ap top 25 womens basketball poll caitlin clarks latest scoring surge could push up record breaking moment

AP Top 25 women’s basketball poll: Caitlin Clark’s latest scoring surge could push up record-breaking moment

If no team wanted to claim No. 2 in the country, I think we would all understand.

The second-ranked team in the Associated Press poll lost for a fourth consecutive week when Kansas State went down against both unranked Oklahoma and then-No. 12 Texas.

UConn lost in the first week when holding the spot, followed by Iowa in Week 2, UCLA in Week 10 and Iowa again in Week 11. Two weeks ago, UCLA held the position and dropped games to then-16 Utah in overtime as well as unranked Washington State.

The recent upheaval near the top of the rankings has a common thread, which we’ll get to below. First, a look at the scoring title and record books.

[See complete Week 14 Women’s Basketball AP Poll here.]

Caitlin Clark heating up en route to scoring title

Caitlin Clark is on a heater at what many Iowa season ticket holders might quietly say isn’t the best time.

Clark is averaging 39 points over the last four games, beginning with a 45-point surge in an overtime loss to Ohio State and extending to 38 points against Maryland on Saturday. It’s a bucket more than her previous four-game career best of 37 ppg at the end of December.

With the NCAA tournament around the corner, Iowa fans should be ecstatic their high-scoring superstar is hotter than ever. It’s the program’s best shot at the school’s first basketball championship after the Hawkeyes fell short in the 2023 national title game.

And they are. Yet, Clark averaging seven points more than her season-long average means that the timeline might move up for passing Kelsey Plum as the Division I all-time leading scorer. Clark is 66 points from breaking the record and would do it in two games at her current pace. That would place it on Feb. 11 against Nebraska instead of the long-circled Feb. 15 matchup against Michigan.

There are two major notes about a timeline shift. Iowa is on the road for that contest, and that date probably sounds familiar because it’s the Super Bowl.

There’s nothing like celebrating a milestone at home and the Hawkeye faithful have been solid supporters of their women’s hoops since long before Clark committed to the school. The fans who sold out the arena for the entire season by purchasing season tickets would surely like to see her do it at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Feb 3, 2024; College Park, Maryland, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes guard Caitlin Clark (22) celebrates with guard Sydney Affolter (3) and guard Molly Davis (1) during the second half against the Maryland Terrapins at Xfinity Center. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY SportsFeb 3, 2024; College Park, Maryland, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes guard Caitlin Clark (22) celebrates with guard Sydney Affolter (3) and guard Molly Davis (1) during the second half against the Maryland Terrapins at Xfinity Center. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Feb 3, 2024; College Park, Maryland, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes guard Caitlin Clark (22) celebrates with guard Sydney Affolter (3) and guard Molly Davis (1) during the second half against the Maryland Terrapins at Xfinity Center. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

As for the Super Bowl, tip-off is well before kickoff. It’s a 1 p.m. ET game on FOX while the big game is set for 6:30 p.m. That makes for a solid day of sports programming. It would also limit the spotlight that could have been on Clark and women’s basketball if it didn’t fall on the same day as the Super Bowl, which dwarfs everything it’s up against in terms of ratings, attention and coverage. And that’s not only within sports. It takes over entertainment and news as well.

None of this really matters all that much. Clark is a transcendent talent who has drawn millions of eyeballs in her quest for the record thanks in part to the name, image, likeness era that puts her in commercials and on everyday consumable products. She’ll pass the record when she passes the record, and it will be celebratory all the same. The beauty of sports is it’s unpredictable, and that includes record-breakers.

Iowa (21-2, 10-1 Big Ten) hosts Penn State on Thursday (9 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network) for its (fitting) National Girls and Women in Sports Celebration. Clark is averaging 25.5 points over four career games against the Nittany Lions. In eight games against Nebraska, she’s averaging 34.8 ppg.

Hitting those averages exactly (rounding up to 26 and 35) would mean she’d break the record in the first quarter at home on Feb. 15. She would need about five points.

With the streak she’s on, it would be wise to start the Super Bowl parties early. She entered last week averaging 26 points in six games against Maryland. Then she dropped her third 38-point outing of the year.

Fifth-year players entering record books

Clark’s title takeover is “clean,” if you will. The 22-year-old is a true senior in her fourth year and will pass the record in fewer games than it took Plum to break it. Plum set the mark on Feb. 25, 2017, in Washington’s final regular season game. It was her 135th game whereas Clark will break it before her 130th game.

But there will be plenty of entries in the NCAA record books this upcoming month from players in their fifth year due to the COVID-19 waiver. Iowa State forward Ashley Joens scored 3,060 points in her five-year career and is 11th on the all-time list.

She was bumped down because of Clark and Syracuse star guard Dyaisha Fair, who quickly overtook her within the last month. Fair scored 38 points in a win over Boston College to further solidify her position as sixth all time. She has 3,167 points and 10 or so games left in her career.

Some may not recognize them as legitimate marks. But in sports, there is always some type of advantage or good fortune. Injuries can impact a players’ game total, or ability to play at the highest level. Not every team plays the same schedule, leaving some easier opponents to pad totals. Styles change over the years. So do defenses and which powerhouse is standing in the way.

There are many different eras of collegiate basketball. We’re finishing out the COVID era.

UCLA, Kansas State struggle without their bigs

There’s one thread between the upheaval at the top the last two weeks. Both Kansas State and UCLA, which lost another rough game this week to then-No. 4 Stanford, are adjusting temporarily to playing without their efficient bigs.

The Wildcats have been without 6-foot-6 center Ayoka Lee, who holds the record for most points in a single game, since Jan. 19 when she underwent ankle surgery. The initial timeline is four weeks for the redshirt senior.

UCLA is without 6-7 sophomore Lauren Betts, who last played in the loss at Utah. She did not play the final three minutes of regulation and started overtime, but was pulled out for good 38 seconds into it. She has missed four games due to an undisclosed medical reason. Head coach Cori Close said on Sunday she expects Betts to return this season.

Both offenses are built around getting their stars touches on every possession. They are two of the most efficient in the game and two of the tallest, most talented centers in the country. Entering Sunday, Betts was second in field goal percentage (68.3) and Lee ranked fourth (67.7). Lee is second in player efficiency rating (47.4) behind only Stanford’s Cameron Brink (52.2) and slightly above Clark (46.1).

Defensively, opponents are having an easier time attacking the paint on UCLA and Kansas State. Stanford’s dynamic frontcourt duo of Brink and Kiki Iriafen combined for 37 points, 26 rebounds and eight blocks (Brink put up 19/19/7).

Going into the heart of a conference schedule without those key pieces is tough to overcome.

Yahoo Sports’ AP ballot

1. South Carolina (21-0)
2. Iowa (21-2)
3. N.C. State (19-2)
4. Colorado (19-3)
5. Stanford (20-3)
6. Kansas State (20-3)
7. Ohio State (19-3)
8. Texas (21-3)
9. UCLA (17-4)
10. Indiana (18-3)
11. Notre Dame (17-4)
12. USC (16-4)
13. UConn (19-4)
14. Virginia Tech (18-4)
15. LSU (19-4)
16. Baylor (17-4)
17. Louisville (19-3)
18. Gonzaga (22-2)
19. Utah (17-6)
20. Syracuse (18-4)
21. Creighton (18-3)
22. Oregon State (18-3)
23. North Carolina (15-8)
24. West Virginia (19-2)
25. Princeton (17-3)

Week 14 AP rankings

1. South Carolina
2. Iowa
3. NC State
4. Colorado
5. Ohio State
6. Stanford
7. Texas
8. Kansas State
9. UCLA
10. USC
11. UConn
12. Notre Dame
13. LSU
14. Indiana
15. Louisville
16. Virginia Tech
17. Oregon State
18. Baylor
19. Gonzaga
20. Utah
21. Creighton
22. West Virginia
23. Syracuse
24. Oklahoma
25. Princeton

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