The Weekly Roundup: An Ode to Rebounding, Lockdown Defenders, Offensive Efficiency, and Human Bicycles
Breaking down the week’s best games, performances, and bench celebrations
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My working title for this article was “A Return to Normalcy (Sort of).” Rest assured, I had no plans to do a deep dive into Warren G. Harding’s presidency and the Teapot Dome Scandal (apologies if that resulted in any painful flashbacks to your high school United States history class). Instead, it referred to the feeling that higher-ranked teams held serve more often this week than in the previous, chaotic two months. Then, I remembered that three unranked teams knocked off top-ten opponents - Nebraska handled Michigan 79-58, Texas Tech defeated Texas 74-61, and USC upset Arizona 76-67. Feeling a bit foolish, I came up with the following rationalization. The high level of parity this season has made upsets so ubiquitous that I’ve become a bit numb to their existence.
Now that I feel better, let’s take a closer look at an SEC clash that didn’t result in an upset but was no less entertaining.
Game of the Week: Boston’s double-double helps Gamecocks tame Tigers
With 5:03 left in the second quarter, things looked grim for top-ranked South Carolina. The Gamecocks trailed then-No. 13 LSU 29-18. Their star center, Aliyah Boston, was on the bench with two fouls. They had committed 11 turnovers. Oh, and they were playing on the road in front of 9,190 screaming fans in a building nicknamed the Deaf Dome.
Critically, LSU was unable to exploit Boston’s absence, and six points by South Carolina guard Zia Cooke in the quarter’s final 2:07 cut the Tigers’ lead to six, 34-28. Then, Boston went to work. In the second half, she scored 14 of her 19 points and grabbed 15 of her 18 boards, leading the Gamecocks to a 66-60 comeback victory.
“I’m super happy we have Aliyah and nobody else in the country has her,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “She was everything for us - she scored, she rebounded the basketball, she played through fatigue, and she got beat up down there. But she stood strong and willed us to a win.”
LSU finished Thursday night’s contest with a 21-to-9 advantage in turnovers and a 19-to-7 lead in points off turnovers. It’s been a problem for South Carolina all season. The Gamecocks turn the ball over on 17.9% of their possessions, their worst turnover rate since the 2010-11 season, and commit 1.6 more turnovers per game than they force. Just as it has done all season, South Carolina countered this deficiency with absolute dominance on the boards, out-rebounding LSU 48-to-24, including a 19-10 edge on the offensive glass. It was Boston’s offensive rebound after a pair of Victaria Saxton missed free throws with 11 seconds remaining and a 64-60 South Carolina lead that ultimately sealed the game for the nation’s top team.
“Before the game, I told the girls that they needed to be able to rebound,” LSU coach Kim Mulkey explained. “We tried. That was the difference in the game, and I knew that would be the difference in the game.”
Boston added three blocks and two steals to her team-high 19 points and game-high 18 rebounds. Cooke broke out of her December shooting slump (14-for-67 from the field, 20.9%) with a solid 17-point effort on 7-for-15 shooting. In addition to her six-point spurt at the end of the first half, Cooke drained a clutch pull-up jumper to give South Carolina a 63-58 lead in the game’s final minute. Point guard Destanni Henderson contributed 16 points, including eight in the final quarter.
For LSU, guard Khalya Pointer scored a game-high 22 points to go along with six assists. Her quickness in driving to the hole helped the Tigers jump out to an early 11-point lead and wreaked havoc on the Gamecocks’ defense all night long. Fifth-year senior Alexis Morris dropped 14 points, and center Faustine Aifuwa added 12.
South Carolina (15-1) dispatched of then-No. 21 Kentucky 74-54 on Sunday and see action against Texas A&M Thursday at 7 p.m. LSU (15-2) bounced back with a blowout win over Auburn 76-48 and host Missouri on Thursday at 8 p.m.
Power Six performance of the week: Veronica Burton, Northwestern
Entering Thursday night, just five players had put up 25 points, five assists, five steals, and five rebounds in a game this season. Three of them earned the roundup’s performance of the week honors. Northwestern guard Veronica Burton makes it 4-for-6, as her 25-point, eight-steal, six-rebound, and six-assist gem propelled the Wildcats to a 77-69 upset win over then-No. 22 Iowa.
The Newton, Mass. native dropped 25 points, but it was Burton’s defensive prowess that stole the show Thursday night in Iowa City. Her eight steals tied for the most by any player against a Power Six opponent this season. While not completely unexpected from a two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year averaging 4.1 steals per game (second in the nation), it’s no less impressive. It’s a struggle to imagine Northwestern coming away with this win without Burton’s play down the stretch. With the score tied at 66, 2:11 remaining in the fourth quarter, and Iowa on a 7-0 run, Burton came up with a steal and a layup that changed the complexion of the game. She also intercepted a Caitlin Clark pass with 35 seconds left and the Wildcats clinging to a four-point advantage. These two steals plus her seven points in the game’s final 2:05 helped seal the victory.
Burton’s defensive reputation precedes her, but she’s developed into a more complete player this season through increased offensive production. Only Aliyah Boston and Jaz Shelley have a better individual offensive rating and defensive rating (points scored and allowed by the player, respectively, per 100 possessions). She ranks in at least the 98th percentile in points per game with 18.0, assists per contest with 5.9, and individual offensive rating with 125.3 - all career-highs.
The frightening thing for Northwestern’s Big Ten opponents? Burton’s defense may have actually improved since last year. Her 4.1 steals per game, 1.1 blocks per game, and individual defensive rating of 75.3 are all career-bests. If Burton continues on this trajectory, I sure hope she’s cleared out space in the trophy case for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year trophy number three.
Mid-Major performance of the week: Dyaisha Fair, Buffalo
Buffalo junior guard Dyaisha Fair posted a career-high 40 points to go along with four assists and three steals last Wednesday in her team’s 82-66 victory against Bowling Green. It’s a stat line only one other player has achieved this season. Fair ranks fifth in the country in scoring, dropping 23.4 points per contest. She also ranks in the 96th percentile in assists and steals per game (4.2 and 2.3, respectively). Even amid a superb season full of outstanding performances, Wednesday night’s effort stood out from the rest. The fact that Fair’s offensive explosion occurred against Bowling Green, the team who eliminated the Bulls in the MAC semifinals last season, was not lost on Buffalo coach Felisha Legette-Jack.
"Dyaisha was locked in from shootaround," said Legette-Jack. "She remembered that this is the team that ended our season last year and she took this game personally.”
Despite a resume that already includes MAC Freshman of the Year, First Team All-MAC, and being the fastest player in Buffalo history to score 1,000 points, Fair has still managed to enhance her game this season - namely, by improving her offensive efficiency. The Rochester native is on par with her scoring average last year but is doing so while taking 2.6 fewer field goals per game. Her effective field goal percentage of 53.9% this season dwarfs the 42.3% and 43.1% marks she posted in her freshman and sophomore campaigns. All of this adds up to Fair’s 1.13 points per scoring attempt (PPSA) this year, well above the 0.97 and 0.94 PPSAs in her first two seasons. She exceeds the Division I field-goal average from every shot distance. Simply put, Fair can score from anywhere.
A bench celebration unlike any other: the human bicycle
There was little Nebraska did wrong in its 79-58 upset win over then-No. 8 Michigan last Tuesday. The Cornhuskers never trailed, shot 51.7% from the field, and held the Wolverines’ star forward Naz Hillmon to her lowest scoring output since last season.
When I first glimpsed Nebraska’s human bicycle, I thought it was a disorganized, failed attempt at an intricate bench celebration and the Cornhuskers’ only real miscue. Replays revealed just how wrong I was. Its brilliance cannot be overstated - this is the Mona Lisa of bench celebrations. Take a look below and judge for yourself!
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
The Her Hoop Stats team released the following podcast content (also available on our YouTube channel) this past week:
On Unplugged, Megan Gauer and Calvin Wetzel discussed the sole remaining unbeaten team, Colorado, South Carolina’s pair of ranked wins, Nebraska, and much more.
With the start of WNBA contract negotiations on Saturday, Gabe Ibrahim and Richard Cohen talked about the different types of qualifying offers and which players will receive core designations in a special Her Hoop Stats podcast episode.
In the latest episode of Courtside, Gabe Ibrahim and Christy Winters Scott discussed the WNBA’s coaching carousel, Missouri’s win over No. 1 South Carolina, and Maryland’s loss to Indiana.
WNBA CBA Guru Richard Cohen took the time to explain the WNBA’s core player system.
Calvin Wetzel has started to log his WNBA championship and MVP futures bets for the 2022 season. Take a look at this article throughout the year to see how his picks perform.
Robert Mummery examined film of Kitija Laksa’s Euroleague exploits in support of his case that she deserves another opportunity in the WNBA.
In her weekly Pac-12 column, Kim Doss explored how the conference has approached rescheduling games postponed due to COVID-19.
Derek Willis and Marissa Sisk covered how Indiana pulled out its overtime win against Maryland, why some teams have seen changes in their pace of play, and much more in their weekly review of the Big Ten.
As the title picture has started to come into focus, Megan Gauer identified which teams have the best chance to take home the crown in Minneapolis.
From North Carolina’s continued dominance to the Louisville-Georgia Tech defensive battle, James Hyman covered the week’s ACC news in his recap.
Our resident betting expert Calvin Wetzel broke down the latest NCAA championship odds that FanDuel and DraftKings have posted.
Other recommended content
Using the metric wins above replacement player (WARP), ESPN’s Kevin Pelton ranked the WNBA’s 20 best free agents for 2022.
At 6-foot-2, Michigan’s Naz Hillmon is undersized relative to other centers in major conferences. For FiveThirtyEight, Howard Megdal explained how she has overcome this size disadvantage at the college level and how she could duplicate the feat in the WNBA.
Erica L. Ayala summarized the competing arguments for and against WNBA expansion in a piece for The New York Times.
Trivia question of the week
Who is the only Final Four Most Outstanding Player in NCAA history to not come from the championship team?