Typically, we can often learn the most about the best women’s college basketball teams in the country when they play tough non-conference games. The contests that come against unfamiliar opponents in new environments.
Because usually, the best of the best can run the table in conference play. Last year, UConn owned the American Athletic Conference again, Baylor went 18-0 in the Big 12, and Notre Dame lost just twice in ACC play. We found out what these teams were really made of when they played each other: like when Notre Dame lost to UConn last December, or when Baylor fell to Stanford in the same month. Notre Dame fixed the mistakes they made in that game and beat the Huskies at the Final Four, while the Lady Bears rebounded in a big way, never losing another game for the rest of the season.
This season, there are several non-conference match-ups featuring teams with Women’s Final Four aspirations. These will be important games and could be used as measuring sticks for a team’s potential.
Here’s three that you can’t miss.
Baylor vs. South Carolina — St. Thomas, USVI: Nov. 30 (FloHoops)
When these two teams meet at the Paradise Jam, it’ll be the second straight time they’ve met on a neutral court. The Lady Bears bested the Gamecocks in the Sweet 16 in Greensboro, North Carolina last season by 25 points, en route to winning the regional and eventually the national championship.
Baylor will be looking to repeat and defend its title, returning a strong backcourt of DiDi Richards and Juicy Landrum, along with Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Lauren Cox. What will make this game a bit more interesting is that Baylor added Te’a Cooper, a grad transfer from South Carolina. Cooper was an All-SEC Second Team selection last season, averaging 11.9 points per-game.
South Carolina will be young, but very talented. Dawn Staley landed a top recruiting class, and the group will be led by Herbert Harrigan and Tyasha Harris. An All-SEC talent and Lieberman Award Finalist, Harris averaged 10.9 points and 5.3 assists per-game last season.
N.C. State vs. Maryland — Raleigh, N.C.: Dec. 5 (ESPN)
With Notre Dame losing five starters and Asia Durr departing from Louisville, the ACC seems wide-open this season and could be N.C. State’s for the taking. The Wolfpack made the Sweet 16 last season and return key contributors in Elissa Cunane, Aislinn Konig, Erika Cassell, Kai Crutchfield and Grace Hunter. Also, the Wolfpack get Kaila Easy back from injury and welcome a top recruiting class to Raleigh.
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After a stellar regular season, the Terps had a disappointing finish to the 2018-19 season, falling in the Big Ten Championship game and then getting eliminated in the second round of the NCAA tournament at home by UCLA. Maryland will look to finish stronger this year, with most of its scoring returning. Leading the pack will be Kaila Charles, an All-American talent who was an All-Big Ten selection last season.
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Maryland and N.C. State have a long history dating back to the Terps’ days in the ACC, but the rivalry was renewed in 2018 with the Wolfpack taking a 14-point win at home in the NCAA tournament.
UConn vs. Oregon — Storrs, Connecticut: Feb. 3, 2020 (ESPN2)
This one should be fun, and it will be the first trip to Storrs for Oregon’s star guard, Sabrina Ionescu. A season ago, both of these teams made the Final Four, but each fell in the semifinal round. They’ll each be looking to get back there in 2020.
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Oregon will be led by Ionescu, of course. The NCAA’s all-time leader in triple-doubles is back for her senior campaign after winning the Wooden, Wade and Lieberman awards last season while averaging 19.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 8.1 assists per-game last season. The Ducks also return leading three-point shooter Erin Boley and leading rebounder Ruthy Hebard. Satou Sabally will be called on to make plays too.
The cupboard of returning players is bit emptier for a reloading UConn team. All-Americans Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson are gone, but the Huskies can still lean on Crystal Dangerfield, Megan Walker, Christyn Williams and Olivia Nelson-Odoa, players who all saw significant minutes last season. Dangerfield, a senior, was an All-AAC selection last season. Once again, the expectation for the Huskies is to win their conference and make the Final Four.