The next era of college basketball stars wasted no time in establishing themselves on the national stage Monday on the first day of the 2023-24 women’s basketball season. It was the freshmen who made the most noise as No. 6-ranked South Carolina and No. 10 Notre Dame opened the slate in the first college basketball game played in Paris, France.
MiLaysia Fulwiley shattered her way into highlight reels the way she scored her 17 points in a 100-71 South Carolina victory. Hannah Hidalgo scored a game-high 31 points, nearly half of the scoring total for Notre Dame, which began its season without point guard Olivia Miles after her knee injury in March. In the words of hoops veteran Kevin Durant, the two were “moving DIFFERENT.”
Hidalgo and Fulwiley moving DIFFERENT out here, turn on ESPN
— Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) November 6, 2023
Watkins is the only freshman named to the preseason Naismith Player of the Year award watch list; all are too-early contenders for the National Freshman Player of the Year award.
No. 1 LSU, which won its first title in April, plays No. 20 Colorado from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas at 7:30 p.m. ET on TNT.
MiLaysia Fulwiley is a full highlight reel
Not even three green Fighting Irish jerseys were going to stop Fulwiley. In the 10th playing minute of her collegiate career, the freshman swung the ball behind her back, drove into the paint without hesitation, quick-faked a dish to Kamilla Cardoso in the post and went up-and-under the final defender in quick time.
"THE EIFFEL TOWER IS SHAKING"!! OH MY GOODNESS 😱 pic.twitter.com/mpxRrCrS7y
— South Carolina Women's Basketball (@GamecockWBB) November 6, 2023
— Holly Rowe (@sportsiren) November 6, 2023
Ryan Ruocco, calling the game for ESPN, described the show-stopper in Paris with “the Eiffel Tower is shaking.” Magic Johnson called it the “best move in all of basketball” including NBA professionals. He named LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Durant, Nikola Jokić and sensational NBA rookie Victor Wembanyama.
I’m watching the women’s basketball game between South Carolina and Notre Dame right now and I just saw the best move in all of basketball including the pros like LeBron, Steph, KD, Victor, and Jokic. Everyone must see the coast-to-coast, behind-the-back move by freshman guard…
— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) November 6, 2023
For Fulwiley, a native of Columbia, South Carolina, it was a continuation of what she had done at WJ Keenan High School where the 5-foot-10 guard is the program’s all-time leading scorer and earned an All-America nod as a senior. She said on the broadcast she noticed hesitation by the Notre Dame defender on if she was supposed to pick up Fulwiley or not.
“I was like, all right,” Fulwiley said. “And I just felt like I was in high school, and that was my favorite move when I was in high school, so I just did it.”
The move sent social media into a fury, but she wasn’t done. In the third quarter, she found Te-Hina Paopao, a transfer from Oregon, under the basket in heavy traffic.
We'll leave this right here pic.twitter.com/rufrNc6jS6
— South Carolina Women's Basketball (@GamecockWBB) November 6, 2023
Fulwiley came in as the No. 13 recruit in the class. She won four state titles in six years on her high school’s varsity team. In her collegiate debut, she had 17 points shooting 8-of-14 with six assists and six steals.
South Carolina looks as mighty as ever
South Carolina is in revamp mode after five players were selected in the 2023 WNBA Draft. The “Freshies” class, including No. 1 overall pick and WNBA Rookie of the Year Aliyah Boston, lost only nine games in their four-year careers.
No matter, it’s looking as good as ever for the Gamecocks. Cardoso, a 6-7 center, stepped into the starting role and dominated with a 20-point, 15-rebound double-double. She had four blocks and was matched in the category by Ashlyn Watkins off the bench. Starting forward Chloe Kitts had two.
The perimeter play has been a pain point, albeit a small one, in recent years for South Carolina. Paopao, who scored 14 in her South Carolina debut on a 60% shooting clip, is an answer to that and was 2-of-4 from 3. She had six assists, three steals and three rebounds. Raven Johnson scored 11 points (5-of-10) with seven assists.
The team's field-goal percentage was 54.4% overall, better than all but seven of their 2022-23 games. Only one of those seven games was against a competitive NCAA tournament team when it was 57.4% against LSU in February. South Carolina, known for strong nonconference schedules in Dawn Staley’s head-coaching tenure, hosts No. 14 Maryland on Sunday.
Hannah Hidalgo dominates for Notre Dame in waiting mode
Notre Dame head coach Niele Ivey raved all preseason about Hidalgo, the No. 5 recruit in the class and the 2023 Gatorade New Jersey Player of the Year. And it was easy to see why within the first half alone.
Hidalgo scored 13 points within her first eight collegiate minutes and finished with 31, shooting 10-of-24 and 3-of-6 from 3-point range. She was 8-of-12 from the free-throw line and added four rebounds, three assists and three steals. She did have six of the team’s 18 turnovers.
The 5-6 guard scored a record-breaking 26 points in the 2023 McDonald’s All-American Game and tied the steals record with eight. She’s yet another strong shooting addition to a Notre Dame program that’s one of, if not the best, guard group in the nation. Sonia Citron, a 6-1 junior guard, had 12 points in a rougher shooting day (5-of-15, 1-of-6 from 3).
The Fighting Irish were a favorite long shot Final Four pick last season before Miles, one of the nation’s best point guards and passers, sustained a knee injury in the ACC tournament. She said last month playing in Paris would have been the “best-case scenario” and there is no timetable for her return. She has been cleared to play, but Ivey does not want to rush her onto the court. With Miles back, Notre Dame is an ACC favorite and deep tournament contender.
Juju Watkins follows in line of Lisa Leslie
Watkins scored USC’s first bucket of the 2022-23 season and never let up against one of the best defenses in Division I. The 6-2 guard scored a game-high 32 points, besting WNBA legend Lisa Leslie’s 30-point debut at USC, and was a plus-23.
“I feel like we’re underrated at this point and we had to come out here and get the dub as a team,” said Watkins, a Los Angeles native who stayed home for college.
She had 16 points, four rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block in the first half and played with three fouls out of the break. She drew her fourth foul late in the third quarter.
— USC Women's Basketball (@USCWBB) November 6, 2023
Her 61% shooting clip (11-of-18) was the best of any player on the floor except Ohio State guard Taylor Thierry (5-6) and she was near-perfect from the free-throw line going 9-of-10. She added six rebounds and five assists with five turnovers. Watkins is the reigning Gatorade National Player of the Year with back-to-back awards won at Sierra Canyon High School.
Rayah Marshall, a 6-4 junior center named to the Naismith award watch list, opened the year with an 18-point, 17-rebound double-double, six steals, two assists and two blocks.
Ohio State was led by 28 points on 10-of-19 shooting from Jacy Sheldon, their star shooter who opted to return for a fifth year. Thierry added 16 points. The team shot 39.7% overall from the floor, worse than all but eight games from last season.