The last week of regular-season play for ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC women’s basketball brought some huge crowds, historic victories and unforgettable shots. It’s also our second-to-last ESPN Power Rankings of the 2022-23 season. And we had plenty of movement after a hectic week, including a late-season debut by Colorado.
Weekend games for Iowa and Iowa State combined to draw more than 26,000 fans; LSU had standing-room only attendance Sunday; and Utah had its biggest crowd in 30 years Saturday as it clinched a share of its first Pac-12 championship.
Iowa guard Caitlin Clark‘s buzzer-beating 3-pointer to top Indiana will be playing on loop for Hawkeyes fans, as will Virginia Tech center Elizabeth Kitley‘s game winner against North Carolina for Hokies fans.
After a loss and close win last week, UConn drops five spots, but that’s more a reflection of other teams securing big wins. The Huskies are still the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Big East tournament and are expected to make another women’s Final Four push despite their injury-caused depth issues.
Regardless of all the drama, defending national champion South Carolina stayed above the fray and kept its record perfect. Texas grabbed the upper hand in the Big 12, which completes its regular season this week, and the other Power Five leagues head into conference tournament play.
Elizabeth Kitley’s buzzer-beater lifts Virginia Tech past UNC
Elizabeth Kitley hits a jumper to secure Virginia Tech’s win against UNC.
The Hokies finished the regular season on an eight-game winning streak, with center Kitley leading the way. She beat the buzzer on a turnaround jumper that topped the Tar Heels 61-59 Thursday, finishing with 21 points and 10 rebounds.
Then on Sunday, she scored a season-high 29 points, adding 11 rebounds, as Virginia Tech beat Georgia Tech 65-52. For the two games, Kitley went 22-of-34 from the field (64.7%).
Maryland holds on after Ohio State’s putback comes too late
Cotie McMahon’s putback comes a couple of ticks after the horn sounds as Maryland defeats Ohio State.
It’s a testament to coach Brenda Frese’s ability to motivate and implement her style of play that no matter the personnel turnover, her Terps keep on rolling. She lost four full-time starters and one part-time starter off last season’s 23-9 Sweet 16 team — including leading scorer and rebounder Angel Reese, who transferred to LSU.
But Maryland still heads to the Big Ten tournament at 24-5 and as a dangerous No. 3 seed, with just two losses — to Big Ten Nos. 1 and 2 seeds Indiana and Iowa — in this calendar year. It had two odd losses, to DePaul in November and by 23 points at home to Nebraska in December. But both are distant in the rearview mirror. The 28-point win over Iowa on Tuesday showed how scary good the Terps can be, once again.
Caitlin Clark nails sensational buzzer-beater 3 for Iowa win
Caitlin Clark comes up big for Iowa with a clutch, buzzer-beating 3-pointer for Iowa.
This honor could have gone to Utah, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Maryland, Texas or St. John’s … all of them deserving. But for sheer excitement and entertainment value, how could you top Iowa-over-Indiana?
It was a magical Sunday in Iowa City, Iowa, with Hawkeyes fans arriving early in the morning to be part of ESPN’s GameDay festivities and staying through a tight contest that ended on Clark’s dramatic dagger. With nothing really on the line, the Big Ten regular-season champion Hoosiers still played their hearts out, and we got a potential preview of the Big Ten tournament final this coming Sunday.
Maryland and other teams will have a lot to say about that, of course. But if there is Round 3 of the Hoosiers vs. the Hawkeyes in Minneapolis, no one will want to miss it.
Coach of the week: Lynne Roberts, Utah Utes
At the start of this season, no one thought Stanford would have to share the Pac-12 regular-season title. But it does. Thanks to the Utes’ victory over the Cardinal on Saturday, both teams finished 15-3 in conference play. It was Utah’s second win in 33 games against Stanford, and it came in front of 9,611 fans in Salt Lake City, the team’s top crowd since 1993.
This is also the first Pac-12 championship for Utah, which joined the league in 2011. Roberts took over the Utes in 2015 after spending nine years as coach at Pacific. Her team struggled in the 2020-21 season, which was impacted heavily by COVID-19, going 5-16. Then, it improved to 21-12 in 2021-22 but lost in the NCAA tournament’s second round. In Thursday’s NCAA top-16-seeds reveal, the Utes were projected as a No. 1 seed. Their best NCAA seed to date is No. 5. This has been a landmark season for Roberts, who’s likely to garner some national coach of the year votes.
1. South Carolina Gamecocks (29-0)
Previous ranking: 1
This week: No. 1 seed at SEC tournament in Greenville, S.C.
The Gamecocks finished unbeaten in SEC regular-season play for the third time under coach Dawn Staley, getting wins this past week at Tennessee and at home vs. Georgia. Now, they won’t have to leave the state again to make the women’s Final Four. The SEC tournament is in Greenville, as is the NCAA region to which the projected No. 1 overall seed will be assigned. They will also host the NCAA early rounds at home in Columbia. This team doesn’t get ahead of itself, though, which is part of its success. The Gamecocks recall the game-winning shot by Kentucky last year that cost them the SEC tournament title. They want that championship back.
2. Indiana Hoosiers (26-2)
Previous ranking: 2
This week: No. 1 seed at Big Ten tournament in Minneapolis
The last-second loss at Iowa on Sunday stung, because the Hoosiers are competitors, but ultimately didn’t impact their seeding for the Big Ten or NCAA tournaments. In fact, a pro team in Indiana’s position probably would have just rested its starters. But it doesn’t work that way in college, and the Hoosiers played hard. They have time to think about how they defended not just the final play but the entire game, as Iowa scored more points than any other opponent against the Hoosiers this season. A team as smart and accomplished defensively as Indiana can only benefit from the lesson. The program’s only Big Ten tournament title was in 2002, so this group would like to add that trophy to its regular-season championship.
3. LSU Tigers (27-1)
Previous ranking: 5
This week: No. 2 seed at SEC tournament
No team gets fans nationwide more irritated than LSU because of the Tigers’ constantly mentioned “cupcake” nonconference schedule. Also, the SEC has not been perceived as being as strong as usual this season, without many signature nonconference wins outside of South Carolina’s victories.
Yet, other than their 24-point loss to the Gamecocks on the road Feb. 12, the Tigers have won every game — including last week against Vanderbilt and Mississippi State. LSU drew a Pete Maravich Assembly Center-record crowd vs. the latter on Sunday (15,721). The Tigers might now get a second chance against South Carolina in the SEC tournament.
4. Maryland Terrapins (24-5)
Previous ranking: 7
This week: No. 3 seed at Big Ten tournament
In last week’s Power Rankings, I mentioned the Terps were saying, “Hey, don’t forget about us.” With their victories over Iowa and Ohio State, they’re my ESPN team of the week and have made their statement even stronger. What has also stood out is that, as good as star Diamond Miller has been, the leading scorers of the past week were reserve Brinae Alexander against the Hawkeyes and Abby Meyers against the Buckeyes. Maryland has a lot of ways to win, and the Terps arrive at the Big Ten tournament as strong contenders.
Alissa Pili makes a nice move for the layup
Alissa Pili makes a nice move for the layup
5. Utah Utes (24-3)
Previous ranking: 11
This week: No. 2 seed at Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas
The Utes had an enormous week with victories over California and Stanford, which gave them a share of the Pac-12 title. After falling on the road at Arizona the previous week, it was an especially sweet way for the Utes to finish the regular season. Sophomore guard Gianna Kneepkens had a season-high 28 points against Stanford, and junior forward Alissa Pili had a combined 40 points in the two victories.
6. Stanford Cardinal (27-4)
Previous ranking: 3
This week: No. 1 seed at Pac-12 tournament
The Cardinal nearly had the Pac-12 regular-season title slip from their grasp on a perilous trip to the league’s mountain schools last week. Winter-weather travel delays took some toll, as did Colorado and Utah, which won 84-78, forcing Stanford to share its 26th conference regular-season title.
The Cardinal’s offensive issues continue to crop up — it took two OTs for the Cardinal to crack 70 points against the Buffs — but their defense is still very good. They’ll need that in the hunt for a 16th Pac-12 tournament title (the event started in 2002).
7. Virginia Tech Hokies (24-4)
Previous ranking: 8
This week: No. 3 seed at ACC tournament in Greensboro, N.C.
The Hokies are the third seed in the league tournament, but they’re the ACC’s hottest team, going into the postseason on an eight-game winning streak. They’re also seeking their first ACC tournament title since joining the conference in 2004.
Kitley is the player of the week, but the Hokies’ guards have done their jobs, too. Georgia Amoore and Kayana Traylor combined for 30 points in beating North Carolina; then they and Cayla King had a combined 32 points in defeating Georgia Tech.
8. Iowa Hawkeyes (23-6)
Previous ranking: 6
This week: No. 2 seed at Big Ten tournament
The Hawkeyes had their biggest low (a 28-point loss at Maryland) and biggest high (the win over Indiana) of 2022-23 in the same week. But for the most part, this has been a very steady group, and for good reason: the Hawkeyes’ current starting five started their 83rd game together Sunday. Along with the consistent heroics of Clark and Monika Czinano, guard Kate Martin deserves a mention. Her inbound pass to Clark led to the game winner against Indiana, and she had 19 points and four assists and was at plus-12 for the day. The senior, who will return for her fifth year via the COVID-19 waiver, has had her four best scoring games this season against top-10 opponents.
9. UConn Huskies (25-5)
Previous ranking: 4
This week: Xavier (Monday), No. 1 seed at Big East tournament in Uncasville, Conn.
The Huskies have been running on fumes with their injury situation, but they always find a way to beat DePaul. They did that for the 23rd consecutive time Saturday with a 72-69 win in Chicago. But that came after a 69-64 loss to St. John’s in Hartford on Tuesday. UConn’s drop in the Power Rankings isn’t really a big deal, though. It remains hopeful for the return of guard Azzi Fudd. And it has already clinched at least a share of the Big East title, which it can claim outright with a win against the Musketeers.
10. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (24-4)
Previous ranking: 10
This week: No. 1 seed at ACC tournament
The Irish are the regular-season ACC champions for the seventh time since joining the league in 2013-14 (two of those instances were shared with Louisville). They’re on a six-game winning streak. Yet their gutsy 68-65 victory at Louisville on Sunday was marred by a first-half knee injury to star guard Olivia Miles. We’ll wait to see her status for the postseason; with her limited to 17 minutes Sunday, fellow guard Sonia Citron took control for the Irish with 27 points.
Rori Harmon somehow gets the and-1 to fall
Rori Harmon somehow gets the and-1 to fall
11. Texas Longhorns (22-7)
Previous ranking: 13
This week: Baylor (Monday), at Kansas State (Saturday)
With a week to prepare for the battle with Oklahoma for first place in the Big 12, the Longhorns aced the test. They defeated the Sooners for the second time this season, and have held them to their two lowest-scoring games in both: 67-45 on Saturday, 78-58 on Jan. 25. In Norman on Saturday, they blocked 10 shots, five of which came from Taylor Jones. Guard Rori Harmon‘s 14 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists and 40 minutes of full-court defense led the way for Texas, which is trying to secure its first Big 12 regular-season title since 2004.
12. Duke Blue Devils (24-5)
Previous ranking: 12
This week: No. 2 seed at ACC tournament
The Blue Devils had a chance to claim a share of their first ACC regular-season title since 2013, but lost a defensive slog to archrival North Carolina 45-41 Sunday. So they tied for second place with Virginia Tech. That’s still a strong season for coach Kara Lawson, who took over the program in 2020. No team in the country has relied more on defense than Duke, so we’ll see how far that carries the Blue Devils in the postseason.
13. Oklahoma Sooners (22-5)
Previous ranking: 9
This week: Kansas State (Wednesday), at Oklahoma State (Sunday)
The Sooners had won six in a row before running into the Texas buzz saw for a second time this season. Of course, the Longhorns are a dangerous matchup not just for the Sooners but for every team in the Big 12. Oklahoma still has a lot on the line this week, ending the regular season with its Bedlam rivalry game at nearby Oklahoma State. The Sooners hope to go into the Big 12 tournament with at least the No. 2 seed and make a strong push at being an NCAA top-16 seed for the second year in a row.
14. Ohio State Buckeyes (23-6)
Previous ranking: NR
This week: No. 4 seed at Big Ten tournament
The Buckeyes fell out of the Power Rankings last week, but they are back in after a 13-point victory on the road against Michigan and a two-point loss at home to Maryland. At a glance, Ohio State’s 4-6 record in its past 10 games doesn’t inspire confidence. But consider those six losses: All but one were to the three top-10 teams seeded above the Buckeyes in the Big Ten tournament: Iowa, Indiana (twice) and Maryland (twice).
15. Villanova Wildcats (25-5)
Previous ranking: NR
This week: at Seton Hall (Monday), No. 2 seed at Big East tournament
The Wildcats made their Power Rankings debut two weeks ago, then fell out before returning. In victories over DePaul and Providence this past week, Maddy Siegrist had a combined 51 points and 20 rebounds. She had a school-record 50 points when the Wildcats previously met Seton Hall on Feb. 11. Villanova held on to its top-16 spot in the NCAA selection committee’s seeding reveal Thursday.
16. Colorado Buffaloes (22-7)
Previous ranking: NR
This week: No. 3 seed in the Pac-12 tournament
The Buffs nearly took down Stanford last week before falling 73-62 in double overtime. But they closed the season with a 95-69 win over Cal. That, and their overall Pac-12 résumé, has earned them their first appearance this season in the Power Rankings. Colorado went 6-2 in February and is seeking its first Pac-12 tournament title. Its last conference tournament championship came in 1997, the first season of Big 12 play. Colorado moved to the Pac-12 in 2011.
Knocked out: Arizona Wildcats (No. 14), Michigan Wolverines (No. 15), Iowa State Cyclones (No. 16)