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South Carolina remains undefeated and on top

By Arnie Leshin 
It’s kind of tough following the Division I women’s 2022-2023 basketball season. Mistakes in team records, mistakes in the top 25 standings, mistakes in who beat who and when and where.
 
Things like that. Okay, the top three schools are all undefeated, reigning champion South Carolina, Ohio State and Louisiana State all 18-0. That is correct. 
 
Next comes No. 4 Stanford, which lost 76-71 in overtime against the visiting Gamecocks in the season opener. But its schedule lists the Cardinal at 17-1, but it’s wrong after University of Southern California recently downed visiting Stanford, 55-46.
 
That was on a Sunday and the next day’s weekly polls dropped the Cardinal to No. 4 ahead of No. 5 University of Connecticut, last year’s runners-up, at 16-2 and on an 8-game winning streak.
 
Kind of strange, either the polls missed the Southern Cal loss or they thought it would be nice to keep Stanford at No. 4 and UConn at No. 5 as it plays visiting hapless Butler Saturday, while on Friday the Cardinal meets up with a huge challenge in No. 8 Utah (15-1), where in one poll says the Utes are No. 10.
 
Who’s right, who’s wrong? Does it matter, of course it does.
 
You’ve got Geno Auriemma’s Huskies with several injury problems and having to postpone two games because two of their scholarship players were sidelined. Although in reeling in a record 11 national championships, Geno the genius has been through a lot and has survived.  
 
But maybe this team deserves better. With these injury occurrences to the likes of 2-3 starters, UConn has vaulted from a pre-season No. 9 to No. 6, to No. 3, and now to No. 5, although eight in a row should have it right where Stanford is. 
 
The Huskies’ defeats were at Notre Dame and Maryland when they had one starter out and another injured early and rode the bench. 
 
Now Utah’s only loss was at Colorado, 71-67, and whether it is at No. 8 or 10, the Cardinal best be ready for this visit. With its program now sporting its highest-ever ranking, it has some size, some depth, and some confidence. 
 
But it’s the one-two punch of 6-foot forward Alissa Pili and 5-11 sophomore guard GIanna Kneepens that has spurred the Utes. 
 
Pili, from Anchorage, Alaska, is scoring at a 12.6 pace and bringing down an average of 6.1 rebounds, while Kneepens, a Utah native, with the team-best 15.1 scoring norm to go with 7.8 assists and 4.3 steals.    
 
The Utes lost on the road to a good Colorado team now at 14-3 and has scored over 100 points five times and four times over 90. Stanford, too, can score, and has broken 100 four times and the same times over 90. 
Stanford also has a one-two punch in 6-4 junior post Cameron Brink and 6-1 senior forward Haley Jones. Brink fouled out in overtime in the tight tussle with South Carolina and that was damaging as the Cardinal blew a 5-point lead.
 
The versatile Brink leads the team in scoring (13.6), rebounding (9.7) and blocks (6.3), Jones is right behind averaging 12.3 in scoring, 8.3 in boards, and adds 4.3 assists. Plus, you can’t forget 6-0 senior Hannah Jump averaging 11.8 and tossing in 59 of 130s from the arc. 
 
Southern Cal was impressive defeating Stanford by nine, is 13-4 and dropped a pair of tight one versus No. 16 rival UCLA by one and three points. 
 
For the Gamecocks, they could have a tough one versus Arkansas (16-3) coming up at home Sunday, but the big one is on the road on Feb. 5 against UConn in the final regular-season test. It’s a noon start at the XL Center in Hartford. 
Dawn Stanly’s team features 6-5 senior power forward Aliyah Boston, 5-9 senior guard Zia Cookie, 6-1 senior forward Brea Beal, 6-2 freshman Chloe Kitts, and 6-7 junior Kamillia Carroso from Brazil, a transfer from Syracuse.
 
Remember now about UConn, it has its number one player, junior guard Paige Bueckers, out for the season with a torn ACL suffered in the pre-season, 6-3 freshman Ice Brady also out with a pre-season injury, leading scorer sophomore 5-11 guard Azzi Fudd in and out of the lineup with first an ankle and now a knee problem, and then some.
 
But they can bank presently on 6-3 junior forward Aaliyah Edwards, 5-10 junior point guard Nika Muhl, 6-1 graduate senior guard Lou Lopez Senechal, 6-1 junior forward Aubrey Griffin, 6-5 graduate senior Dorka Juhasz, and 6-2 sophomore guard Caroline Ducharme, who has more than her share of injuries.
And there’s always talented 6-5 sophomore Amari DeBerry who can toss them in from outside and block shots.

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