14 Jan

Victor Wembanyama makes more history — could he or Chet Holmgren make the All-Star Game?

The first returns for NBA All-Star voting came back last week and what do you know, two rookies made the top 10 on the frontcourt list for the Western Conference. Neither names are surprising, as Victor Wembanyama and Chet Holmgren earned the eighth and ninth spots, respectively, but it is eye-opening to see just how far along both guys are in their development. It’s unlikely that either player will crack the ASG starting lineup, but it’ll be interesting to see if at least one of them makes the roster as a reserve. If Wemby or Holmgren make the All-Star roster, it would be the first time the NBA has had an All-Star rookie since Blake Griffin in 2011.

You could say we’re overdue for a rookie getting that honor, and given how impressive both guys have played this would be the year to break that streak. However, picking one over the other is a difficult task. Holmgren has been leading the Rookie of the Year conversation due to his efficiency and impact on an Oklahoma City Thunder team that sits second in the Western Conference. But while Wembanyama’s Spurs aren’t winning much, he’s doing things we’ve never seen before for someone of his size and build. He’s consistently improved each game, he’s already shown the ability to take over games when needed, and he’s faring incredibly well given the amount of responsibility San Antonio is giving him. We’ll have to see if the coaches make either player an All Star, and if one of them makes it there will surely be an endless amount of conversation over who was picked.

Now let’s move on to this week’s rankings. Keep in mind that these rankings will reflect a rookie’s performance on a week-to-week basis only, not the collective season. These aren’t Rookie of the Year standings, but rather a reflection on what the player has done over the past week. With that straightened out, here is a look at the top five performers from the NBA’s freshman class:

Wembanyama recorded his first career triple-double when he played the Pistons, but in typical Wemby fashion it was anything but ordinary. I can’t quite figure out which is more eyebrow raising, the fact that Wembanyama was on a minutes restriction when he put up the 16-point, 12-rebound and 10-assist triple-double, or the fact that he did it in 21 minutes, making it the second fastest triple-double ever in the NBA. He also became the youngest center in league history to put up a triple-double, raising the accomplishment to an even higher level.

Everything about the performance was a perfect example of why he’s such a special and unique player. It’s not every day you see someone with this length have so much control over their body and finish with a soft touch around the rim, while also making it look like he’s playing against literal children:

That outstretched shot is over 6-foot-10 Jalen Duren just to give you context on how ridiculous that looks. Wembanyama may have only played 21 minutes, but he made sure to make the Pistons’ lives hell during his time on the floor. It wasn’t just that he got whatever he wanted, it was like he was toying with Detroit, seeing how creative he could get with his shots and passes. How else would you explain this sequence where he gets the block, runs the offense in transition and dishes this pretty no-look dime to Jeremy Sochan for the dunk:

Or this assist where he nutmegs Bojan Bogdanovic to Julian Champagnie for the finish:

Wemby with the nutmeg dime 👀 pic.twitter.com/8rrjEnG7zY

— NBA TV (@NBATV) January 11, 2024
It legitimately looked like a warm up for Wemby, which speaks to his greatness but also says a lot about the state of the Pistons, who are once again building up a losing streak that is currently at six games.

The Thunder’s win against the Heat Wednesday night provided a great example of how difficult Holmgren and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are to guard in the pick-and-roll. If you send the double at SGA, that means you run the risk of leaving Holmgren open as the roller, which results in easy feeds under the rim for the rookie.

Gilgeous-Alexander might’ve been a little late with the pass, but later in the second quarter, he made sure to get it off quicker which resulted in a tough lob finish from Holmgren.

The real reason this works is because of the attention SGA warrants from the defender, and Miami’s gameplan was likely something along the lines of “don’t let him beat us.” That clearly didn’t work as Gilgeous-Alexander had 28 points, and the pick-and-roll partnership between him and the rookie resulted in Holmgren also finishing with 23 points.

But even when Miami plays the pick-and-roll straight up, it’s still difficult to keep Holmgren from scoring especially when you don’t have the size to defend him. Bam Adebayo was the most common defender on Holmgren, and even he got caught lacking when the rookie showed how great he can also move without the ball and be a solid cutter.

The Heat were without Jimmy Butler so their defense really had to scramble in order to account for all the offensive weapons OKC possesses. Things might’ve been different had Butler played, because if Adebayo wasn’t tasked with so much on both ends of the floor perhaps there wouldn’t have been as many easy opportunities for Holmgren to score. But regardless, Holmgren took advantage of several mismatch opportunities and showed how dangerous he can be if you don’t have someone stuck to him all game.

Jaquez should finish in the top three in Rookie of the Year voting, but if Kevin Love has his say, he’d probably be at the top of that list.

“Think of all the rookies, he certainly has been incredibly consistent,” Love said. “He’s right up there with [Chet] Holmgren. Wemby [Victor Wembanyama] has been in and out. But among those three, they’ve had a pretty remarkable rookie year.”

Love isn’t the only teammate of Jaquez to shower him with praise, as Jimmy Butler shared he wasn’t surprised that Jaquez has stepped up in his absence as he’s “gonna help this organization for a long time after I’m gone.”

Jaquez’s rapid ascension has been a pleasant surprise — and a much-needed one — for a Miami team that has been without Butler for 13 games this season. He’s got a great feel for the game and what he needs to provide at any moment. Whether that’s being aggressive and getting a bucket, feeding his teammates and make the right read on passes or doing the little things like setting hard screens, disrupting passes, communicating on defense and moving well without the ball.

The Pelicans beat the brakes off the Warriors Wednesday night and Hawkins certainly played a role in running up the score with 14 points off the bench on 4-of-5 shooting from 3-point range. He finish the game with a plus-25, and was one of eight New Orleans players to finish in double figures. It was kind of fitting to watch Hawkins catch fire from 3-point range while playing against the greatest 3-point shooter in league history in Stephen Curry, as well as one of the greatest in Klay Thompson. Not to say that Hawkins is on that level, but already in just 33 games, he’s proven to be one of the best young shooters in the NBA.

Against the Warriors he also showed that he is more than just a spot-up shooter, as he can attack off the bounce to create for himself and get to the rim. He doesn’t do that often, but it’s a luxury for the Pelicans to know that if the defense runs him off the 3-point line he can still get a bucket in other ways.

Whitmore has split his season between the G League and the NBA, and that has more to do with getting the young guard opportunity than it is about his development. That’s because in the recent G League Winter Showcase (which is a four-day tournament featuring 31 games) Whitmore averaged 26.2 points a game, which ranked first in the Showcase. You can see when he steps on an NBA court that he’s a notch above G League competition, and he’s shown that in the opportunity he’s gotten with the Rockets.

This week he had a season-high 16 points against the Bulls, where he once again displayed ridiculous efficiency from just about everywhere on the floor. In 13 games with Houston, Whitmore is shooting 53.7% from the field and 42.4% from 3-point range. That game against the Bulls is where Whitmore also got the most minutes all season at 33, and he’s slowly starting to make himself a permanent part of the rotation for Houston.

14 Jan

2024 NBA picks, January 11 predictions from proven model

The Dallas Mavericks will host the New York Knicks in a cross-conference matchup on Thursday’s NBA schedule. Dallas is 22-16 overall and 11-8 at home, while New York is 22-15 overall and 11-11 on the road. The Mavs have won both of the previous matchups this season between the teams, including a 126-121 overtime victory two weeks ago. The Knicks are 21-15-1 against the spread this season, while the Mavericks are 21-17 ATS. Luka Doncic (ankle) is out for Dallas.

Tip-off is at 8:30 p.m. ET at American Airlines Center in Dallas. New York is favored by 4 points in the latest Mavericks vs. Knicks odds, per SportsLine consensus, and the over/under is 233.5 points. Before entering any Knicks vs. Mavericks picks, you’ll want to see the NBA predictions from the model at SportsLine.

The SportsLine Projection Model simulates every NBA game 10,000 times and has returned well over $10,000 in profit for $100 players on its top-rated NBA picks over the past five-plus seasons. The model enters Week 12 of the 2023-24 NBA season on a sizzling 112-62 roll on all top-rated NBA picks dating back to last season, returning well over $4,000. Anyone following it has seen huge returns.

The model has set its sights on New York vs. Dallas. You can head to SportsLine to see its picks. Here are several NBA odds and betting lines for Knicks vs. Mavericks:

Mavericks vs. Knicks spread: Mavericks +4
Mavericks vs. Knicks over/under: 233.5 points
Mavericks vs. Knicks money line: Mavericks: +140, Knicks: -166
Mavericks vs. Knicks picks: See picks at SportsLine
What to know about the Mavericks
The Mavericks came into the contest on Tuesday with a huge advantage in the spread, but given the result that advantage might have gone to their heads. They took a 120-103 bruising from the Memphis Grizzlies, which signaled the end of Dallas’ three-game winning streak. Despite the defeat, the Mavericks had strong showings from Kyrie Irving, who scored 33 points to go along with eight rebounds and four steals, and Doncic, who scored 31 points with six assists and six rebounds.

Dallas will be without Doncic on Thursday, and the team is 1-3 straight-up and 2-2 ATS when he doesn’t play. Also on Dallas’ injury report are Dante Exum (out; foot), Dereck Lively II (doubtful; ankle) and Grant Williams (questionable; ankle), so the Mavs could be down four of their top seven scorers. Thus, the Mavericks may have to rely more on Irving, who’s averaged 27 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists since returning from a 12-game absence at the start of 2024. See which team to pick here.

What to know about the Knicks
Meanwhile, the Knicks waltzed into their game Tuesday with four straight wins but they left with five. They put the hurt on the Portland Trail Blazers with a sharp 112-84 win. With the Knicks ahead 63-41 at the half, the match was all but over already. Newcomer OG Anunoby led New York with 23 points, while Julius Randle added 20 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.

It was a breakout game for the former Raptor in Anunoby, as he averaged just 12 points in his first four games with the Knicks. New York is 5-0 both straight-up and against the spread since trading for Anunoby as the team has taken its defense to another level with last year’s league leader in steals wearing a Knicks uniform. New York is allowing 97.4 points per game since Anunoby joined the team, compared to 113.9 points per game beforehand. Center Mitchell Robinson (ankle) remains out for New York. See which team to pick here.

How to make Mavericks vs. Knicks picks
The model has simulated Mavs vs. Knicks 10,000 times and the results are in. We can tell you that the model is leaning Over, and it’s also generated a point-spread pick that is hitting in almost 70% of simulations. You can only see the pick at SportsLine.

09 Jan

LSU forward out for rest of season after suffering major knee injury

LSU sophomore forward Sa’Myah Smith will miss the remainder of the 2023-24 season with a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus in her right knee, the team announced Wednesday.

Smith suffered the injury in the first five minutes of the Tigers’ 99-65 win over Niagara on Friday, the first of two games LSU played in as part of the Cayman Islands Classic. She is expected to have surgery at a later date.

Sa’Myah Smith will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus in her right kneehttps://t.co/kwk6NLK6T9

— LSU Women’s Basketball (@LSUwbkb) November 29, 2023
Smith started six out of seven games this season. The Texas native was averaging 11.7 points on 66% shooting while adding 7.6 rebounds per game and a total of 11 blocks. She reached a career-high 21 points against both Queens and Mississippi Valley State this season.

This season saw Smith embrace a bigger role than last year, when she only started two games but still made the SEC All-Freshman team. Because it’s still early in the 2023-24 campaign, it’s expected she will receive a medical redshirt and get this year of eligibility back.

After Smith’s injury, LSU was shorthanded Saturday against Virginia, although they still collected a 76-73 win. The team was also missing forward Angel Reese and guard Kateri Poole in that game. Reese will be back with the team Thursday when the Tigers host No. 9 Virginia Tech, a rematch from the 2023 Final Four.

09 Jan

LSU star to return vs. No. 9 Virginia Tech after benching, four-game absence

LSU star Angel Reese will make her much-anticipated return to the court Thursday when the Tigers host No. 9 Virginia Tech, LSU coach Kim Mulkey announced Wednesday. The junior forward missed the Tigers’ last four games because of unspecified “locker-room issues.”

Neither Reese nor junior guard Kateri Poole made the trip to the Cayman Islands Classic this past weekend, adding to the mystery of what happened in the locker room.

“It doesn’t matter. Angel is back and we are happy, happy, happy.” Mulkey said. “… We’re past it. We were past it after it happened. It’s just fun to watch them high-five and pick each other up off the floor and just do what they do, play basketball.

“It’s just we have to come in here and answer questions and that becomes aggravating.”

LSU star forward Angel Reese is ending her four-game absence and rejoining the No. 7 Tigers in advance of their match-up with ninth-ranked Virginia Tech on Thursday night. https://t.co/NLywykGzJJ pic.twitter.com/iWB42cw2Lb

— AP Top 25 (@AP_Top25) November 29, 2023
Poole, Mulkey said, is still not back with the team as of Wednesday.

LSU won its first national title last season and entered 2023-24 as the No. 1 team in the AP Top 25 poll. On paper, the Tigers seemed even stronger this season as they brought back Reese while adding the top recruiting class of 2023 and former Louisville star Hailey Van Lith.

However, Mulkey was approaching this season with caution, and it turns out she was right to not assume everything would go smoothly.

Here is a timeline of everything that has happened with Reese in 2023-24:

Nov. 24-25: Reese doesn’t make trip to Cayman Islands Classic
LSU dominated Niagara 99-65 on Nov. 24 and claimed a 76-73 victory over Virginia the next day. However, neither Reese or Poole made the trip. Once again there was no explanation from LSU, Mulkey, or any of the players.

“You will know when she comes back,” Mulkey said of Reese’s absence. “Obviously she’s not with us.”

As for Poole’s situation, Mulkey said she would provide an update when the team returned to Louisiana.

Nov. 20: Mulkey addresses “locker room issues” as Reese misses second game
LSU claimed 106-47 win over Texas Southern, but Reese was nowhere to be found. Mulkey said her answer to questions regarding Reese’s absence would be the same answer she gave after the Southern Louisiana game.

The coach added that she wanted to deal with the situation in a private way, the same way she would with a family issue.

“You always have to deal with locker room issues. That’s just part of coaching,” Mulkey said. “In 40 years I can’t ever think of a time where I didn’t have to deal with issues. that’s what you do. Sometimes y’all know about it and sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you want to know more than you’re entitled to know.

“I’m going to protect my players, always. It’s like a family. If you do some disciplining of your own children, do you think we’re entitled to know that? That’s a family in that locker room.”

Mulkey was also asked if Reese would make the trip to the Cayman Islands Classic later in the week, but the coach said even if she had already made that decision, she was not going to speak about it publicly.

“Sometimes you want to know more than you’re entitled to know. I’m going to protect my players. Always.”@LSUwbkb @KimMulkey on Angel Reese situation.

“If you do some disciplining of your own children, do you think we’re entitled to know that?” #LSU @WAFB pic.twitter.com/n71pGbghwu

— Jacques Doucet (@JacquesDoucet) November 21, 2023
Nov. 19: Reese speaks out on social media
While not sharing any specific details on the situation, Reese urged fans to ignore the rumors surrounding her standing with LSU through a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“Please don’t believe everything you read,” Reese wrote.

please don’t believe everything you read.

— Angel Reese (@Reese10Angel) November 19, 2023
Nov. 17: Reese misses first game for undisclosed reasons
Reese was nowhere to be seen at the Pride Roofing University Center as LSU picked up a 73-50 win against Southeastern Louisiana. Poole was on the court for just five minutes.

Mulkey did not give much of an explanation regarding Reese’s absence.

“You want me to explain why? It was very obvious Angel was not in uniform,” Mulkey said. “Angel is a part of this basketball team and we hope to see her sooner than later. I’m not going to answer anymore. That’s it. That’s all y’all need to know.”

“You want me to explain why? It was very obvious Angel was not in uniform. Angel is a part of this basketball team & we hope to see her sooner than later. I’m not going to answer anymore. That’s it. That’s all y’all need to know.”

  • Kim Mulkey on Reese’s absence tonight#NCAAW pic.twitter.com/jpHVI3rUml

— Women’s Hoopz (@WBBWorldWide) November 18, 2023
Nov. 14: Mulkey benches Reese at halftime
Kent State has not made the NCAA Tournament since 2002, yet the Tigers had to fight for a two-point lead at halftime in their own home arena.

LSU made adjustments and finished the night with a 109-79 win. However, it was notable that Reese, who started the game, did not check during the second half. Meanwhile, Poole didn’t play at all, but was on the bench. Mulkey described Reese’s second-half benching as a “coach’s decision.”

Angel Reese did not come back in during the 2nd half and Kateri Poole did not enter the game today for LSU.

When asked postgame, Kim Mulkey deemed it a “coach’s decision” pic.twitter.com/hVVKJP80Tb

— Tyler DeLuca (@TylerDeLuca) November 15, 2023
Nov. 6: LSU stunned by Colorado in season opener
The Tigers started the season ranked No. 1, but they were upset 92-78 by then-No. 20 Colorado in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Series in Las Vegas. No other reigning champion lost a season opener since 1995.

During the postgame press conference, Mulkey said the next practice was not going to include a “fun film session,” but instead it would be a “come to Jesus moment.”

“I’m disappointed and surprised in some individual players that I thought would just be tougher and have a little fight and leadership about them,” Mulkey said.

“I think [Mikaylah Williams] and Sa’Myah Smith did all they could, but look at them. You’re talking about a true freshman and you’re talking about a true sophomore. We need more than just them. We needed more than those two to have a little bit of fight within.”

Kim Mulkey sums up tonight’s opening season loss to No. 20 Colorado.

“You just got that dog in you.” -Mulkey@LSUwbkb #LSU pic.twitter.com/rFQ1CNb78D

— Chessa Bouche (@chessabouche) November 7, 2023

09 Jan

Angel Reese returns as Tigers dominate Hokies in Final Four rematch

Angel Reese was back in the lineup as No. 7 LSU took down No. 9 Virginia Tech 82-64 on Thursday night in a rematch of last season’s Final Four meeting. It also served as coach Kim Mulkey’s 700th career win.

She became the fastest, in NCAA Div. I men’s or women’s basketball, to reach the 700-mark as a head coach, and Mulkey pulled it off in just her 813th game on the sideline.

“These victories are special to me, but my impact on these girls is the most important,” she said. “All in all, reaching 700 victories is nice, but I am most proud of my basketball team and where they have come.”


The quickest ever to 700 wins! pic.twitter.com/KdGjbze9mp

— LSU Women’s Basketball (@LSUwbkb) December 1, 2023
Reese, a unanimous first-team All-American selection last season, had missed four consecutive games for what was reported as locker room issues. However, everything had been resolved as Mulkey and Reese shared a long hug after the game.

“It feels great. My teammates were holding it down and I’m just super happy to be back with the team,” said Reese, who led LSU to its first national championship last season. “This atmosphere, I missed this so much. I’m just happy to move forward and be back.”

As for her relationship with her coach, Reese said she needs Mulkey and always will.

“I’m going to say that today, tomorrow, next year, ’til the day I die. That’s just how I feel. I’m at LSU because of Kim Mulkey,” she said.

Reese was honored for reaching 1,000 career rebounds before the game and got a warm welcome from the crowd at Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Although she didn’t have a perfect night, the junior forward flirted with a double-double of 19 points and nine rebounds. Nine of those points came from the free-throw line.

While Reese’s return grabbed much of the attention, her LSU teammates quietly filled the stat sheet. Freshman Mikaylah Williams led the Tigers’ offense with 20 points on 60% shooting. Junior guard Aneesah Morrow registered her 56th career double-double with 19 points and 12 rebounds, along with two blocks and three steals.

“It feels great, I’m just trying to be as consistent as I can for the team,” Morrow said.

No. 24 Is ELECTRIC ⚡️

📺ESPN pic.twitter.com/2wBUgCozS9

— LSU Women’s Basketball (@LSUwbkb) December 1, 2023
Sophomore guard Flau’jae Johnson also contributed with 13 points and eight boards.

LSU got off to a slow start with seven turnovers and shot just 4 of 15 from the field in the first quarter. But the tables turned as Virginia Tech was held to only three field goals in the next 10 minutes. After the Tigers collected themselves in the locker room at halftime, they started to pull away in the third quarter.

As a team, LSU outrebounded Virginia Tech 43-29 and held a 17-8 advantage in second-chance points. The Tigers got to the free-throw line significantly more, getting 26 attempts while the Hokies got 11.

Senior guard Georgia Amoore led the Hokies with 25 points. Grad student center Elizabeth Kitley fouled out with 4:35 left after contributing 16 points and 11 rebounds.

Thursday’s game was a rematch from the 2023 Final Four in which LSU took down Virginia Tech 79-72. After the Tigers dropped their season opener to Colorado, the reigning national champions have rolled off eight straight victories.

Next up, LSU plays host to the University of Louisiana-Lafayette on Dec. 10. Virginia Tech faces Long Island University in Blacksburg on Wednesday.

Here are the main takeaways from LSU’s victory over Virginia Tech:

Gaining confidence was key for Reese
Reese hasn’t been quite the same dominant player she was last season, but having her on the roster still makes the Tigers better.

She wasn’t off to the best start, as she picked up just four points and two fouls in the first quarter. Potential foul trouble for a star player is usually concerning for head coaches, but Mulkey wanted to make sure Reese found her rhythm.

“I don’t put them back in, usually, in the first half. But I don’t want to lose the confidence,” Mulkey said in the broadcast at halftime. “I’ve got her in the right mindset. The team feeds off of her.”

Mulkey already demonstrated she is not afraid to bench a player, even Reese, when needed. In fact, Reese got benched the entire second half of the Kent State game on Nov. 14. She played a total of 30 minutes on Thursday, and when she was on the bench, Reese was visibly supportive of her teammates.

She didn’t go off and had a historic game, but her 19 points and nine rebounds were still a solid contribution. Reese finished the night going 5 of 10 from the field and 9 of 16 from the free-throw line.

This is not just Reese’s team anymore
Reese led the team in scoring and rebounding last season, but this year the roster has a lot of other star players. Although the games the Tigers played without her were against unranked opponents, it was still clear this team has potential to be really strong even without Reese.

“They can obviously play without me. Just coming back and doing whatever it takes to win and I did as much as I could today,” Reese said. “We have a lot of leadership outside of me. Seeing this team grow from when I wasn’t here really shows a lot and I’m really happy for this team, where we are right now.”

Junior guard Aneesah Morrow and freshman Mikaylah Williams were the Tigers’ leading scorers in Reese’s absence, and they continued to dominate on Thursday. According to ESPN Stats & Info, this was Morrow’s 30th career game with at least 15 points and 15 rebounds –- 4th most in D1 women’s basketball over the last 25 seasons.

Morrow was also guarding one of Virginia Tech’s top stars, Elizabeth Kitley. She shared that difficult job with Flau’jae Johnson. Kitley is averaging 23.1 points per game while shooting 56.3% from the field this season. She only went 6 of 16 on Thursday on her way to 16 points.

Johnson was one of the “unsung heroes,” as described by Mulkey. Another one was senior guard Hailey Van Lith, who was assigned to guard Georgia Amoore –- the Hokies’ other leading scorer.

The team took a hit after losing sophomore forward Sa’Myah Smith with a knee injury last week. She was averaging 11.7 points on 66% shooting while adding 7.6 rebounds per game and a total of 11 blocks. However, LSU still has five other double-digit scorers and some tough defenders. Reese being back also helps in the rebounding category.

The Hokies need more time together
Virginia Tech has potential to make make some noise in the NCAA Tournament again, but it’s going to take some patience and more players to step up.

The Hokies did have some good moments against LSU, but overall there wasn’t a lot of balance. As a team, the Hokies had 14 turnovers, and only six assists on the night. Amoore and Kitley combined for 41 of the Hokies’ 64 points. They also took 40 out of Virginia Tech’s 64 field goal attempts.

Head coach Kenny Brooks acknowledged his team has some work to do, but he also felt positive about the fact that it is still early in the season.

“We need to get better. Gotta figure out our kids, their roles. We need to get tougher,” he said. “I’m just trying to build the chemistry amongst each other so we understand where we need to be. That’s what these games are for so we’ll continue to work and we’ll be a much better basketball team because of opportunities like this.”

09 Jan

Tennessee’s Kellie Harper aiming to raise cancer awareness after deaths of Nikki McCray-Penson, Tasha Butts

The world lost two Tennessee women’s college basketball legends, Nikki McCray-Penson and Tasha Butts, to breast cancer earlier this year. As the Lady Vols get ready to take on Ohio State in the Jimmy V Classic this weekend, Tennessee coach Kellie Harper talked to CBS Sports about their long-lasting impact.

“Two amazing people with big personalities who influenced a lot of people along the way. Whether it was their teammates, their coaches, their players, they had a profound impact, a positive impact in our game,” Harper said. “They were much too young. Much too young. So I think it’s been a gut punch, I think not only to the Tennessee Lady Vol family, but to women’s basketball in general.”

Tennessee is taking on Ohio State as part of the Jimmy V Classic. I talked to Kellie Harper about Tasha Butts and Nikki McCray-Penson, two @LadyVol_Hoops legends who died of cancer this year. @GeorgetownWBB’s Butts inspired the #TashaTough social media campaign 🩷 pic.twitter.com/m96oas2H1N

— Isabel Gonzalez (@cisabelg) December 3, 2023
The Jimmy V Classic aims to raise money and awareness for cancer research. The inaugural games took place in 1995 with only men’s college basketball teams. Women’s basketball started getting involved in 2002.

This year, the women’s games take place Sunday with South Carolina at Duke, UConn at Texas and Ohio State at Tennessee. The men’s teams will play a doubleheader Tuesday at Madison Square Garden, as Florida Atlantic will take on Illinois while North Carolina battles UConn.

Last year, “V Week” helped raise a record breaking $14.4 million, according to ESPN.

“I think we are still trying to figure this out. We are still trying to beat this. We are trying to beat cancer,” Harper said. “Obviously the Jimmy V Foundation, with the approach of finding research dollars, I think has made a lot of headway, but we are not there yet, and we are going to continue to spread that awareness and keep supporting that cause.”

Tennessee @LadyVol_Hoops head coach Kellie Harper on the importance of cancer research:

“I think everyone has a story, everyone has been touched or influenced by cancer at some point in their lives… We gotta continue to make strides, and I think that’s the message.” pic.twitter.com/yNTAHxJoIV

— Isabel Gonzalez (@cisabelg) December 3, 2023
McCray-Penson, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and three-time WNBA All-Star, died at age 51 in July. She was about to enter her second season as an assistant coach for Rutgers. Before her time with the Scarlet Knights, she was the head coach at Mississippi State. McCray-Penson was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012.

Butts died at age 41 in October, right before starting her first season as Georgetown’s head coach. She was diagnosed with advanced-stage breast cancer in 2021. Through her battle, Butts inspired the #TashaTough social media campaign. Teams all over the nation shared videos sending their support and best wishes.

“I think it did inspire a lot of people, and I think it also rallies the community,” Harper said. “… There were a lot of programs out there showing support, sending support, sending love to her and her family, and her program and teams during that tough time. I think it’s motivational, it’s inspirational and it’s rallying the troops.”

Lady Vols are #TashaTough!

Sending our love to LVFL @TashaButtsHoyas 🧡 pic.twitter.com/Z1HjzQbGYg

— Lady Vols Basketball (@LadyVol_Hoops) October 17, 2023
McCray-Penson and Butts stayed close to their alma mater, but the most important thing they left behind were not achievements on the court. For Harper, their love for life and kindness toward others will be the biggest part of their legacies.

“Big personalities. Infectious, big smiles,” Harper said. “I think the way they treated people is what you remember. Whether it was getting a happy thanksgiving text, a good luck text, seeing them on the road recruiting, they just made you feel special.”

Unfortunately, cancer diagnoses are far too common. According to the National Cancer Institute, roughly two million people are expected to be diagnosed with cancer in the United States in 2023. The hope is that as awareness spreads, there will be more early detection and someday even a cure.

“We have players that have lost family members, parents, to cancer. It’s a tough conversation,” Harper said. “It’s a though thing to go through for anyone, and in particularly young people. I think everyone has a story, everyone has been touched or influenced by cancer at some point in their lives.

“As we a society we continue to progress, move forward, we are innovative with technology. We gotta continue to make strides, and that’s the message.”

09 Jan

No. 3 Cardinal get blown out on road with Cameron Brink battling apparent illness

Gonzaga got its biggest win in program history with a 96-78 upset against No. 3 Stanford on Sunday, and a sellout home crowd got to witness it. The Bulldogs entered this game unranked and handed the Cardinal their first loss of the season.

Five Bulldogs reached double figures, and Brynna Maxwell led the way with a career-high 27 points and four 3-pointers. Yvonne Ejim added 25 points and 12 rebounds for Gonzaga.

“Honestly, God is good. Our whole team was playing,” Maxwell said after the game. “Stanford is a great team. Our coach put together a great game plan for them, and we executed. I think that was the best defense we’ve had all season. I’m just super proud of [my teammates]. It was just a fun game.”

Spokane, Washington is upset City, USA. Gonzaga smacks third ranked Stanford 96-78 in front of a sellout crowd. pic.twitter.com/CptLbKfXW4

— Andrew Quinn (@andrewquinny) December 3, 2023
The first two quarters were close, with the Zags only finding a 45-41 lead at halftime. However, Gonzaga fully took over in the third quarter, outscoring Stanford 32-16. The Cardinal won the fourth quarter, 21-19, but that wasn’t nearly enough for a comeback.

Stanford star Cameron Brink was only on the court for 11 minutes because of an apparent illness. To make matters worse for the Cardinal, starting forward Kiki Iriafen found herself in foul trouble. Those players’ roles being diminished led to Gonzaga outscoring Stanford in the paint, 44-34.

The Cardinal turned the ball over 16 times, and Gonzaga scored 21 points off those mistakes. The Zags also moved the ball better, finding a 21-15 advantage in assists.

“It means everything. It’s so cool that we have a lot of fifth years, a lot of seniors here, and we left our mark here,” Maxwell said. “We are not done yet.”

Gonzaga (8-2) will next play Cal on Thursday. Stanford (8-1) will get some time to shake off this loss and regroup, as its next game is all the way on Dec. 15 against Portland.

09 Jan

Huskies suffer third loss at the hands of undefeated Longhorns, Rori Harmon

No. 10 Texas defeated No. 11 UConn 80-68 on Sunday afternoon at the Moody Center. This marked the Longhorns’ first win against the Huskies in program history, and Rori Harmon had her hands all over it.

This is the earliest UConn has had three losses since the 1980-81 season, when the Huskies started 0-3 after a loss to Dartmouth on Dec. 2.

took care of business 😤🤘#HookEm pic.twitter.com/6BFL8tsPRN

— Texas Women’s Basketball (@TexasWBB) December 3, 2023
UConn was going to be Texas’ toughest test of the season so far, and Vic Schaefer’s team certainly delivered. The Longhorns got off to a 15-3 start in the first quarter, and they finished the second with a 10-2 run.

Texas had a 41-27 lead at halftime, with Harmon scoring or assisting on 30 of her team’s 41 points. The Huskies were shooting 55% from the field over the first two quarters, but the Texas defense only allowed 22 field goal attempts, 15 less than the Longhorns’ total. UConn star Paige Bueckers, who Harmon was tasked with defending, only had five shot attempts in those two quarters.

UConn kept fighting and went on a 7-0 run late in the third quarter. Texas wasn’t letting up, but the Huskies had another good push in the fourth quarter, cutting the deficit to 67-58 with six minutes remaining. The last few minutes were a battle, but UConn wasn’t able to complete the comeback.

Texas finished the game with four players in double figures, led by Harmon’s double-double of 27 points and 13 assists. Freshman forward Madison Booker reached a career-high 20 points. The Longhorns had 68 field goal attempts and held UConn to 44. Aaliyah Edwards led UConn’s offense with 22 points while Bueckers added 13 points.

“They’re a team that has very, very few, if any, weaknesses that I can see,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said of Texas.

Next up, UConn (4-3) will hope to right the ship against Ball State on Wednesday. Texas (9-0) will host Long Beach State that same day.

Here are some takeaways from Texas’ win over UConn:

Rori Harmon is one of the nation’s top players
Harmon won her battle against Bueckers, never allowing the 2021 Naismith Player of the Year to truly find her rhythm. Sure, Bueckers is still not quite the same player she was before her ACL injury, but Harmon held her to just four field goals.

“Rori not only ran our team, she guarded the best two-guard in the country,” Schaefer said.

Taylor Jones has been the leading scorer and rebounder for Texas, but she was limited because of foul trouble. That wasn’t a problem because Harmon’s 27 points and 13 assists made the entire Texas offense a threat for the Huskies.

Auriemma said Bueckers played “bad” on Sunday, but he had a lot of praise for Harmon.

“Offensively, I think [Harmon] just takes the ball and goes to her spot. I was really impressed with the control she has of herself and the game,” Auriemma said. “There was rarely a time when she’s trying to make a play that isn’t the right play at that time. And she takes shots that she knows she can make.”

Rori Harmon, everyone 🤘#HookEm pic.twitter.com/GYNYmtQJc5

— Texas Women’s Basketball (@TexasWBB) December 3, 2023
Texas capitalized on turnovers
The Huskies were not having a bad shooting night. In fact, their 59.1% field goal percentage marks the highest in a loss in at least the last 25 seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

However, the Huskies had almost as many turnovers as successful field goals Sunday, and taking care of the ball against a smothering Texas defense was a huge issue. The Longhorns were able to get 36 points off UConn’s 21 turnovers. Meanwhile, the Huskies only scored eight points off Texas’ nine turnovers.

Texas deserves a lot of credit because ball security wasn’t a problem for the Huskies up to this point. UConn entered Sunday averaging 12.7 turnovers per game, one of the 30 lowest marks in the country.

Rebounding was also a struggle for UConn
The Longhorns took 22 more shots than UConn, and part of it is because the Huskies allowed 16 offensive rebounds. Meanwhile, UConn only had five offensive boards. By the end of the day, Texas had a 15-2 advantage in second-chance points.

According to The Athletic, opponents are averaging 37 rebounds per game against UConn, which is the most since at least the 2009-10 season.

After the game, Auriemma said it’s clear senior forward Aaliyah Edwards needs help in the frontcourt.

“I thought Aaliyah was brilliant,” Auriemma said. “I thought she just was exhausted out there and she wasn’t getting any help from any of our other bigs.”

09 Jan

UConn drops out of top 15, South Carolina and UCLA still on top

A blowout loss to Texas dropped the UConn Huskies to No. 17 in the AP Top 25 this week — their lowest ranking in 30 years. They had spent 357 weeks in the top 15, the second-longest streak in women’s basketball history.

That was the Longhorns’ first game against a ranked opponent this season and they certainly delivered. Their 80-68 result was the program’s first ever win over UConn. Texas climbed five spots to No. 5.

Meanwhile, South Carolina and UCLA continued to take care of business and remain in the top two spots. NC State has been steadily moving up, and this week the Wolfpack made it to No. 3.

Sunday was a day of upsets, not just for UConn. Tennessee suffered a 20-point loss to Ohio State and has now dropped from the Top 25. Stanford struggled while star player Cameron Brink sat out most of the game against Gonzaga with an apparent illness. The Cardinal had to swallow a 96-78 loss to Gonzaga but remained in the top 10. Sunday became the Zags biggest win in program history, and earned them the No. 23 spot this week.

UConn, Tennessee and Stanford are historical powerhouses in women’s basketball and had not lost on the same day since Dec. 29, 2004.

Virginia Tech also dropped significantly to No. 15 after an 82-64 loss to LSU. The Tigers got the job done in the return of Angel Reese, who had missed four straight games for unspecified reasons. It was also head coach Kim Mulkey’s 700th win.

Florida State fell five places to No. 20 because of a 71-58 loss to Arkansas on Thursday. Meanwhile, Marquette is seeing the best start in program history with an 8-0 record, which helped the Golden Eagles move up to No. 19.

09 Jan

Utah star Gianna Kneepkens will miss remainder of the season with foot injury

Utah star Gianna Kneepkens will be out for the remainder of the 2023-24 season after breaking several bones in her right foot, head coach Lynne Roberts announced Monday.

The junior guard was averaging 17.8 points per game while shooting 63.3% from the field and 54% from beyond the arc. Kneepkens suffered the injury during a no-contact play late in the fourth quarter on Saturday’s 87-68 win over the BYU Cougars. Kneepkens fell to the ground after catching a pass and starting to run forward with under two minutes remaining. She had to be helped off the court.

“Gianna’s struggling. If there’s a kid that lives, breathes and sleeps basketball, it’s her. This is part of life. Life can stink sometimes,” Roberts told reporters. “This is going to be a process for her that she’s going to have to push through. She’s got a group of teammates that love her and coaches that love her. She’ll be alright, it’s still a little raw. The fact that the season’s over for her, she’s still working through that.”

As reported by DesertNews, Kneepkens had crutches and was wearing a soft cast on her right leg during Monday’s practice.

Kneepkens is expected to have surgery soon and will be looking to receive a medical redshirt to get the year of eligibility back.

The Utes currently hold a 7-1 record and were ranked No. 11 in this week’s AP Top 25.