, No. 12 Villanova beats No. 17 UConn 85-74

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PHILADELPHIA — Collin Gillespie received a roaring ovation from nearly 19,000 fans when Villanova’s leading scorer returned to the bench after a sprained right ankle sent him to the locker room.

With a 23-point lead shrinking, coach Jay Wright asked Gillespie if he could play. The short answer, no.

Now the Wildcats take a deep breath and hope Gillespie won’t miss much more than the final minutes of another decisive Big East win.

Eric Dixon scored a career-high 24 points, Gillespie scored 19 before he hurt his ankle, and No. 12 Villanova beat No. 17 Connecticut 85-74 on Saturday.

Gillespie returned for a fifth season after a torn ligament in his left knee cost him the 2021 Big East Tournament and NCAA Tournament. He grimaced as he was helped off the court on Saturday and went straight to the locker room. He needs X-rays and there was no immediate word if he could play Tuesday at St. John’s.

Dixon had the breakout game of his two-year career and cruised past his previous best high of 15 points. Dixon grabbed 12 rebounds, made 10 of 15 shots for the Wildcats (17-6, 10-3), and keyed a 12-0 run in the second half that busted the game open and seemingly put it out of reach.

“He’s got so much more in him,” Wright said. “It’s amazing. He can shoot it, too. It’s growth. He’s smart enough to know it doesn’t happen overnight. You’ve got to just keep working at it.”

Dixon said he learned patience by watching former Wildcats bide their time and then break out when needed.

The Wildcats played the final 6:53 without Gillespie and the entire game without second-leading scorer Justin Moore (sprained left ankle). That opened the door for the Huskies to cut a 23-point hole to 10 with 2 minutes left.

The Wildcats sealed the win at the free-throw line and made 21 of 22 overall.

“I just wanted to show Justin that we were there for him,” Dixon said. “We were going to go out there and play hard and be together.”

RJ Cole led the Huskies (15-6, 6-4) with 25 points.

“I still think we’re one of the best teams in this league.,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said.

The Wildcats bounced back from a loss at Marquette to win their fifth game of the season against a Top 25 team. The key stretch came early in the second half after the Huskies pulled to 47-40.

Unhappy with UConn’s run, Wright called timeout and pulled his team together. Chris Arcidiacono hit a 3, Caleb Daniels turned a steal into a dunk, Dixon scored off another UConn turnover, and then came the shot of the game: Gillespie fired a 3 and the ball took a high bounce off the rim, a second bounce, then two taps off the rim and in for a 57-40 lead.

“At that point, I was just in a panic,” Wright said. “Just stop the bleeding. It wasn’t like we had some great plan. Let’s take a break here. They were steamrolling us. Maybe we got our composure.”

The 3-point happy Wildcats — they twice this season hit 13 in a game — had made only one with 7 minutes left in the first half and still led by seven.

Dixon, who averages 9.1 points, scored 14 in the first half. He made all four free throws and five shots from the floor. Gillespie made all three 3s he attempted in the half. With chances from beyond the arc at a minimum, the Wildcats countered with a 22-6 edge in the paint.

BIG PICTURE

UConn: The Huskies missed 11 of their first 16 shots and slogged through a second straight game off a tepid first half. Against Creighton on Tuesday, UConn scored only 22 points in the half and trailed by 10. Cole’s halfcourt heave at the halftime horn was good and pulled the Huskies to 40-29.

“I just thought that we did really nothing in the first half that we talked about doing,” Hurley said. “I think we were just a little bit out of sorts.”

Villanova: Moore sprained his left ankle against Marquette. Moore is second on the Wildcats in scoring at 15.1 points. … Arcidiacono, who scored nine points, would start for Villanova if Gillespie can’t play.

WEATHER DELAY

The Huskies’ chartered flight couldn’t leave Connecticut for weather reasons, so they made a long bus trip Friday night. It’s going to feel like a longer trip home — the Huskies haven’t beaten Villanova since 2014 (0-5).

“I don’t think any particular team in the league is in our head,” Hurley said.

UP NEXT

UConn: Hosts Marquette on Tuesday at the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut.

Villanova: Plays Tuesday against St. John’s at Madison Square Garden.

Dan Hurley, sick with COVID-19, says virus has taken a mental toll

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STORRS, Conn.- UConn coach Dan Hurley was reveling in the return of basketball this season – the ability to travel to a tournament his team played in the Bahamas, the loud crowds at home and away games – when just before Christmas he began feeling sick.

Like many other programs, the Huskies (10-3) are now in a pause because of COVID-19, with Hurley, other staff members and nine players having tested positive or showing symptoms, so far. Two games have been canceled or postponed.

Since the season began Nov. 9, more than 190 men’s Division I basketball games and more than 160 women’s D-I games have been canceled or postponed due to COVID-19. The majority came after mid-December, with several stretching into the new year.

Like last year, the pandemic is again taking a mental as well as a physical toll, Hurley said Thursday, speaking from home where he is isolated with other family members, who also have the virus.

“Pausing again and that feeling of being isolated and away from your team and the season and your purpose, starts to weigh on you,” he said.

Hurley said its clear that even if UConn has enough players to suit up for their next scheduled game at Seton Hall on Jan. 8, they won’t be at full strength, because of the staggered nature of people testing positive.

Hurley said there has been talk around the Big East about instituting a five-day rather than 10-day quarantine for players who come down with COVID-19, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But, because of all the public health and political officials who would have to sign on to that, he’s not clear as to how soon that can happen.

“There’s a sense, I think, of getting through the first six weeks of I don’t know, 13 games, that we were kind of in the clear with this,” Hurley said. “It’s been a real humbling reminder.”

Hurley, who said he’s been feeling better over the last day, has been trying to keep spirts up on his team, telling them that since everyone is getting the virus now, and everyone is vaccinated they’ve got a good chance of being healthy the rest of the season – at least he hopes so.

“This should be our last pause, hopefully,” Hurley said. “Or, I’m telling them this is our last pause and that we’re going to play out the rest of the way. I think that’s what’s keeping everybody going.”

UConn out of women’s AP Top 10 for 1st time in 16 years

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UConn’s record 16-year run in the top 10 is over.

The Huskies fell four spots to No. 11 in The Associated Press women’s college basketball poll Monday after losing to Louisville a day earlier. UConn had been ranked among the first 10 teams in the poll for 313 straight weeks dating back to March 7, 2005, when the team was also 11th. That’s 101 more weeks than the next-longest streak ever, held by Tennessee.

No. 10 Baylor now has the longest active streak, with 136 consecutive top-10 appearances.

South Carolina remained the unanimous top choice, receiving all 29 first-place votes from a national media panel. The Gamecocks will face No. 2 Stanford on Tuesday in the second 1-vs-2 showdown this season. The Cardinal moved up one spot after winning at Tennessee on Saturday. It’s the 600th appearance in the AP Top 25 for Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer, who is 18 behind all-time leader Pat Summitt.

Louisville, Arizona and North Carolina State follow Stanford to round out the top five. The Wolfpack fell three places after losing in overtime to Georgia.

Maryland moved up three spots to sixth. The Terrapins were followed by Tennessee, Indiana and Michigan. The Wolverines knocked off Baylor in overtime on Sunday and now are in the top 10 for the first time ever.

The victory over then-No. 5 Baylor was Michigan’s first against a top-five team in 34 tries.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet we beat a top-five team,” Wolverines coach Kim Barnes Arico said after the overtime victory at the Women’s Hall of Fame Showcase. “It’s a great signature win.”

STILL STREAKING

UConn has been ranked for 533 consecutive weeks – the second-longest run in poll history, behind Tennessee’s record 565. The Huskies also haven’t lost consecutive games since 1993. They don’t play again until Dec. 29 against Marquette. The Huskies already have three losses this season – the first time they’ve had that many before the New Year since 2004.

GAME OF THE WEEK

Stanford at South Carolina, Tuesday. The Cardinal already have faced five ranked teams this season and are involved in their first 1-vs-2 matchup since 2012. The Gamecocks also have been tested this season, beating five Top 25 teams.

No. 6 Louisville outlasts No. 7 UConn 69-64 in HOF Showcase

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UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Jeff Walz’s Louisville teams had never beaten UConn in Connecticut.

That’s one streak he won’t have to talk about again.

Hailey Van Lith scored 10 of her 16 points in the fourth quarter and the No. 6 Cardinals outlasted No. 7 UConn 69-64 in the Women’s Hall of Fame Showcase at the Mohegan Sun on Sunday.

Kianna Smith also scored 16 points for the Cardinals (10-1), who trailed for much of the game, but outscored the injury-riddled Huskies 27-19 over the final 10 minutes. Ahlana Smith added 11 points for the Cardinals.

“I know what everybody’s going to say, that they were shorthanded and everything,” Walz said. “And they’ve had some injuries, there’s no question about that. But, they’re still a pretty good ball club and I was really pleased with how we fought, how we hung in there.”

Freshman Caroline Ducharme had a season-high 24 points and eight rebounds to lead UConn (6-3), which was playing its third straight game without injured star Paige Bueckers. Dorka Juhasz added 15 points and Christyn Williams had 10.

This is the first time UConn has lost three games before January in a season since 2004.

Louisville trailed the entire first half and didn’t take its first lead until Kianna Smith hit a jumper to make it 29-28 just under two minutes into the third quarter. That was part of a 7-0 Cardinals run to open the half.

Ducharme scored consecutive baskets to put UConn up 52-51 midway through the fourth quarter, but the Cardinals took control from there.

A 3-pointer from Van Lith gave them a 57-52 lead with just under 3 minutes left, and UConn could not get closer than three points the rest of the way.

“They just hit the shots they needed to hit,” Durcharme said. “We were battling all game. I don’t think it was because of how many people we had.”

UConn, which was playing in front of a partisan crowd about 30 miles south of campus, scored 12 of the game’s first 14 points. They led 16-9 after a quarter and 28-25 after 20 minutes.

“We knew that they were going to make a run and then we were going to make a run and we just had to handle that,” Kianna Smith said.

BIG PICTURE

Louisville: The Cardinals have now won 10 straight games and finish the nonconference portion of their season 3-1 against ranked competition with wins over UConn, Michigan and Kentucky. The loss came in early November in overtime to Arizona.

UConn: The Huskies have just eight healthy players. Bueckers is likely out until mid-February at the earliest after undergoing knee surgery last week. Guards Nika Muhl (right foot), Azzi Fudd (right foot) could be ready for UConn’s next game. There is still no timetable for junior forward Aubrey Griffin, who is struggling with a bad back.

“Now the trick is when we do get healthy … coming out with individuals being better and our team being better,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said.

STREAK STOPPED

Walz is now 2-15 against the Huskies as Louisville’s head coach. The other win came in Louisville in January 2019. Walz’s teams had been 0-8 against UConn in games played in Connecticut since he took over in the 2007-08 season.

GAME-TIME DECISION

Olivia Cochran, who had been dealing with a concussion, did not start for Louisville, but came off the bench. She played 23 minutes and scored eight points.

SENIOR SLUMP

UConn seniors Olivia Nelson-Ododa (five points), Evina Westbrook (six points) and Williams combined to go just 9 of 28 from the floor.

“We obviously needed more help than just what Caroline was providing,” Auriemma said. “We needed more help from more people, for sure.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Huskies’ No. 7 ranking is the lowest since January 2007, and UConn could fall out of the Top 10 with the loss. The Cardinals are expected to remain near the top of the poll.

UP NEXT

Louisville: Off until Dec. 30, when they host Boston College.

UConn: Host Marquette on Dec. 29.

Stephen Curry, UConn star Azzi Fudd team up on SC30 brand

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN FRANCISCO — Stephen Curry has made Azzi Fudd his Splash Sister.

Curry is bringing the star Connecticut freshman into his SC30 Inc. brand in a unique, wide-ranging partnership that will support her successes both on and off the court as the nation’s top recruit builds her collegiate career – a multi-dimensional name, image and likeness contract.

Golden State’s reigning NBA scoring champion, with two young daughters, has long been dedicated to helping women shine and vowed to do more for the women’s game. In 2018, Fudd participated in Curry’s elite camp as one of two women invited to take part and she and Curry have continued to build their friendship since. Curry also held an all-girls camp that summer.

Fudd’s involvement with SC30 – the athlete-run organization handling Curry’s off-court business – will entail far more than strictly a sponsorship deal, too.

Curry plans to personally mentor the 5-foot-11 guard from Arlington, Virginia, who played at St. John’s College High School in Washington, D.C., as she balances school, basketball and the demands of being a face for female athletes. He wants to help Fudd show the world who she is through not only her personality and passions but by also providing a platform and financial backing to share her values and ideas.

“Azzi Fudd is the best choice to start a brand relationship like this because she is the next face of women’s basketball and has been a part of SC30 Inc. and the Curry Brand family since she was an invitee to the All-American Camp,” Curry said.

Two-time MVP Curry and his SC30 team plan to give Fudd guidance through professional services and growth opportunities to develop her brand. That will mean chances to host and attend events and be part of new brand partnerships, and to deliver her personal social impact initiatives while additionally promoting and being involved in some of those dear to Curry and his family.

“Our values are aligned when it comes to family, and in terms of hard work and for the appreciation of blessings in your life,” Curry said. “For me, this is the right time because I have identified the platforms that I have, aligning purpose over profit, and the ability to collaborate with the right partners for the right opportunities. I want to be able to unlock that for Azzi, and for other talented athletes and influencers that see the world the same way I do. It is my hope that we can inspire the next generation of athletes and non-athletes who want to do amazing things.”

College student-athletes can now be compensated, and Fudd’s UConn teammate, Paige Bueckers, received a deal from Gatorade on Monday.

For Fudd, like Curry, this could just be the start.

“Since I first met Steph at his camp a few years ago, I’ve stayed connected to him and have always admired his incredible talent and accomplishments, but also his humility and the impact he has on people,” Fudd said. “As I continue to focus on becoming the best player and student I can be while in college, I also look forward to broadening my understanding of business and life beyond basketball. This partnership with Steph and his SC30 team will help me do that. I’m really excited about everything we’ll do together in the future.”