The Weekly Roundup: Welcome Back, Women’s College Basketball!
Inside IUPUI’s near-upset of No. 11 Michigan and Ayoka Lee’s record-breaking performance
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College basketball is back! I mean, really back. Listen, I am very appreciative of the product women’s college basketball delivered to its quarantined fans last season. But, as clever of an idea as the placement of cardboard cutout fans was, I prefer enthusiastic, three-dimensional basketball fans. As impressive as it was when broadcasters called games remotely, I (and they, I’m sure) prefer describing action taking place in the same zip code. And as enjoyable as it was watching these athletes perform on TV all last season, there is nothing like watching the greatest college athletes in the country perform live.
Ok, with those pleasantries out of the way, let’s take an absurdly quick run through college basketball’s opening week. No. 1 South Carolina proved why it is the favorite to cut down the nets in Minneapolis, beating No. 5 NC State 66-57 in front of a sold-out Reynolds Coliseum. Following statement wins at No. 3 Stanford and against No. 6 Louisville, respectively, Texas and Arizona reminded us that their NCAA tournament runs last season were no fluke. No. 2 UConn avenged its sole regular-season defeat from last season, defeating Arkansas 95-80, and Paige Bueckers reinforced the notion that she’s phenomenal. It’s the coldest take I’ll offer all season, but what else is there to say about someone who drops the following stat line on opening night: 34 points (15-for-19 from the field), 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks, 2 steals, 40 minutes, and 0 turnovers?
I am a sucker for games of the David vs. Goliath, prohibitive underdog vs. overwhelming favorite, and mid-major squad vs. Power 5 conference school variety. While Arizona-Louisville and Texas-Stanford kept fans on the edge of their seats, my pick for game of the week involves a plucky underdog from the Horizon League that took a Big Ten school to the brink. Here’s a closer look at that contest.
Game of the week: IUPUI falls to No. 11 Michigan in overtime thriller
The questions relating to the opening night contest last Tuesday between IUPUI and Michigan were as numerous as they were compelling. Who would win the frontcourt battle between three-time Horizon League Player of the Year Macee Williams and reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Naz Hillmon? How would Michigan respond to the lower-body injury suffered by senior guard Amy Dilk just 44 seconds into the game? And perhaps most importantly, could a mid-major upend the college basketball order and upset the Big Ten powerhouse that is the No. 11 Michigan Wolverines? The answer to the final question was no, as Michigan pulled out the 67-62 overtime win. However, there is little question that IUPUI and Michigan delivered one of the most entertaining games during the first week of the season.
The contest was nip and tuck for much of the first half until Michigan pieced together a 9-0 run to close out the first half and grab a 32-24 lead. Another 9-0 spurt in the third quarter gave the Wolverines their largest lead of the game, 47-34. Michigan seemed poised to put the game out of reach; the Jaguars had no answer for Naz Hillmon and struggled with Michigan’s occasional 1-2-2 press. Then, Macee Williams responded. Following a triple from IUPUI’s Rachel Kent, Williams scored the Jaguars’ final six points of the third quarter, cutting Michigan’s advantage to 6, 49-43.
Throwing double and triple teams at the Big Ten preseason Player of the Year, IUPUI went all-in on the “stop Naz Hillmon at all costs” strategy during the fourth quarter. While it was moderately successful, the Jaguars still found themselves trailing 58-51 after a Hillmon putback with 3:05 left in regulation. Enter IUPUI guard Rachel McLimore, who led the Jaguars with 21 points. The redshirt senior keyed a 7-0 run over a one-minute span, finishing a layup after a fantastic crossover dribble sprung her free, draining a three-pointer after a kick out from Williams, and penetrating and dishing to Williams for the game-tying layup. Neither team converted on the possessions in the final minute, so the game headed to overtime.
The Wolverines dominated the extra frame, holding IUPUI scoreless until just 42 seconds remained in the game. Hillmon locked down Williams defensively in the overtime period, forcing her into two turnovers and limiting her to zero field goal attempts and points. The No. 11 team in the country put the game away for good on a pair of open layups for Naz Hillmon. In each case, Michigan overloaded one side of the court, which shifted help-side defense away from Naz Hillmon. Hillmon then sealed off Williams and received the lob pass for the easy bucket.
In the aforementioned marquee frontcourt battle, Williams held her own for much of the contest, with an impressive line of 17 points, 7 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 assists, and 2 blocks. Her impact was felt in ways not specifically attributed to her on the stat sheet, a reality Michigan acknowledged postgame. “We wanted to take (Williams) out of her game, so we were throwing doubles at her, but then we weren’t rotating out quick enough,” senior guard Danielle Rauch said. Michigan’s focus on limiting Williams’ offensive opportunities created several good looks from behind the arc, and the Jaguars knocked down 10-of-27 (37.0%) attempts from long range.
Despite Williams’ respectable performance, the night belonged to Naz Hillmon. She finished with 30 points and 15 boards, the third 30-point, 15-rebound game of her career. Only Iowa State’s Ashley Joens has more such games since the 2018-19 season. But it’s not just the raw numbers Hillmon put up, it’s the multitude of ways she can score that should strike fear in the hearts of Big Ten opponents. She can score in the post. She can catch the ball at the top of the key, luring her defender into a false sense of security, then blow by them for an easy bucket. She can grab a defensive rebound and drive the length of the floor for a coast-to-coast layup.
Following point guard Amy Dilk’s leg injury early in Tuesday’s contest, it was unclear how Michigan would respond to the loss of their senior leader. Dilk has started in 80 of her 83 career games, has led the Wolverines in assists in each of her three seasons, and is a former All-Big Ten Second Team member.
“It was definitely tough to see that happen to her,” Rauch said. “It definitely shook a lot of us up. We got in the huddle and said, we got to do this for Amy, we got to play hard for her… We tried to use our nerves and emotions to kind of fuel our game, nurse the way and use that momentum and play hard for her.”
Dilk’s absence was apparent, as it was not the crispest performance from the Michigan offense. After all, IUPUI converted 16 Michigan turnovers into 20 points. However, the Wolverines cobbled together enough stretches of quality basketball to escape with the all-important win. Additionally, freshman guards Jordan Hobbs, Ari Wiggins, and Laila Phelia earned quality minutes that could pay dividends down the road.
“I just think anytime you can get game experience it really helps you moving forward,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “I thought they did a great job on the defensive end, but finishing the game and finishing plays are really important.”
IUPUI bounced back on Sunday with a 71-60 road victory against Bowling Green to move to 1-1. The Jaguars travel to Cleveland State for their next matchup Thursday at 7 p.m. Michigan moved to 2-0 after defeating St. Francis Brooklyn 82-46 Saturday afternoon. Michigan takes the hardwood next against UMass Lowell tonight at 6 p.m.
Performance of the week - Ayoka Lee, Kansas State
This section recognizes the player with the most impressive single-game performance of the week in this writer’s opinion. In light of Kansas State junior Ayoka Lee’s performance last Tuesday versus Central Arkansas, the following alternative titles for this weekly feature were considered: “ridiculous stat line of the week,” “video game-like performance of the week,” and “wait, did I read that right?”
Lee’s stat line surely made several fans do a double-take: 40 points (17-for-20 from the field) and 13 rebounds. Oh wait, my apologies. Those were her numbers just four days prior in an exhibition game against Division II Pittsburg State. She somehow put in a more complete performance last Tuesday to the tune of 43 points, (17-for-25 from the field), 9 rebounds, 4 blocks, 3 assists, and 3 steals. No player in the Her Hoop Stats database (extending back to the 2009-10 season) had ever posted such a line. The two-time All-Big 12 First Teamer set Kansas State’s single-game scoring record and managed to outscore the entire Central Arkansas squad, 43-40. Here’s the kicker, though. The Wildcats’ center accomplished all of this in only 23:39 of action, becoming just the 11th player since the 2009-10 season to drop 40 points in under 30 minutes of play.
“It’s an honor,” Lee said of breaking the Kansas State single-game scoring record... “I think it just goes to show the program and our commitment to it, playing basketball together and sticking to the game plan. It’s an honor. I couldn’t do it without my teammates.”
That’s not false modesty; Lee’s record-breaking performance was a total team effort. Whether through lobs or crisp entry passes into the post, Kansas State’s supporting cast found their 6-foot-6-inch center for several easy buckets deep in the paint. Lee was unstoppable when guarded one-on-one. When double-teamed, she would either create her shot through traffic or kick it out to her teammates for an open jumper.
“Yokie does it in only 23 minutes and 39 seconds tonight. That’s a crazy efficient number,” head coach Jeff Mittie said. “But her teammates did an unbelievable job of finding her in deep places and finding her with great timing. So I give a lot of credit to her teammates and I give a lot of credit to Yokie for just playing the game the right way.”
A rising tide lifts all boats
Carolyn Peck led Purdue to a national championship in 1999, becoming the first African American coach to reach the pinnacle of the NCAA mountain. As reported by Glynn A. Hill in the Washington Post, South Carolina coach Dawn Staley recalled how meaningful it was when Peck gave Staley a piece of the championship net from that historic season.
“Sometimes when you’re going through things day-to-day and you don’t feel like you can see your way through it, that little nylon piece of string … [it] rejuvenates you to continue and it gives you that reason to keep pushing,” Staley told the Washington Post.
Drawing from that inspirational experience, Staley recently paid it forward by sending Black women Division I coaches a package containing a piece of the net from her 2017 championship win plus a card urging them to “keep pushing forward and us all to keep supporting each other in our journeys.” In the card, Staley also noted: “I don’t want to count black women as National Championship coaches by one every few decades. I want us to do it so often we lose count!”
It’s a gesture consistent with Dawn Staley’s mission to grow the women’s game, a component of which is ensuring that women of color receive the opportunities and support necessary to succeed at the game’s highest levels. It was perhaps Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey who, upon receiving her package, best encapsulated how Staley has used her platform to make progress toward this objective.
Adam’s Top 25
How does one compare an uninspired win against a weak opponent to a heartbreaking loss at the hands of a top-five program? It’s not easy, and it’s probably more art than science this early in the season. Some might even consider it a fool’s errand to compile a listing of the best 25 teams in the country at this juncture given how few data points exist. Well, as Lionel Richie and Diana Ross once said: “I’ll be a fool for you.”
So, here it is, my top 25 based on the criterion of who would win if teams played tomorrow on a neutral court. Now, if you believe the rankings below are incorrect and/or think I shortchanged your beloved team, please refrain from entering a glass case of emotion Anchorman-style and vent your frustrations in the comments below. Enjoy!
Her Hoop Stats content in case you missed it
The NCAA season is back, and you know what that means? Well, a lot of positive things quite honestly, but one of those is a full slate of podcast content from the Her Hoop Stats team!
On the Her Hoop Stats Podcast, John Liddle spoke with longtime Oklahoma coach and Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer Sherri Coale about her time in Norman, what went into her decision to step away from coaching this year, and her future plans.
Host Megan Gauer brought us a double dose of Unplugged! In the first episode of the NCAA season, Calvin Wetzel and Jenn Hatfield joined Megan to discuss preseason All-Americans, hot takes, underrated teams, Final Four picks, and much more. Jacob Mox joined Megan for the second episode, where they touched on the South Carolina-NC State opening night matchup and dove into the preseason watchlist for the 2022 Becky Hammon Mid Major Player of the Year.
From IUPUI’s near upset of Michigan to Maryland’s focus on the defensive end this season, Christy Winters-Scott and Gabe Ibrahim covered an impressive number of games and teams in an hour in the latest episode of Courtside.
In addition to breaking down the opening night matchup between South Carolina and NC State, Calvin Wetzel and Debbie Antonelli discussed which teams have the best championship odds in the latest episode of Spread the Floor.
Who will take home the Nancy Lieberman Award for the country’s top point guard? Which teams will punch their tickets to Minneapolis for the Final Four? Aneela Khan offered her predictions regarding these and other burning questions associated with the 2021-2022 season.
After being announced as some of the 25 greatest players of all time before Game 1 of the WNBA Finals last month, seven players from the W25 spoke to the media about a variety of league-related topics, including the future direction of the W. Cindy Smith recapped the highlights from these media sessions.
Other recommended content
Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith recently announced that this season, her 40th at the helm for the Crimson, will be her last. For The Next, Jenn Hatfield chronicled Delaney-Smith’s legendary coaching career and her lasting impact on the women’s game.
Matthew VanTryon of the Indianapolis Star described the underlying factors driving the disparities between the men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments and how the NCAA can address these inequities.
From a potential NIL (name, image, and likeness) millionaire to Stanford’s first-ever graduate transfer, Chantel Jennings of The Athletic provided her list of the 25 most intriguing NCAA players this season.
Last month, UConn coach Geno Auriemma described Dorka Juhász as “the difference that puts us into that other level.” In evaluating Juhász’s diverse skill set, Alexa Philippou of the Hartford Courant revealed why the Ohio State transfer is deserving of such high praise.
Bill Koch of The Providence Journal discussed this season’s prospects for the four Division I programs in Rhode Island and why the University of Rhode Island is poised to end the Ocean State’s 25-year absence from the NCAA tournament.
ESPN’s Nick DePaula dove into the details of Paige Bueckers’ first NIL deal: a multi-year partnership with StockX.
Trivia question of the week
In the history of the NCAA tournament, a No. 13 seed has upset a No. 4 seed just seven times in the first round. Who was the most recent No. 13 seed to accomplish this feat, doing so last season?