February is grind time. Bodies are tired. Minds are weary. And the postseason still seems as if it’s miles away. Does what happens in February carry over to March? Only if teams have learned from their past lessons.
There are lots of lessons being handed out among the nation’s best teams, the lessons that come with losses.
How to assess the Power 10 in the face of difficult defeats up and down the rankings? By accounting for talent, experience and the ability to bounce back.
In this remarkable women’s basketball season, infallibility isn’t what will ultimately determine a champion. Instead, it will be the way a team turns its failures into assets. To learn the lesson.
Here’s the NCAA Power 10 for the week ending Feb. 10, 2020 (last week’s rankings in parentheses):
1) South Carolina (22-1) (1) The latest big test of the season — South Carolina has played 10 ranked teams this season, the most in the nation, comes Monday when the Gamecocks take on Connecticut. This is a team playing with confidence and swagger. An impressive win over Arkansas this week seemingly sets the stage for Dawn Staley’s team to cement their No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. South Carolina has never beaten Connecticut. This might be the moment.
2) Oregon (19-2) (2) Another team playing to its peak in this moment, the Ducks have won 10 in a row, six of those by at least 20 points. Beating Arizona and Arizona State this weekend, both in decisive fashion, sends a message to the Pac-12. Oregon is alone at the top of the conference standings and the Ducks are playing like they intend to stay there. Next up: a trip south to take on upset-minded UCLA and Southern California.
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3) Baylor (21-1) (3) The Bears had to grind it out for their 14th-straight win, putting up only 54 points in a win over Kansas State to maintain their two-game lead in the Big 12. Next up is a Wednesday night home matchup against second-place TCU. Kim Mulkey needs three wins to get to 600 in her career. She will be the fastest in the history of the college basketball — men’s or women’s — to get there.
4) North Carolina State (22-1) (8) A big jump for the Wolfpack this week thanks to eight-straight wins, including a win over Virginia Tech in their lone game last week. The Wolfpack, who lead the ACC in eight statistical categories, might be positioning themselves for a No. 1 seed at this point, and could go a long way in making a case this week when they host Louisville with a chance to expand their lead in the ACC standings.
5) Mississippi State (22-3) (7) The Bulldogs closed a three-win week — including two wins over ranked teams — by staging a comeback down double digits in the second half and beating Texas A&M. MSU’s lone game this week is a big one, against Kentucky at home.
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6) Connecticut (20-2) (4) Last Monday, the Huskies suffered their worst-ever home loss at the hands of Oregon and then came back to post a decisive win over Memphis in league play. But Monday has again arrived and it’s another huge test for a Connecticut team that is still finding its way, even with only two losses on the docket. South Carolina is playing as well as anyone in the nation and will be a huge road test — and opportunity — for Geno Auriemma’s team. Following Monday’s game, it’s back to the conference schedule for the rest of the regular season for the Huskies.
7) UCLA (21-2) (NR) The Bruins needed a big win in the Pac-12 and they got one Friday against Stanford at Maples Pavilion and then followed it up by escaping with an overtime win against Cal in Berkeley on Sunday. UCLA went 3-1 on its four-game road trip and now head back to L.A. for a very big weekend against the Oregon schools, leading off with the Ducks on Friday night.
8) Stanford (20-3) (6) The Cardinal lost its first home game of the season, falling to UCLA on a night that Tara VanDerveer called “a disappointment.” Stanford followed up with a 20-point win over USC. The Cardinal is still without guards DiJonai Carrington and Haley Jones, with no timetable for their return. Next up is a road trip to Utah and Colorado.
9) Louisville (21-3) (5) Two of the Cardinals’ three losses this season came this week, first to Florida State and then against Syracuse. In both games, the common denominator was a struggling offense. On Sunday against Syracuse, Louisville put up its lowest scoring total of the season with 51 points. The bounce-back is going to be a tough one for Louisville with a Thursday night game at North Carolina State.
10) Maryland (20-4) (NR) The Terps are back in the Power 10 after a 3-0 week in which they defeated Michigan State, Indiana and Rutgers. Maryland has won nine in a row and on Thursday, it faces No. 20 Iowa – the last team to beat the Terps back on January 9. A win would put Maryland on top of the Big Ten with four games to play before the conference tournament begins.