Women's Power Rankings: Caitlin Clark, JuJu Watkins and the nation's top 16 teams

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark had been expected to break the NCAA women’s basketball scoring record in late February. But assuming all continues to go well for her, Clark has potentially sped up the timeline. And her success goes hand in hand with the success of the Hawkeyes, who return to the No. 2 spot in this week’s ESPN Power Rankings.

Clark was initially projected to break the record Feb. 22 at Indiana. Then it became more likely to be Feb. 15 at home in Iowa City vs. Michigan. Now Feb. 11 — Super Bowl Sunday — at Nebraska is also in play. Clark is 66 points away from the record and averaging 32.4 points per game. She’ll get the chance to inch closer against Penn State on Thursday night.

Clark could break the record and see her beloved Kansas City Chiefs win another Super Bowl on the same day. It’s at least a possibility.

Clark is now at 3,462 points; Kelsey Plum’s record stands at 3,527. Friday, the former Washington and current Las Vegas Aces guard was asked during a USA Basketball video call about the record. Plum said she’ll be happy to hand it off to Clark, and acknowledged the pursuit of the record weighed on her in 2017 and wasn’t an enjoyable process.

It seems to be a much happier journey for Clark. She appears to have kept the pressure from getting to her while focusing on the Hawkeyes’ success. Iowa at 10-1 is tied for the Big Ten lead with Ohio State, the only team to beat the Hawkeyes in league play.

Saturday’s 93-85 victory at Maryland was before a sold-out crowd (the standard this season for Iowa’s home and away games) and on national television. But a part of the Clark show has also been the Iowa show: sophomore Hannah Stuelke’s improvement; the consistently dependable play of Clark’s fellow veteran guards Kate Martin, Gabbie Marshall and Molly Davis; plus beneficial bench play.

Clark’s scoring pursuit and her all-around play — she had a season-high 12 assists Saturday and is now 20 away from 1,000 for her career — has brought tremendous attention to her game, the Hawkeyes and women’s hoops.

However, the attention also has spawned some absurdly wrong “hot takes” on Clark, such as the false suggestions that she will lose endorsements whenever she goes pro (she won’t), or that she is getting “extra time” to break the scoring record (she isn’t).

Clark is a true senior in her fourth year and has a chance this season to pass Plum, AIAW record-holder Lynette Woodard (3,649 points) and NCAA men’s record-holder Pete Maravich (3,667).



JuJu Watkins goes for 51 points, setting USC record in upset of Stanford

JuJu Watkins scores 51 points on 14-of-26 shooting as No. 15 USC defeats No. 4 Stanford 67-58.


The word “electric” perfectly fits the 51-point game Watkins had in the No. 15 Trojans’ 67-58 upset of then-No. 4 Stanford on Friday. It was the most points scored in a single game this season in women’s hoops, and the most by a freshman in Division I women’s basketball since Delaware’s Elena Delle Donne had 54 in 2010. It set the USC single-game record, and she also added 11 rebounds.

Watkins followed that up with 29 points and five assists in USC’s 79-69 win at California on Sunday. The two weekend wins were key for the Trojans to get back on track. The two victories in the Bay Area came after USC had lost three of its past four. The Trojans didn’t quite get back into the Power Rankings this week, but they’re very close.



Oklahoma hangs on at the buzzer to knock off No. 2 Kansas State

Oklahoma earns its first win in 20 years over an AP Top-2 team with a 66-63 victory over Kansas State.


Team of the week: Oklahoma

After losing four starters to graduation or injury from last season’s Big 12 regular-season co-championship team, Oklahoma took some lumps in nonconference play, going 6-5. That has turned around in Big 12 action: The Sooners lead the league at 9-1 after victories last week over No. 2 Kansas State (66-63) and in-state rival Oklahoma State (81-74).

Two-time Big 12 Sixth Player of the Year Skylar Vann is a starter this season and leads Oklahoma, averaging 15.8 points and 7.2 rebounds.



Purcell on upset: ‘A night I know I’ll never forget’

MS State’s Sam Purcell highlights the growth of women’s basketball and how the Bulldogs’ energy couldn’t be denied, resulting in their first top-10 win of the year.


Mississippi State became “StarkVegas” and reached unprecedented heights during the tenure of coach Vic Schaefer, who led the program to two NCAA finals. He left for Texas in the spring of 2020. His successor, Nikki McCray-Penson, sadly never had much chance to put her stamp on the program as she left before her second season because of illness. She died in July at age 51.

Sam Purcell took over at Mississippi State last season, going 22-11 and reaching the second round of the NCAA tournament. He got his biggest regular-season win to date Monday as the Bulldogs beat defending national champion LSU before an enthusiastic crowd in Starkville, Mississippi. They also won last week at Kentucky and Texas A&M, moving to 19-5 overall and 6-3 in the SEC.


Coach of the week: Lisa Bluder, Iowa

Sure, Bluder had a lot of players return from last season, starting with Clark, but she lost two key starters and has had to rely on some younger, less-experienced players to fill big roles. The Hawkeyes are again competing for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Bluder has allowed Clark to soar while fostering a strong team chemistry. And the leader in Big Ten women’s hoops coaching victories got her first win at Maryland on Saturday.

Power Rankings



South Carolina’s Fulwiley delights in tricking foes

After more dazzling on-court wizardry helps the Gamecocks to their 40th straight SEC win, 85-56 over Ole Miss, Milaysia Fulwiley explains how she “tricks” defenders.


1. South Carolina Gamecocks (21-0)
Previous ranking:
This week: vs. Missouri Tigers (Thursday), vs. UConn Huskies (Sunday)

The Gamecocks continue to cruise, beating Auburn and Ole Miss this past week. Starting center Kamilla Cardoso will be out the next two games as she joins the Brazilian national team for its Olympic qualifying event. Most teams would be alarmed to be without their leading scorer and rebounder — especially with a high-profile nonconference team visiting — but South Carolina’s depth has been a strength all season.


2. Iowa Hawkeyes (21-2)
Previous ranking:
This week: vs. Penn State Lady Lions (Thursday), at Nebraska Cornhuskers (Sunday)

On the road last week, the Hawkeyes scored 110 points and ran away from Northwestern. Then they saw a double-digit lead evaporate at Maryland but retook control of the game. Molly Davis and Kate Martin combined for 32 points, and Iowa was strong on the boards, outrebounding the Terps 48-32.



NC State Wolfpack vs. North Carolina Tar Heels – Game Highlights

Watch the Game Highlights from NC State Wolfpack vs. North Carolina Tar Heels, 02/01/2024


3. NC State Wolfpack (19-2)
Previous ranking:
This week: vs. Louisville Cardinals (Monday), vs. Virginia Tech Hokies (Thursday), at Pittsburgh Panthers (Sunday)

The Wolfpack have won four in a row, beating visiting Triangle rival North Carolina on Thursday. This week brings two more huge games to Reynolds Coliseum. Louisville and Virginia Tech are tied for the ACC lead, with the Wolfpack one game back. The ACC race is the definition of “logjam.”


4. Ohio State Buckeyes (19-3)
Previous ranking:
This week: at Minnesota Golden Gophers (Thursday), at Michigan State Spartans (Sunday)

The Buckeyes move into the top five of the Power Rankings for the first time this season after wins against Wisconsin and Indiana. Ohio State has now won nine in a row. Jacy Sheldon and Cotie McMahon led the way in a tough 74-69 win over the Hoosiers, combining for 45 points.


5. Colorado Buffaloes (19-3)
Previous ranking:
This week: vs. Oregon Ducks (Friday), vs. Oregon State Beavers (Sunday)

The Buffaloes jumped back into the top five after victories at Washington State and Washington. Those wins combined with Stanford’s loss to USC puts the Buffs in a tie atop the Pac-12 with the Cardinal at 9-2. Colorado won the only meeting between the two in the regular season, on Jan. 14.



Kiki Jefferson drains and-1 bucket for Louisville

Kiki Jefferson increases Louisville’s lead with an and-1 bucket.


6. Louisville Cardinals (19-3)
Previous ranking:
This week: at NC State Wolfpack (Monday), vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Thursday), at Syracuse Orange (Sunday)

The Cardinals beat Syracuse last week, led by Kiki Jefferson’s 21 points, and are in the top 10 of the Power Rankings for the first time this season. Now they can show they belong there as they face their toughest week of the ACC season against three ranked foes. Louisville’s only league loss thus far was at North Carolina on Jan. 21.


7. Stanford Cardinal (20-3)
Previous ranking:
This week: at Washington Huskies (Friday), at Washington State Cougars (Sunday)

The Cardinal couldn’t stop Watkins in a 67-58 loss to USC on Friday. But her 51 points wasn’t the only problem; Stanford’s anemic offense was as big a concern. In Sunday’s 80-60 victory over UCLA, though, the Cardinal addressed both issues. They held the Bruins to 29.4% shooting, and Cameron Brink and Kiki Iriafen combined for 37 points and 26 rebounds.


8. Kansas State Wildcats (20-3)
Previous ranking:
This week: vs. Oklahoma State Cowgirls (Saturday)

The Wildcats’ stay at No. 2 was short-lived after losses on the road to Oklahoma and Texas. Those defeats also moved them a half-game out of first place in the Big 12. However, they have some time to regroup with just one game this week, and center Ayoka Lee could return from an ankle injury in two weeks.


9. Texas Longhorns (21-3)
Previous ranking:
This week: at TCU Horned Frogs (Saturday)

It was a great week for the Longhorns. Madison Booker scored a combined 42 points to lead Texas over Baylor and Kansas State. The wins avenged losses to the Bears and Wildcats earlier this season. More good news: Forward DeYona Gaston returned to action in both games after being out with an injury since Jan. 13.



LSU’s Van Lith: ‘Coach challenged us to be tough’

After she posts season highs both in points (21) and rebounds (seven) in a 106-66 rout of Florida, Hailey Van Lith says the Tigers met the mandate of their coach.


10. LSU Tigers (19-4)
Previous ranking:
This week: at Vanderbilt Commodores (Thursday), vs. Alabama Crimson Tide (Sunday)

After LSU fell at Mississippi State on Monday for its second consecutive loss, coach Kim Mulkey wasn’t sounding the alarm bells. She just told her team to play tougher. Florida bore the brunt of it, with the Tigers beating the Gators 106-66 on Sunday. Hailey Van Lith, who has faced her share of critics, had a season-high 21 points against Florida.


11. UConn Huskies (19-4)
Previous ranking:
This week: vs. Seton Hall Pirates (Wednesday), at South Carolina Gamecocks (Sunday)

The Huskies stayed put in the Power Rankings this week after victories over Villanova and St. John’s. Aaliyah Edwards had a combined 55 points and 20 rebounds; her 33 points against the Red Storm was a career high. The Huskies are dominating the Big East, so the upcoming nonconference game at South Carolina is very big for UConn.


12. UCLA Bruins (17-4)
Previous ranking:
This week: vs. Arizona Wildcats (Friday), vs. Arizona State Sun Devils (Sunday)

The Bruins are 3-4 in their past seven games, and they fall out of the top 10 in the Power Rankings for the first time this season. They won at California but lost at Stanford over the weekend. Sophomore standout Lauren Betts has missed the past four games for an undisclosed medical reason, but coach Cori Close said she expects her back this season.


13. Indiana Hoosiers (18-3)
Previous ranking:
This week: vs. Michigan State Spartans (Thursday), vs. Purdue Boilermakers (Sunday)

The Hoosiers beat Maryland but lost at Ohio State this past week. Their only two losses in Big Ten play are to the teams tied for first in the league: the Buckeyes and Iowa, both on the road. Indiana will have another shot at Iowa later this month.


14. Virginia Tech Hokies (17-4)
Previous ranking:
This week: at NC State Wolfpack (Thursday), vs. Boston College Eagles (Sunday)

Since their back-to-back losses to Florida State and Duke in mid-January, the Hokies have won five in a row. That included victories this past week against Virginia and North Carolina, with Elizabeth Kitley getting a combined 48 points and 33 rebounds, and Georgia Amoore a combined 41 points and 25 assists.


15. Oregon State Beavers (18-3)
Previous ranking:
This week: at Utah Utes (Friday), at Colorado Buffaloes (Sunday)

After making their Power Rankings debut last week, the Beavers got a scare at rival Oregon on Sunday but won 64-60 behind Raegan Beers’ 14 points and 16 rebounds. Oregon State’s next four games are all against ranked teams.


16. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (17-4)
Previous ranking:
This week: at Louisville Cardinals (Thursday), at Florida State Seminoles (Sunday)

The Irish followed their big win at UConn with victories over Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh. It was another stat-stuffing week for freshman Hannah Hidalgo with a combined 57 points, 13 assists and 9 steals. Like several other teams, Notre Dame remains in the ACC title hunt.

Dropped out: None

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