The Weekly Roundup: The World Turned Upside Down
Recapping how a short-handed Missouri squad knocked off the best team in the land
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Happy New Year! Whether it was spent with family, friends, or playing Sporcle.com quizzes with your wife quarantined in a Waterville, Maine hotel (hypothetically, of course), I hope you all enjoyed the holiday.
It was quite the week for women’s hoops! As first reported by The Athletic’s Shams Charania and Chantel Jennings, San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon signed on to become the new head coach and general manager of the Las Vegas Aces. Sources told The Athletic that the deal is a record-setting contract for a WNBA head coach. The coaching carousel continued, as ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne reported that the New York Liberty are expected to hire former Phoenix Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello.
Also, WNBA free agency kicked off on January 1. To keep tabs on your favorite team’s roster situation, check out the Her Hoop Stats cap sheets, which are continuously updated as new deals are signed.
Lots of NCAA top 25 action took place over the weekend, and most higher seeds held serve. Louisville and Georgia Tech played a game of who can reach 50 points first. Louisville prevailed 50-48 after Emily Engstler’s game-winning layup. In an ACC thriller at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke squeaked past Notre Dame 72-70. Kim Mulkey has her LSU Tigers at 14-1, as they rolled past Texas A&M 75-66.
There were a few notable upsets, including Kansas State earning a top-10 win in the Wildcats’ victory over Baylor 68-59. While no reasonable person would call it a shocking result (though, nominally it was an upset), Indiana defeated Maryland 70-63 in overtime in what could be a preview of the Big Ten championship game. The biggest upset of the season took place in Columbia, Missouri, last Thursday - let’s take a closer look.
Game of the Week: Missouri shocks South Carolina in SEC opener
Entering last Thursday’s game against top-ranked South Carolina, Missouri found itself without five of its players as a result of health and safety protocols. Most notably, the Tigers would be missing their leading scorer and rebounder, Aijha Blackwell. That’s not exactly a recipe for success, particularly against the nation’s top defense (per Her Hoop Stats defensive rankings) and rebounding team. However, Missouri overcame her absence, a 20-to-6 deficit on the offensive glass, and attempting 18 fewer field goals than the Gamecocks to shock the basketball world and upset No. 1 South Carolina 70-69 in overtime.
It wasn’t the most auspicious start for the Tigers, as they went scoreless in the game’s opening four minutes. The team that ranks ninth in the country in three-point percentage wouldn’t stay quiet for long, as it exploded for 21 points in the second quarter, including three triples (really four if you include Hayley Frank’s three made free throws after getting fouled in the act of attempting a three-pointer). The Tigers played excellent interior defense in the first half, limiting Wade Trophy front-runner Aliyah Boston to just three touches in the paint and one point. All of this added up to a 32-26 Missouri advantage heading into halftime.
In the second half, South Carolina appeared focused on getting its best player more touches. The adjustment paid dividends, as Boston dropped six quick points in the first few minutes of the third quarter. The back-and-forth third quarter featured six lead changes, and the teams entered the fourth tied at 45.
Missouri grabbed a six-point lead, 58-52, after Lauren Hansen and Mama Dembele drained threes on consecutive Tigers possessions. The 6,139 fans packed into Mizzou Arena surely felt their program was on the verge of something special when their team held a 62-56 advantage with 2:52 left in regulation. A Destanni Henderson jumper, Brea Beal steal, Zia Cooke layup, and Laeticia Amihere layup temporarily dashed those hopes, as a 6-0 Gamecocks run knotted the score at 62 with 1:44 left. Two Missouri free throws and a Boston putback pushed the score to 64 apiece. Both teams came up empty on their final possessions, and the game headed to overtime.
South Carolina raced to a 69-64 lead following a Boston three and a layup from Victaria Saxton. A harbinger of things to come, Hansen responded by attacking the rim for a layup driving off a high-post screen. With 48 seconds remaining, Haley Troup handed off to Frank for a reverse layup, cutting the Gamecock lead to 69-68. Henderson’s drive on the ensuing possession came up short, giving Missouri the game’s final shot. Hansen dribbled off another high-post screen into the lane for the game-winning layup, just past the outstretched arms of Boston and Saxton. 0.1 seconds remained on the clock, giving South Carolina one final chance for a tip-in (at least 0.4 seconds are required for a player to catch and shoot). Boston instead caught the lob thrown her way, which automatically ended the game.
“It would’ve been easy to get deflated down five at the beginning of overtime,” said Missouri coach Robin Pingeton. “They kept picking each other up. They kept trying to be solution-oriented. They kept trying to be in that next-play mentality. This is something they’re going to remember for a long time.”
So, how did an unranked team overcome the absence of its best player and significant deficits on the offensive glass and in field goals attempted? First, it was a combination of adequate interior defense (especially in the first half) combined with an off shooting night from the Gamecocks. It’s been a game of pick your poison for South Carolina’s opponents this season - focus defensively on the frontcourt of Boston, Amihere, Saxton, and Kamilla Cardoso and give up the perimeter game of Cooke and Henderson, or vice versa. The struggles of the Gamecocks’ backcourt of Cooke and Henderson, who combined to shoot 6-for-31 (19.4%), gave the undersized Tigers license to cheat defensively down low.
Second, it was Missouri’s offensive efficiency. South Carolina’s calling card this season has been its stifling defense, yet Missouri managed an offensive rating of 102.9 Thursday night. No other South Carolina opponent has managed a rating above 90.0. The Tigers’ 7-for-15 shooting from long distance contributed to this result.
Frank and Hansen led all scorers with 21 points apiece. LaDazhia Williams did an admirable job filling in at forward, posting a 12-point, 12-rebound double-double. For South Carolina, Boston finished with 17 points and 12 boards. Cardoso contributed 14 points and eight rebounds for the Gamecocks.
Power Six performance of the week: Ayoka Lee, Kansas State
Anytime a player outscores a top-10 team for an entire quarter, they’re probably going to end up in this section of the weekly roundup. That’s precisely what Ayoka Lee accomplished against Baylor Sunday afternoon, as she outscored the nation’s No. 10 team 19-to-17 in the third quarter, nearly outscored the Lady Bears in the second half’s first fifteen minutes, and willed her Kansas State squad to the 68-59 upset victory.
It’s the third time Lee has been my pick for the performance of the week, yet this was arguably her finest effort of the season. As the chart below demonstrates, Sunday’s matchup featured two of the country’s best post players in Lee and NaLyssa Smith. Lee rose to the occasion, outplaying last year’s Wade Trophy winner while compiling a stat line of 32 points, 10 boards, three steals, and two blocks (Smith finished with 12 points, seven rebounds, three assists, two steals, and two blocks). Whether it was Queen Egbo, Caitlin Bickle, or Smith guarding Lee, nothing slowed down the nation’s third-leading scorer.
Mid-Major performance of the week: Meral Abdelgawad, Western Kentucky
Until recently, Meral Abdelgawad was best known for her defensive prowess. After all, the Western Kentucky senior guard earned Conference USA All-Defensive Team honors last season and ranked 35th in the country with 2.6 steals per game. While Abdelgawad’s player defensive rating has actually improved since last season (86.4 vs. 89.9 points per 100 possessions faced), it’s her recent offensive explosion that has caught the attention of her coach and other Conference USA teams.
“I think the difference that people are recognizing now is that Meral is putting points on the board,” Western Kentucky coach Greg Collins said following Thursday’s win. “She’s always played with this passion, this energy, this drive. That’s what has separated her from other players. Now her game has grown and evolved to where she’s a more complete player with that offensive element.”
Abdelgawad has averaged 27.6 points and 9.6 rebounds per contest over her last five games. She scored a career-high 33 points in her team’s win on December 5 against Tennessee Tech. 12 days later she notched another 33-point effort in her team’s victory over Fairleigh Dickinson. 13 days after that she posted yet another career-high with a 36-point gem against Southern Miss. It’s this last game, in which she also grabbed nine rebounds and handed out five assists, that is my pick for the top mid-major performance of the week. It’s a stat line bettered by just one player this season, and it included a 15-point fourth quarter that helped the Lady Toppers pull away from Southern Miss.
Abdelgawad’s shot chart this season provides some insight into her offensive success. Consisting almost exclusively of shots within 10 feet and three-pointers, it’s an analytics aficionado’s dream. Optimal shot choice is one aspect of offensive effectiveness, but you still need to knock down these quality shots. Abdelgawad has done so at a career-high clip, knocking down 52.8% of her field goals this year, including 35.7% from behind the arc (her career field goal and three-point percentages entering the season were 45.5% and 28.0%, respectively).
Adam’s Top 25
Here’s my top 25, which as always is based on the criterion of who would win in a hypothetical neutral-court matchup.
Her Hoop Stats content in case you missed it
Richard Cohen touched on the lessons learned from the Her Hoop Stats mock offseason exercise and how they will help fans prepare for the real WNBA free agency period that kicked off on January 1.
Aneela Khan offered her perspective on the hiring of Becky Hammon as the Las Vegas Aces’ head coach and general manager.
Derek Willis took an early look at how the new three-point line has impacted the volume and accuracy of attempts from behind the arc.
In her weekly review of the Pac-12, Kim Doss touched on the potential impact of COVID-19 cancellations on the conference’s NCAA tournament prospects
The Big Ten is arguably the best conference in the country. Through a team-by-team evaluation, Marissa Sisk and Derek Willis assessed just how good the conference is.
From Louisville’s early dominance to North Carolina’s perfect start, James Hyman recapped the latest from the ACC.
In her college career, Sabrina Ionescu accounted for more triple-doubles on her own than five conferences. For more fascinating information like this, check out Jacob Mox’s historical review of NCAA triple-doubles.
In the most recent episode of Courtside, Christy Winters Scott and Gabe Ibrahim discussed what the Washington Mystics should do with the No. 1 pick in the 2022 WNBA draft.
Other recommended content
For The Next, Natalie Heavren chronicled Elle Sutphin’s journey from NC State to Davidson.
From the nation’s best freshman to the biggest surprise, Autumn Johnson broke down her midseason superlatives for NCAA.com.
Dr. Christine Grant - the president of the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), the University of Iowa’s first women’s athletic director, a champion of women’s equality, and advocate for Title IX - passed away last Friday. The Athletic’s Scott Dochterman reflected on her remarkable life.
Trivia question of the week
Name the most recent coach to have led their team to a WNBA title in the same season they earned Coach of the Year honors.