NC State needed just three weeks to go from unranked to the top five of ESPN's women's college basketball Power Rankings.
The Wolfpack were picked to finish eighth in the ACC preseason poll, which now seems preposterous. But they finished 20-12 overall and 9-9 in the ACC last season, losing in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Then because of graduation and transfers, NC State lost four players who started at least 20 games. One of them was guard Diamond Johnson, who was injured for the latter part of the season and played just 22 of NC State's games.
It seemed as if it might take the Wolfpack a while to find themselves this season. Instead, NC State already has victories over then-No. 2 UConn and No. 3 Colorado. The latter came Saturday to conclude the Paradise Jam, where the Wolfpack beat Kentucky, Cincinnati and the Buffs by an average of 27 points.
The Wolfpack, who play in the ACC/SEC Challenge this week vs. Vanderbilt, are averaging 82 points, compared to 70.8 last season. Guard Aziaha James, who averaged 4.2 PPG as a freshman and 6.8 as a sophomore, now leads the Wolfpack at 16.6. She's part of an experienced starting lineup, along with fellow junior Saniya Rivers, senior Madison Hayes and grad students Mimi Collins and River Baldwin.
James is the only one of the five who has played her whole college career at NC State; the others started elsewhere. But the chemistry they have built together in their time in Raleigh appears to be blossoming this season.
And credit goes to Wes Moore, in his 35th year of coaching and 11th at NC State. In his first decade with the Wolfpack, Moore was 242-81 overall and 115-49 in the ACC.
This season, NC State is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its program and will hold an alumni day Sunday when Illinois State visits Reynolds Coliseum. Kristen Gillespie, who played on NC State's 1998 Final Four team, coaches the Redbirds.
Coming into this season, most weren't thinking of NC State as a Final Four contender for 2024. But now there are a lot of eyes on the Wolfpack.
With a lot of focus the past few games on who hasn't been playing for LSU, Morrow has stepped forward in her first season with the Tigers after transferring from DePaul. In LSU's three wins last week, Morrow averaged 27.3 points and 10 rebounds. That included her best performance yet in an LSU uniform: 37 points and 16 rebounds in a 76-73 victory over Virginia in the Cayman Islands Classic on Saturday.
Once a perennial NCAA tournament team, Vanderbilt has struggled the past decade: The Commodores' last NCAA tournament appearance was in 2014, and last winning record was in 2016.
Longtime UConn assistant Shea Ralph took over in 2021, going 26-35 in her first two years. This season Vandy is 7-0, winning the South Point Shootout in Las Vegas over the weekend with victories over Iowa State and Northern Iowa.
Guard Jordyn Cambridge has been a Commodore a long time: the Nashville native started her Vandy career in 2018. She missed last season because of an injury but is averaging 14.7 points, 8.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 4.4 steals per game. We'll see how Cambridge and the Commodores fare against NC State this week.
UCLA catches fire with a dozen 3-pointers to top UConn
Charisma Osborne hits six 3-pointers in No. 2 UCLA's 78-67 win over No. 6 UConn.
The Huskies are dealing with injuries; this isn't the mighty version of UConn. But it was still an important win for the Bruins. UCLA Bruins was 0-7 against UConn and wanted to make a statement, especially after a narrow victory over Princeton a week earlier.
UCLA got off to a 28-12 start over UConn in their Cayman Island Classic matchup Friday. The Huskies cut the lead to five by halftime, but the Bruins dominated the third quarter and then held off UConn in the fourth. Sophomore guard Kiki Rice had 24 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists.
Coach of the week: Mark Campbell, TCU
The Frogs were 22-7 in 2019-20 and on track to make the program's first NCAA tournament appearance in 10 years, but the COVID-19 pandemic canceled March Madness. The past three years, TCU was combined 24-60. Coach Raegan Pebley resigned at the end of last season, and Campbell took over.
He came to prominence as an assistant at Oregon State and Oregon, then spent two seasons as head coach at Sacramento State. Last season, he guided the Hornets to a 25-8 record and their first NCAA tournament appearance.
South Carolina wins 45th straight at home, tops MVSU
Kamilla Cardoso leads the way with a double-double as the Gamecocks set a program record for fewest points allowed in a game in rout of the Devilettes 101-19.
The Gamecocks won blowouts against South Dakota State and Mississippi Valley State, the latter 101-19. The less said about that, the better. But this week, South Carolina gets back to more interesting action on Tobacco Road. Five Gamecocks are currently averaging double-figure scoring, led by center Kamilla Cardoso (16.8 PPG).
It was a big holiday week for UCLA, which beat UConn for the first time and followed it up with an easy win over Niagara. Like South Carolina, the Bruins have five players averaging double figures in scoring, led by Gabriela Jaquez (16.2), part of their super sophomore class.
Stanford picks up easy home win over Albany
Stanford picks up easy home win over Albany
At the Ball Dawgs Classic in suburban Las Vegas last week, the Cardinal downed Belmont and Florida State, then came back home to cruise past Albany. In the three games, Cameron Brink averaged 22.3 points and 14.7 rebounds, while Kiki Iriafen averaged 18.3 and 11.7.
4. NC State Wolfpack (7-0)
Previous ranking: 7
This week: vs. Vanderbilt (Wednesday), vs. Illinois State (Sunday)
In the Paradise Jam victory Saturday over Colorado, the Wolfpack shut down the Buffs' inside game, holding starting post players Quay Miller and Aaronette Vonleh to a combined 4-of-20 shooting for 10 points. NC State center River Baldwin had her best game this season with 24 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the field and 8-of-8 from the line, with eight rebounds.
The Buffs had a strong 6-0 start but couldn't get much going in the Paradise Jam loss to NC State. Coach JR Payne pointed to Colorado's difficulty in stopping the Wolfpack in transition, something the Buffs are sure to work on this week.
The Hawkeyes won the Gulf Coast Showcase with victories over Purdue-Fort Wayne, FGCU and Kansas State, with Caitlin Clark averaging 27.3 points and 6.7 assists. The 77-70 win over the Wildcats avenged Iowa's 65-58 loss to K-State on Nov. 16. Iowa didn't have injured forward Hannah Stuelke for the last two games; keep an eye on her status for this week.
The Tigers cruised to wins over Texas Southern and Niagara but then had all they could handle from Virginia. The latter two games were at the Cayman Islands Classic, which Angel Reese and Kateri Poole did not travel to. LSU lost sophomore Sa'Myah Smith to a knee injury against Niagara, so her status also is a concern going into a Final Four rematch with Virginia Tech.
UConn bounces back with win over Kansas
Paige Bueckers scores 22 points as UConn rebounds from its defeat to UCLA with a 71-63 win over the Jayhawks.
UConn is hanging in the Power Rankings' top 10 despite two losses, because those were to NC State and UCLA. But there are concerns for the Huskies, who lost Azzi Fudd for the season (knee) and didn't have Caroline Ducharme (neck) for their Cayman Island Classic games against UCLA and Kansas. The injury bug just won't leave them alone.
The Trojans continued their strong start with victories over Seton Hall and Penn State at the Baha Mar Pink Flamingo Championship in the Bahamas. Freshman JuJu Watkins had her third 30-plus-point game with 31 in the 71-70 victory over Penn State, along with 12 rebounds. USC's 2024 signing class was ranked No. 1 by ESPN.
The Longhorns won big in their Paradise Jam matchups with Arizona State, High Point and South Florida. Texas has yet to be tested this season, winning by an average of 42.5 points. Perhaps a test will come Sunday when the Longhorns host UConn in the Jimmy V Classic on ABC.
11. Virginia Tech Hokies (5-1)
Previous ranking: 11
This week: at LSU (Thursday)
The Hokies beat UNC Greensboro at home by 21 but skated on some thin ice at the Cayman Islands Classic, beating Kansas by one point and Tulane by six. Elizabeth Kitley got strong consideration for our player of the week honor, averaging 26.7 points and 12 rebounds.
What a shot by Aijha Blackwell
What a shot by Aijha Blackwell, 11/26/2023
No Thanksgiving tournament last week for the Bears, who stayed home to feast on McNeese (124-44) and Alcorn State (93-47). Baylor got passed more than it dropped in the Power Rankings. Other than the Bears' Nov. 14 win over Utah, it's hard to tell a lot just yet about how good Baylor could be.
The Utes had an even more boring holiday week than Baylor, with just one blowout win: 98-34 over Merrimack. As a result, they also got passed in the Power Rankings. After facing NAIA school Carroll (Montana), things could get more interesting this week against BYU, which next year will be Utah's conference rival in the Big 12.
At the at Ball Dawgs Classic in suburban Las Vegas last week, Florida State beat Northwestern but couldn't slow down Stanford in a 100-88 loss. The guard-oriented Seminoles vs. the post-dominant Cardinal wasn't a great matchup for Florida State.
The Wildcats advanced to the Gulf Coast Showcase final after wins against Western Kentucky and North Carolina. But in a rematch with Iowa, the Wildcats ran into a more dangerous version of Caitlin Clark than they had in their Nov. 16 victory at Iowa City and lost 77-70. Still, it was a strong tournament for guard Serena Sundell, who averaged 18.3 points in the three games.
The Buckeyes had three comfortable victories last week, beating East Carolina and Oklahoma State at the Baha Mar Pink Flamingo Championship in the Bahamas, then Cornell at home. The matchup at Tennessee could be Ohio State's first big challenge since opening the season with a loss to USC.
Fell out: None