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Big-name women’s basketball programs returning to prominence

LSU coach Kim Mulkey reacts to a play in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against South Carolina in Baton Rouge, Los Angeles, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022 (AP Photo/Derick Hingle)

LSU coach Kim Mulkey reacts to a play in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against South Carolina in Baton Rouge, Los Angeles, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022 (AP Photo/Derick Hingle)

AP

Kellie Harper is working to bring the Tennessee women’s basketball program back into title action, and Lady Falls are closer to their traditional elite status.

She has a spin on other big name shows too.

The Lady Vols ranked fifth in Harper’s third season at their alma mater. Tennessee is among a group of the AP’s top 25 teams that are back on top after recent training changes. Teams like LSU No. 12, No. 15, Georgia Tech, No. 16 Duke, No. 20 Notre Dame, No. 21 North Carolina and No.23 Oklahoma, are thriving and poised to make an impact post-season under coaches hired since 2019.

Two of these teams, UNC and Notre Dame, meet on Sunday.

“You don’t just press a button and win games,” Harper said after Thursday’s win over Vanderbilt. “There is a lot that goes into that, a lot on the field, off the field, you have the right staff. You have to have the right system. … There is a lot of basketball to be played, so we are looking at it as there are a lot of opportunities for growth for for us “.

As Harper pointed out, there are still about two months left until the scheduled Sunday. However, these teams have positioned themselves in contention to host first-round matches in the NCAA Tournament.

“The teams we’re talking about are actually part of the conversation on the national scene right now,” said Debbie Antonelli, a college basketball analyst for multiple outlets, including ESPN. “None of those teams were talked about three years ago.

“Tennessee wasn’t on hand to go to the Final Four. North Carolina, the Duke, weren’t in the mix to go to the Final Four. Oklahoma wasn’t discussed as a top 16 team that could host the first and second rounds. And that’s the big key in the women’s game, And that’s a big part of it.”

So far, Lady Vols (16-1) is the best for it along with Tigers (16-2). LSU lured National Champion and three-time Hall of Famer Kim Mulkey of Baylor last spring to launch a program that hasn’t won an NCAA Championship game since 2014.

At Georgia Tech, third-year coach Neil Fortner took the Yellow Vests (13-3) to the Sweet 16 last year on the program’s first NCAA trip since 2014. It also provided stability after the school fired longtime coach MaChelle Joseph, while Courtney Bangart took over. in North Carolina around the same time after a turbulent period that led to the resignation of Hall of Fame coach Sylvia Hutchel.

For Banghart, who left Princeton after 12 years, the formula began with a dip in hiring, then a spray of graduate transportation assistance. Her first recruiting category was ranked 11th by ESPN and was topped by five-star detective Deja Kelly, now a sophomore and UNC No. 1 with a score of 17.6 points. Her next class scored third, behind only South Carolina and Ocon.

As a result, Tar Heels (14-1) are in the AP Top 25 for the first time since the 2015-16 pre-season poll.

“There are a lot of different approaches,” Bangart said. “It’s like the NBA. …There are multiple ways to build a team. One through the draft and one through the commercial wires. And that’s kind of the case in college. One through hiring and one through your transfer process. Watching both.”

A few miles away from rival Duke, year two coach Kara Lawson took a different approach. The Blue Devils—who had their season canceled after four games in Lawson’s first year—re-equipped them with seven strong conference transfers, with Elizabeth Balogun (Louisville), Lexi Gordon (Texas Tech) and Celeste Taylor (Texas) as regular starters in a balanced slate. a crime.

Duke (11-3) is seeded this year for the first time since the 2018-19 pre-season poll.

“I have felt since the beginning of the year … that we are a team that will continue to grow, but we have a chance to achieve a higher level of growth than some of the other teams maybe because we will gain that continuity as the season goes on,” Lawson said.

At Notre Dame, sophomore coach Niele Ivey reclaimed the Fighting Irish (12-3) again after she set a losing record in the final season of Hall of Famer Muffet McGraw followed by a 10-10 season in Ivey’s debut.

Ivey credited the arrival of backcourt assistant McDonald’s All-American Sonia Citron and new teammate Olivia Miles, who leads the country with an average of 7.8 assists. The team also added a transfer of Stanford graduate Maya Dodson to improve return.

“They understand the legacy and they understand this program,” Ivey said. “So our goal this summer was to continue working to restore the Notre Dame that everyone knows and plays at a high level.”

And in Oklahoma, the Sooners (14-2) were seeded for the first time since early in the 2017-18 season in their first year under Jenny Baranczyk, who left Drake to take over for retired Sherry Qualley.

Oklahoma has been 32-52 for the past three seasons, but it has its first win against Baylor since 2015.

“I love the balance we have. I love the belief we have. I loved that we kept playing,” Baranczyk said afterwards. “When we focus on ourselves and play like that and share the ball, it’s really fun. Then the scoreboard takes care of itself when we do that.”

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Associated Press writer Theresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed to this report.

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Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap

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More AP Women’s College Basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball, https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll, https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll : // twitter.com/AP_Top25

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