The second week of Big 12 women’s basketball is in the books. Here is this week’s Good, Bad and Ugly from the second week of basketball action.
Kansas State Proves its Mettle
Many wrote off Kansas State after it lost center Ayoka Lee for the season due to her knee surgery. I admit I was one of those people. It’s not that I didn’t think they could still have a good season. But, I really thought getting to the NCAA Tournament was going to be a steep climb.
The Wildcats flattened the curve a bit on Thursday when they beat No. 4 Iowa.
This was a tremendous performance against a Hawkeyes team that has Final Four aspirations. K-State won, 84-83, and it was a wild finish, too. Gabby Gregory went 1-for-2 at the free-throw line and Iowa rebounded the miss, giving the Hawkeyes a chance to win. They nearly did. In fact Gregory fouled an Iowa player at the basket at the buzzer. But, after it was reviewed and determined the foul came after the buzzer, Kansas State had the win. Gregory had a sore hip and Iowa State Caitlyn Clark, who initiated the play, had to be helped off the floor with what appeared to be an ankle injury.
Gregory is off to an incredible start and I wrote about that last week. She had 24 points. Guard Serena Sundell, at times, took over the game and finished with 24 points, six rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block. But it was forward Sarah Shemasti who really came through for K-State. The 6-foot-2 LSU transfer came off the bench to finish with 18 points in 20 minutes.
After the game, ESPN’s Charlie Crème — who handles the women’s tournament bracketology — tweeted that you could expect to see K-State in his next projection. The Wildcats were the second team out when Crème updated his bracket last week.
Kansas State coach Jeff Mittie was clear in October at Big 12 Media Day that K-State had to figure out how to play without Lee. Right now, it’s heavy reliance on Sundell, Gregory and Jaelyn Glenn, who each played more than 35 minutes in the game. But, five other players logged at least 10 minutes. K-State was just minus-2 in rebounding and it was plus-3 in turnovers.
This looks like the recipe for winning games in the Big 12 without Lee — small margins and a heavy workload for their leaders. It might still not be enough to get them in the NCAA Tournament. But the Wildcats now have a big Quad 1 win to their credit.. And then Lee comes back next year, as does most of this team. Then it gets really interesting.
Leaning on Bailey
The Big 12 took in plenty of good freshmen this season. But you could argue that Texas Tech’s Bailey Maupin has made the biggest early impact.
In three games she’s averaging 14.3 points and 4.0 rebounds per game, and she’s a big reason why the Lady Raiders beat Colorado in the Women’s NIT last week. She scored 20 points in 31 minutes in that game, with the 20 points being her season high so far. The early absence of veteran guard Bre’Amber Scott opened up more time for Maupin early this season. Scott returned and made a key block against Colorado, but Maupin’s playing time didn’t suffer as a result.
Maupin is from Gruver, Texas, which is in Texas Tech’s backyard. She joined a team that had veteran players coming back. But the departure of Vivian Gray left a big hole when it came to scoring. Rhyle McKinney has made a big jump so far, leading the Lady Raiders with more than 18 points. But, Maupin can stretch defenses with her 40 percent 3-point shooting and she’s growing quickly as a collegiate defender.
Ryan in the Clutch
Iowa State needed a late 3-pointer to beat Northern Iowa early last week. The Cyclones made the trip to Cedar Falls, and if you know anything about the Iowa-Iowa State-Northern Iowa dynamic, you know the records really don’t matter. UNI comes to play, no matter the sport.
In this case, it was guard Emily Ryan that hit the go-ahead shot, something that her coach, Bill Fennelly, wants more of from the junior this season.
Ryan is averaging 13 points per game so far this season.
Oh, and it’s not like Ashley Joens has disappeared. The program’s all-time leading scorer had six 3-pointers against UNI, is averaging 23 points per game and added another record to her bio in the game.
And, on Sunday against Columbia, Joens set a personal best with seven made 3-pointers in a game. She’s off to a scorching start.
Time to Pay Attention to Taiyanna
The Kansas Jayhawks have a center that demands your attention. Taiyanna Jackson reached 100 career blocks last week in just her 33rd game with Kansas.
Jackson transferred to Kansas from Trinity Valley CC in Athens, Texas. If you’re not familiar with the Cardinals, they tend to develop solid women’s basketball players. Kansas head coach Brandon Schneider is familiar with TVCC from his days as the coach at Stephen F. Austin, which is about a 90-minute drive away.
Junior college players tend to have problems developing at the Division I level, especially in their first year. She joined a team that really didn’t need her to be a primary scoring option. At least not right away. But that freed the 6-foot-6 forward up to give Kansas what it really needed — defense and rebounding. She was Kansas’ first Big 12 All-Defensive Player, set a school record with 5.7 blocked shots per game and grabbed 8.7 rebounds per game. And, by season’s end, her offense caught up. She was averaging 8.9 points.
Now? Well, after three games she’s averaging a double-double. It’s safe to say that with her improved offense, consistent defense and rebounding, she takes some heat off of the outside players like Holly Kersgieter, Zakiyah Franklin and transfer Wyvette Mayberry, all of whom are averaging double figure early.
Jackson and Kansas are lurking as that team that could really influence the Big 12 race in February.
Life Without Rori
We know it’s temporary. But we now know EXACTLY what Texas guard Rori Harmon means to the Longhorns.
Last Monday’s game at UConn was a Top 5 matchup and Texas did all it could to keep up. Texas lost, 87-76. UConn’s Azzi Fudd had 32. Shylee Gonzalez did all she could to run the points and at times was effective. But she’s also one of four transfers that is brand-new to the system. All Harmon could do was watch from a walking boot.
A loss to UConn on the road is understandable. It’s the kind of game Texas likes to play early to challenge itself and get a temperature check on where it is.
It was the loss on Saturday that got my attention.
Texas lost, 68-61, to unranked Marquette at the Battle 4 Atlantis. Harmon didn’t play again. Texas had 20 turnovers, but the defense forced 23. Texas held Marquette to 36.2 percent shooting, but it shot 31.4 percent. Gonzalez only committed three turnovers, but forward Aaliyah Moore committed seven.
You don’t want to play your best basketball now. You want to play it in March, which Texas has done the past two seasons in reaching the Elite Eight. But, it’s clear the Longhorns will go as far as Harmon will take them. She’s their indispensable player, even with all the talent Texas brought in from the transfer portal.
If Harmon isn’t right, the Longhorns won’t be either. By the way, Texas lost to ranked Louisville on Sunday.
Baylor’s Big Injury?
We don’t know the severity of the injury just yet, but Aijha Blackwell, the Missouri transfer who joined Baylor this season and was leading the team in scoring before suffering an injury against SMU, didn’t play on Sunday against Maryland.
In fact, per ESPN, Baylor isn’t saying much. Coach Nicki Collen said Blackwell hasn’t given the program permission to talk about it yet. Blackwell was averaging 20 points and 7 rebounds before the injury.
Blackwell was going to be a key piece of the puzzle for this team after losing NaLyssa Smith and Queen Egbo to the WNBA (and both were in Waco on Sunday for the Maryland game). Until we know how long she’ll be out, it’s hard to gauge how much it will impact Baylor. Without Blackwell, the Bears lost to ranked Maryland by five on Sunday.
The good news? Forward Caitlin Bickle returned after missing three games due to a thumb injury.
Oklahoma vs. Utah
Oklahoma lost to Utah, 124-78, last week. That was a Top 25 matchup, by the way. Yes, Oklahoma lost by … checks math … 46 points.
I guess the only good thing was that the game was on the Pac-12 Networks so no one in Oklahoma had to see it?
Oklahoma challenged itself with a two-game swing through Utah, starting at BYU, a future Big 12 rival and a game the Sooners by 11 points. I suspected that the game with the Utes would be close.
It was not. Like, at all.
Since I didn’t see the game I had to rely on the box score. Utah outscored OU, 41-20, in the third quarter. The Utes shot 70 percent from the floor (14-of-20) and 62 percent (5-of-8) from the 3-point line. Heck, Utah shot 8-of-10 from the free-throw line. It looks like the Sooners ran into an unstoppable force. I should mention the Utes shot better than 50 percent in the second quarter, too.
There was more to it than that. The Sooners were minus-7 in turnover ratio and were outrebounded by 20. I wrote last week about the need for better defense. The recalibration continues.
About the only good thing that came out of that game was this.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard