Even The Mighty Fall

A look at some of this year’s biggest upsets in college basketball

By Elisha Gunaratnam

When asked about all of the upsets that have taken place in college basketball this season, Geno Auriemma stated that this is “how things should be. … You’re going to see that happen more and more,” Auriemma said in an interview with ESPN. “Hell, that’s what everybody’s saying we need, right? It happens all the time in men’s basketball.”

By just the third week of the women’s college basketball season, six preseason top-10 teams had lost games already. By the end of the Thanksgiving weekend tournaments, that number was much higher. Here’s a look at some of the college basketball powerhouses who have been taken down by lower-ranked opponents.

UConn: Lost to Notre Dame and Maryland

With all of the injuries that they have had, UConn has surprised many fans this season with how many difficult games they have managed to win. However, as always, there are incredibly high expectations for this Huskies squad. It seems like fans will always be shocked when UConn loses a game, and this year’s losses to Notre Dame and Maryland were no exception.

Notre Dame’s Olivia Miles (5) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Connecticut on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Michael Caterina)

A win over UConn is always a special win in the world of women’s basketball—especially when UConn is one of your biggest rivals. Olivia Miles was the best player on the floor during the contest between the two teams on December 4. The sophomore point guard started the scoring with a drive to the basket and finished with 21 points on 10 for 18 shooting to go with 8 rebounds and 4 assists. She tallied 13 of her points in the tone-setting first quarter. With Azzi Fudd going down with an injury in the first half of the game, UConn struggled to keep up with Notre Dame’s firepower and couldn’t break through their opponent’s stifling defense. The Irish held UConn to just 36.8% from the field, well below their 54% average entering the game.

Prior to December 11, Maryland had never defeated UConn in a women’s college basketball game. Diamond Miller’s clutch three-pointer in the dying minutes of the fourth quarter changed that. Miller went 0 of 7 in the first half of the contest, but just like she did against Purdue and Notre Dame, she collected herself when her team needed her the most, and hit the shot that mattered. Credit must be given to UConn, who entered the game with only seven available players but still managed to keep the game close. 

While this year’s Huskies team is full of talent, if they are unable to keep their roster healthy, they’re going to find themselves in a difficult situation heading into March. UConn still has the likes of South Carolina, Creighton, and Villanova on their season schedule, and those teams are not going to take it easy on them just because they have a depleted roster.

Louisville: Lost to Middle Tennessee, South Dakota State, and Gonzaga

Fresh off of a run to the Final Four in 2022, not many fans could have anticipated Louisville getting off to this much of a rocky start to their season. When the team offense is humming, the Cardinals look great; when they can’t get a three-pointer to fall, the Cardinals’ offense crumbles. 

The team shot 19% from beyond the arc in their loss to Middle Tennessee (unranked) and made a meager 27.7% of its shots from the field. They scored a total of 49 points in the game. 

Interestingly, with the exception of their loss against Ohio State, Louisville has won every game that it has scored 70 or more points in this season. The Cardinals average 85.1 points in their wins, but only 62 points in their losses.

If Louisville wants to get its season back on track, they’re going to need to find a way to score even when the three-ball isn’t working for them. They still have powerhouses like Duke, NC State, and Notre Dame to get through this year, and if they want a good seed heading into the NCAA Tournament in March, they can’t afford to lose any more games against unranked opponents.

Maryland: Lost to DePaul

While Maryland has managed to pick up some impressive wins against the likes of UConn and Notre Dame this year, it was a bit of a shock when they lost to the unranked Blue Demons. 

The clash between Maryland and DePaul was a clash between two of the nation’s best players—Diamond Miller and Aneesah Morrow. Unfortunately for the Terps, Miller didn’t play her best basketball. Morrow had an impressive 22-point, 9-rebound performance despite getting into foul trouble, but Miller didn’t hold up her end of the bargain, scoring just 11 points and fouling out in the fourth quarter.

While it looked like Maryland had the momentum throughout most of the game, DePaul stunned the Terps, going on a 9–0 run to bring its lead to eight with just over four minutes left in the contest.

Maryland is a much lower seed than it was last year—largely because Ashley Owusu and Angel Reese entered the transfer portal in the off-season—but with wins over UConn and Notre Dame, the Terps have proven that they are a force to be reckoned with. If they want to work their way up to a 1 or 2 seed at the NCAA tournament, they need to find ways to keep Diamond Miller out of foul trouble and keep taking down higher-seeded teams. They’ll have chances to do that against Indiana, Iowa, and Ohio State before the end of the season.

Texas: Lost to UConn, Louisville, Marquette, and South Florida 

This has not been Texas’ season. The team started the year ranked third in the AP Top 25 Poll, and with their most recent loss to South Florida, they have fallen out of the national rankings altogether. 

The Longhorns are another team that has struggled to stay healthy this season. Rori Harmon has already missed five games this season with a toe injury, Taylor Jones (a transfer from Ohio State) has not played since November 27 and is considered day-to-day while being evaluated by the team’s medical staff, and it was just announced that sophomore forward Aaliyah Moore will miss the remainder of the season with an ACL tear.

In all four of their losses this season, Texas seemed to go cold in the third quarter, and just didn’t have the stamina to get itself back into the game. With injuries piling up, this could become a pattern if Vic Shaefer is not able to come up with a new game plan for his team.

The good news for Texas is that it has not lost a game by more than nine points this season, and when the Longhorns do manage to win, they win big. There’s still plenty of time until March, and Texas has until January 10 before it plays a ranked opponent again. They’re going to want to finish this year and start next year on a good note by picking up a few more wins.

Michigan: Lost to Toledo

After starting their season 9–0, Michigan’s streak was abruptly brought to a halt by an unranked team. In their matchup against Toledo, the Wolverines couldn’t compete with the Rockets’ lights-out shooting from the floor. Despite forcing the Rockets to commit a season-high 21 turnovers, Michigan was outscored 21–13 during the first quarter of the contest, and even though they got back into the game, it all came down to the final shot. When the Wolverines missed the final bucket of the contest, the Rockets calmly went to the free-throw line and hit the free throws they needed to seal the win. Toledo scored all 12 of its free throw attempts, while Michigan went a mere 15–21 from the same distance.

The Wolverines have had a relatively easy schedule in terms of the ranked teams they’ve taken on this season, so they’re going to need to learn from their loss to the Rockets to avoid repeating the same mistakes against tougher opponents.

Iowa State: Lost to Iowa

The Iowa State vs. Iowa rivalry is legendary, and when players like Ashley Joens and Caitlin Clark are involved, it becomes even more of a memorable matchup.

For all the success the Iowa State women’s basketball team has had this season, one glaring problem has emerged for the Cyclones. Despite all the scoring they brought back and all the experience they returned, their offense has gone stagnant at times and failed to produce for long stretches. That is exactly what happened against the Hawkeyes. The Cyclones shot just 36% (20-for-55) from the field including just 33% (9-of-27) from three-point range.

The offensive problems started early for Iowa State, which missed its first seven shots of the night. Although Iowa State closed the first quarter with an 8–0 run—one of the few times Iowa State got into any sort of rhythm offensively—the damage was already done.

Given that Iowa State shot 34% from the floor during their loss to North Carolina earlier this year, the Cyclones have to make some major adjustments before March if they want to be able to keep up with offensively gifted teams like South Carolina, Oregon, and LSU.

Iowa: Lost to Kansas State

When Kansas State lost star player Ayoka Lee before their season started, things did not look good for the Wildcats. However, Lee’s teammates were not ready to give up on their season. The Wildcats knew they were facing an uphill battle against the star-studded Hawkeyes, but they found a way to beat Iowa at their own game. Guards Serena Sundell and Gabby Gregory had an answer for every one of Caitlin Clark’s shots, each finishing the game with 24 points, and forward Sarah Shematsi matched Iowa’s Monika Czinano’s 18 points. The Wildcats were the scrappier team on the floor, and the Hawkeyes couldn’t quite figure out how to shake them.

Kansas State trailed by as many as 12 points in the first and led for less than two minutes in the game. They were down 76–69 after Clark hit two free throws for Iowa with 5:58 left in the matchup, but closed the game on a 15–7 run. 

The Hawkeyes have a tough schedule ahead of them. They still have to play Maryland and Indiana twice and have Ohio State and Michigan to get through before March. As fantastic as Iowa is on offense, it cannot afford to have its defense fall apart in these matchups like it did against Kansas State. 

Upsets are part of what makes college basketball so special. With it only being December, basketball fans are likely to be treated to several more surprises before the NCAA Tournament in March. The question is: will any team be able to knock down South Carolina?

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