- M.A. Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.
The last week of the regular season for several conferences — including the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC — is upon us, with some key league champions still to be decided. That includes the Pac-12, where Stanford hopes to claim its 26th regular-season title.
The Cardinal, at No. 3 in this week’s ESPN women’s college basketball Power Rankings, play three times this week against fellow AP Top 25 teams, starting with Monday’s home game against UCLA (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2/ESPN App). They then hit the road to play Colorado on Thursday and Utah on Saturday.
Stanford is 13-2 in the Pac-12, a half-game ahead of the 13-3 Utes, who lost ground in the league race by falling at Arizona on Friday. The Buffaloes are in third place at 12-4.
The Cardinal are 25-3 overall, yet their inconsistent offense has been a concern in their hope of winning the program’s fourth NCAA title. Stanford is averaging 71.4 points per game in Pac-12 play, but that includes three games in which the Cardinal have scored 60 or fewer points. Their season lows are 46 points in a loss to USC on Jan. 15 and 50 in a win against the Trojans on Friday.
Does Stanford still seem like one of the top bets behind No. 1 South Carolina to win it all in Dallas? Sure, especially if the starting trio of Cameron Brink, Haley Jones and Hannah Jump — who combined average just over 40 PPG — are playing well.
But the Cardinal go into this week with something to gain — another Pac-12 trophy — and something to prove before the league tournament.
Player of the Week: Shaina Pellington, Arizona
Pellington led the way in both games as the Wildcats upset No. 4-ranked Utah then topped No. 21 Colorado. The fifth-year senior guard had a career-high 35 points — making her first 11 shots from the field — eight rebounds and five steals against the Utes on Friday. She followed that on Sunday with 19 points, three rebounds and five assists against the Buffs, shooting a combined 21-of-31 (67.7%) from the field in the two games.
Pellington — who helped lead Arizona to the 2021 national championship game then played in the Tokyo Olympics for her native Canada later that year — leads the Wildcats in scoring (13.8 PPG) and assists (3.6 APG) this season.
Team of the Week: Indiana
The Hoosiers went 3-0 this past week, winning by an average of 21 points, as they secured a share of the program’s first Big Ten regular-season title since 1983. Coach Teri Moren was an eighth-grader in Indiana back then, and she went on to star for Purdue, the team that the Hoosiers beat on Sunday to clinch their league trophy.
Indiana also had its first sellout crowd for a women’s game — 17,222 — at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on Sunday. The fans honored guard Grace Berger, playing her last regular-season game at home. She and the Hoosiers will be back there to host the NCAA tournament’s early rounds — they’re a certain lock for a top-16 seed — but Sunday was a landmark day for Indiana women’s basketball.
“To go out like that — obviously, we’re not done — cutting down the nets, something I’ve been working for since my freshman year, you couldn’t ask for better,” Berger said.
Win of the Week: Notre Dame 78, Louisville 76 OT
The Fighting Irish lost one of their heart-and-soul players, Dara Mabrey, to injury for the rest of the season on Jan. 22. But the Irish are still tied in first place with Duke in the ACC, and Thursday’s victory over Louisville was one of the Notre Dame’s most emotional of the season.
The Irish have lost twice in close games, to NC State and Duke, since Mabrey was hurt. It looked as if it might happen again on Thursday, as they trailed the Cardinals by three points with just over a minute left in regulation. But Maddy Westbeld’s 3-point play knotted the score, and after the teams traded baskets, they went to overtime tied at 70.
Notre Dame had a four-point lead with 15 seconds left, but a Louisville basket, steal and another basket made it 76-76 with a second overtime looming. However, Olivia Miles — who nearly had a triple-double with 18 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists — got the victory for the Irish on a fadeaway jump shot just before the buzzer.
Coach of the Week: Bill Fennelly, Iowa State
You don’t reach 750 career victories — which Fennelly did this past week — without both X’s and O’s and motivational skills. Fennelly demonstrated both, as the Cyclones got two of their biggest wins this season to stop a three-game skid and put themselves back in contention for a top-16 NCAA seed. In both cases, Iowa State avenged previous losses this season.
First was last Monday against Texas, which beat the Cyclones 68-53 in Austin on Jan. 15. But the famed Hilton Coliseum “magic,” the Cyclones’ getting their 3-pointer mojo back and their ability to cut down on turnovers earned them a 66-61 win. It was Fennelly’s 584th at Iowa State and his 750th as a head coach, having led Toledo from 1988 to 1995.
Then on Saturday, Iowa State won 81-77 in double overtime on the road against Baylor, the only team that has defeated the Cyclones at home this season. That came Feb. 4, but Iowa State turned the tables in Waco, Texas.
Fennelly is the longest-tenured coach in Big 12 women’s or men’s basketball, taking over what was a lifeless Iowa State program in 1995. The Cyclones will make their 21st appearance in the NCAA tournament this season, all under Fennelly.
1. South Carolina Gamecocks (27-0)
Previous ranking: 1
This week: at Tennessee (7 p.m. ET Thursday, ESPN/ESPN App), vs. Georgia (noon ET Sunday, ESPN2/ESPN App)
This is sports, right? A week after looking unconquerable in downing the previously unbeaten LSU, the Gamecocks almost fell from the ranks of the undefeated themselves. But when the Ole Miss couldn’t pull off the upset in regulation, the chance was gone. The Gamecocks won 64-57 in overtime, and they are two wins from a perfect SEC regular-season record.
2. Indiana Hoosiers (26-1)
Previous ranking: 2
This week: at Iowa (2 p.m. ET Sunday, ESPN/ESPN App)
Wins over Ohio State, Michigan and Purdue last week gave the Hoosiers a Big Ten trophy, and they don’t want to share it. They might need to knock off the Hawkeyes to avoid that, if Iowa gets past Maryland on Tuesday. Mackenzie Holmes totaled 80 points on 36-of-51 shooting (70.6%) in the three victories.
3. Stanford Cardinal (25-3)
Previous ranking: 4
This week: vs. UCLA (Monday), at Colorado (Thursday), at Utah (Saturday)
Brink continues to make her case as one of the nation’s best defenders. Her 10 rebounds and six blocked shots are big reasons the Cardinal could get away with scoring just 50 points last Friday and still win. Brink has broken the school record for blocks each of her three seasons, with 88 as a freshman, 91 as a sophomore and 99 (and counting) this year.
4. UConn Huskies (24-4)
Previous ranking: 5
This week: vs. St. John’s Red Storm (Tuesday), at DePaul (Saturday)
When you get to this point in the season, a win is a win is a win. The Huskies almost fell to Creighton last Wednesday, but survived 62-60. Then in a highly anticipated game against Villanova on Saturday that fell a bit flat, UConn prevailed again 60-51. Lou Lopez Senechal had a combined 39 points for the Huskies.
5. LSU Tigers (25-1)
Previous ranking: 3
This week: at Vanderbilt (Thursday), vs. Mississippi State (Sunday)
The Tigers didn’t fall two spots as much as they got passed, in part because the Ole Miss near-upset of South Carolina put LSU’s 24-point loss to the Gamecocks in just a little harsher perspective. Nevertheless, the Tigers remain in the race for the SEC title. And after seeing her double-double streak end at 23 vs. South Carolina, Angel Reese came back with 36 points and 20 rebounds against Ole Miss and 25 and 16 vs. Florida.
6. Iowa Hawkeyes (22-5)
Previous ranking: 6
This week: at Maryland (Tuesday), vs. Indiana (Sunday)
The Hawkeyes beat Wisconsin by 30 and Nebraska by 20, and they hold their Big Ten fate in their hands. With two wins this week, they tie Indiana for the league regular-season title. The regular-season finale against the Hoosiers is sold out, and Carver-Hawkeye Arena will host ESPN’s College GameDay. Caitlin Clark note: In Iowa’s six games thus far in February, she is averaging 28.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 9.7 assists while shooting 54.8% from the field and 42.9% from 3-point range.
7. Maryland Terrapins (22-5)
Previous ranking: 7
This week: vs. Iowa (Tuesday), at Ohio State (Friday)
The Terps are saying, “Hey, don’t forget about us over here” in the Big Ten. Their only loss in the past 10 games was at Iowa on Feb. 2. Tuesday, they can avenge that defeat, end the Hawkeyes’ hopes of a potential shared Big Ten title and climb into a second-place tie with Iowa. Diamond Miller had 29 points to lead Maryland in its win over Michigan State this past week. She has been on a tear in February, averaging 26.8 PPG this month.
8. Virginia Tech Hokies (22-4)
Previous ranking: 13
This week: at North Carolina (Thursday), at Georgia Tech (Sunday)
Make way for the Hokies, the ACC’s hottest team, who jumped five spots in the Power Rankings and are on a six-game winning streak. That included victories this past week over Duke and NC State. Virginia Tech is in third place, a game behind co-leaders Duke and Notre Dame. Center Elizabeth Kitley had a combined 44 points, 21 rebounds and 11 blocked shots, as she was a strong candidate for player of the week.
9. Oklahoma Sooners (22-4)
Previous ranking: 11
This week: vs. Texas (Saturday)
Speaking of hot teams, the Sooners are it in the Big 12, as they also have won six in a row. This past week, they topped Texas Tech and Kansas. Oklahoma’s already good depth has gotten a boost from guard Aubrey Joens, who had a combined 35 points and 14 rebounds in the victories. The showdown for first place in the Big 12 comes this week when the Longhorns visit; both Texas and Oklahoma are 12-3 in league play.
10. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (22-4)
Previous ranking: 12
This week: vs. Georgia Tech (Thursday), at Louisville (Sunday)
If there is something Miles can’t do, we haven’t seen it yet. Along with her big game against Louisville last week, the guard had 10 points, 11 rebounds and five assists in a rout of Pitt. For the Irish to keep hold of a top spot in the ACC, she will have to work more of her magic again vs. Louisville, as the teams meet for a second time in the regular-season finale.
11. Utah Utes (23-3)
Previous ranking: 8
This week: vs. California (Thursday), vs. Stanford (Saturday)
Utah’s seven-game winning streak was snapped on the road against Arizona on Friday. That was almost compounded by what would have been a crushing loss against winless-in-league-play Arizona State, but the Utes pulled out a 74-69 victory. Utah will cheer hard for UCLA to beat Stanford on Monday, and since they still have their own shot at the Cardinal this week, the Utes’ chance at winning a Pac-12 title remains in play.
12. Duke Blue Devils (23-4)
Previous ranking: 9
This week: vs. NC State (Thursday), North Carolina (Sunday)
It’s rivalry week for the Blue Devils. And even if coach Kara Lawson has said she doesn’t spend time thinking about the Triangle rivalries, NC State and North Carolina are both eager to get wins at Cameron Indoor Stadium and perhaps keep Duke from an ACC title. The Blue Devils have scored fewer than 60 points in six of their past seven games, but still won five of them.
13. Texas Longhorns (21-7)
Previous ranking: 10
This week: at Oklahoma (Saturday)
In their loss at Iowa State last Monday, the Longhorns ran into three issues: The Cyclones were desperate for a win and played like it; leading 3-point shooter Sonya Morris is still out with an injury; and the officiating whistled the Longhorns’ energetic, pester-teams-to-distraction defense for 25 fouls. Texas bounced back by shutting down West Virginia 74-48. Now, the Big 12 co-leading Longhorns and Sooners both have the week to prepare for each other. Texas won their first matchup 78-58 on Jan. 25.
14. Arizona Wildcats (21-6)
Previous ranking: NR
This week: at Oregon (Thursday), at Oregon State (Saturday)
The Wildcats’ victories over ranked teams Utah and Colorado got them back in the Power Rankings for the first time since their season debut Jan. 9. Those two wins in Tucson were a perfect way to finish their regular-season home slate. Now they close out on the road against the Oregon schools, which combined have just eight Pac-12 wins. Arizona will try to keep a spot among the top four seeds in the league tournament.
15. Michigan Wolverines (20-6)
Previous ranking: 14
This week: vs. Ohio State (Monday), vs. Rutgers (Thursday), at Wisconsin (Sunday)
It’s a busy final regular-season week for the Wolverines, who lost their only game last week to Indiana. At 10-5 in the league, Michigan still has a chance to get a top-four seed in the Big Ten tournament. All five of the Wolverines’ Big Ten losses have come to ranked teams. A win against the Buckeyes would avenge an earlier loss this season.
16. Iowa State Cyclones (17-7)
Previous ranking: NR
This week: at Oklahoma State (Wednesday), vs. TCU (Saturday)
After dropping out of the Power Rankings the past two weeks, the Cyclones are back following hugely important wins over Texas and Baylor, the latter in double overtime. New additions to Ashley Joens’ Greatest Hits: She is now the Big 12’s all-time leader in games started (150), passing Baylor’s Brittney Griner’s 148, and she moved past Oklahoma State guard Andrea Riley for second in league history in points scored (2,860), behind Griner’s 3,283. Joens had a combined 51 points and 19 rebounds in the two victories.
Knocked out: Ohio State (No. 15), Villanova (No. 16)
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