Your Day in Women’s Basketball, January 29: Wild day of signings and hoops

Mizzou guard Aijha Blackwell (33).Mizzou Tigers vs. Arkansas in Fayetteville, Ark. on Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020.Hunter Dyke/Mizzou Athletics
Mizzou guard Aijha Blackwell (33).Mizzou Tigers vs. Arkansas in Fayetteville, Ark. on Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020.Hunter Dyke/Mizzou Athletics /

Free Agency frenzy is more like a blizzard with new signings every hour

I know there is plenty of time left in the year, but January 27th may have been the most riveting day of women’s basketball games and news we will see in 2021.

Confirming the reports by the wonderful people at The Next that we wrote about earlier this week, Candace Parker is a member of the Sky, Cheyenne Parker’s with the Dream, Chelsea Gray is in Las Vegas, and Kayla McBride will suit up for the Lynx. Absolute madness.

Each of these signings deserves pages worth of analysis, but the bottom line is that a bunch of teams just got a lot better. Other notable team switches confirmed today are Alysha Clark going to the Mystics which solidifies their defensive prowess, breakout scorer Betnijah Laney signing with the Liberty, and Aerial Powers joining a young and scrappy Lynx squad.

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Three key players resigned with their former teams, Jasmine Thomas with the Sun, Allisha Gray for the Wings, and Brittney Sykes with the Sparks.

So what does all this mean? Coming off of a year in which many athletes opted out, 2021 might be the most competitive WNBA season yet. Seemingly every team is adding or retaining star and role player talent (Indiana Fever, anyone home?), and there will be playoff-caliber teams that don’t get a spot in the postseason.

While there is still plenty of free agency and the draft to worry about, my early intuition is telling me that Chelsea Gray and A’ja Wilson on the same team will have championship implications.

Upsets and close games throughout the AP top-25

We began the day with three undefeated teams and now we are down to just one. The first to fall was North Carolina State, who forced overtime against 7-7 Virginia Tech with this wild shot at the buzzer from Camille Hobby, but the Hokies but up 26 in the extra period to win 83-71.

Aisha Sheppard led Virginia Tech with 28 points as they pick up just their third ACC win, but one the program will never forget.

In the only ranked non-conference matchup of the night #3 UConn traveled to Arkansas to take on the #19 Razorbacks. Arkansas lost a heartbreaker at the buzzer on Monday, and already proved they could compete with the elite when they took down Baylor earlier this season.

Down two at halftime, the Razorbacks exploded for 31 points in the third. It was a game of runs in the 4th, as the Huskies scored eight straight to take the lead with five minutes left, just for Arkansas to go on a12-3 run of their own. UConn had an attempt for a desperation three to tie the game, but it was off the mark.

It was all Chelsea Dungee for Mike Neighbors’ squad. The senior scored 37 and was involved in virtually every play on offense. Her ability to draw fouls in the fourth quarter was detrimental to UConn’s comeback chances. Paige Bueckers had 27 points in the loss, with a few big shots late which the freshman is already accustomed to taking.

The rest of the top 10 stayed safe, with Louisville and South Carolina winning comfortably, Maryland blowing out Michigan State, and Texas A&M taking care of Auburn. #14 Ohio State needed a fourth quarter surge to take down #16 Indiana and #20 Tennessee beat Ole Miss by only 1. #23 Northwestern beat Iowa despite 34 points from Monika Czinano and LSU upset #22 Georgia for the Tigers second ranked win of the season.

Like I said, what a crazy day. While every day will not be this exciting, free agency and conference college hoops will continue to provide highlights for weeks to come.

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