Women's Cayman Islands Classic Takeaways: Kiki Rice Shines, Reese Absent
Women's Cayman Islands Classic Takeaways: Kiki Rice Shines, Reese Absent
Here are the top takeaways from the Women’s Cayman Islands Classic, which featured dazzling performances from UCLA's Kiki Rice and LSU's Aneesah Morrow.
A star was born in the Caribbean this weekend, while another star remains away from her team.
If you wanted a dose of drama in the inaugural edition of the Women’s Cayman Islands Classic on Friday and Saturday in George Town, though, you certainly got your fill.
In a stacked field featuring four top 10-ranked teams, the event is one of the marquee weekends of the women’s college basketball nonconference slate for good reason.
The tourney featured some of the most recognizable names in the sport, including the defending national champion—LSU—who probably has more questions than answers following two days in the Cayman Islands.
Meanwhile, standout performances throughout the field announced players to the world on a big stage.
Here’s a look at some of the top takeaways from the Women’s Cayman Islands Classic, as part of FloHoops’ continuing coverage of women’s basketball throughout the 2023-24 season:
If UCLA sophomore guard Kiki Rice wasn’t a star in women’s college hoops already, she almost certainly became one in the Cayman Islands. Rice was a Pac-12 All-Freshman Team selection for the Bruins a season ago as the highly-coveted prep recruit—having won the Gatorade National Player of the Year in 2022—and had a strong first year with a UCLA team which made the Sweet 16.
However, the 5-foot-11 point guard has exploded onto the scene thus far this season for the No. 2-ranked team in the country. In particular, her performance against No. 6 UConn in the final game of the first day of the Women’s Cayman Islands Classic was a sight to behold.
Rice came close to a triple-double in a masterful performance, notching 24 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists in 38 minutes as the driver behind the Bruins’ 78-67 victory, their first over the Huskies in eight tries all-time.
It was a signature win for undefeated UCLA (which led by as much as 23 points in the third quarter). Rice set the tone in the statement victory by scoring 10 of the Bruins’ first 12 points right out of the gate.
There was no letdown less than 24 hours later in UCLA’s second game of the event against Niagara, in which the Bruins romped past an overmatched Purple Eagles squad 97-46 off the back of a 27-5 first quarter and eight points, eight assists, five rebounds across just 20 minutes from Rice. It was a flawless November for UCLA as the team took a massive step forward as a serious national title threat. Rice’s continued growth and comfort, especially while facing elite competition, can help both her and the Bruins go a long way this season and beyond.
No Reese, No Worries?
LSU’s trip to the Cayman Islands, even with two victories for the nation’s No. 7 team, was dominated by a single storyline: where in the world is Angel Reese?
The Tigers’ superstar All-American, who led LSU to a thrilling national championship earlier this year, did not travel (along with junior guard Kateri Poole) with the team to the event.
LSU coach Kim Mulkey did not share answers with the media on reasons for their absences, with Reese having been absent from the floor since the second half of LSU’s win against Kent State on Nov. 14.
As of writing, Reese and Poole’s statuses for the Tigers’ game in the SEC/ACC Challenge against Virginia Tech on Thursday in Baton Rouge are unknown. However, against Niagara and Virginia in the Cayman Islands, the 7-1 Tigers managed to make it back to the States without any further blemishes to their record.
LSU had little issue against the Purple Eagles on Friday in a 99-65 win—even after a false fire alarm delayed tipoff by about 40 minutes. Both Aneesah Morrow (28 points, 10 rebounds) and Hailey Van Lith (20 points, seven assists) had huge games as the Tigers smothered Niagara for 30 turnovers, allowing just 22-for-66 (33.3 percent) shooting from the field for the game.
The Tigers’ second game against Virginia on Saturday, however, was a lot trickier. Undermanned without Reese, Poole or sophomore Sa’Myah Smith (who injured her knee against Niagara), LSU only played seven players against the Cavaliers but got a mighty performance from Morrow.
Morrow, a transfer from DePaul, scored 37 points and 16 rebounds in a 40-minute shift as Virginia made the Tigers work in a game with 14 lead changes and 12 ties.
LSU weathered the storm and got out of the Cayman Islands unscathed. How long it will take to deal with all of the turbulence associated with Reese’s absence is the bigger question.
Adjusting Without Azzi
UConn can’t seem to catch a break. Injuries have plagued the Huskies over the past few seasons as they’ve rarely been at full strength, losing former National Player of the Year Paige Bueckers for all of the 2022-23 season due to an offseason ACL tear. They also had a rare instance of a postponed BIG EAST Conference game last year because they were under the league minimum of seven available players, for instance.
More bad injury news hit the Huskies this past week, as the program confirmed before the Women’s Cayman Islands Classic that junior guard Azzi Fudd would miss the rest of the 2023-24 season after suffering a medial meniscal tear and an ACL tear in her right knee in a practice earlier this month. Fudd, a supremely talented player, has already missed significant time due to foot and knee injuries in her college career.
Already without center Jana El Alfy (Achilles), forward Ayanna Patterson (offseason knee procedure) and Caroline Ducharme (neck spasms), it was yet another blow to the Huskies’ lineup.
The No. 6-ranked team had no other choice but to dig in and fight through it. UCLA had too much firepower on hand for UConn to handle in Friday’s top-10 showdown, but coach Geno Auriemma’s squad was able to recuperate and finish their trip with a 71-63 win over Kansas on Saturday.
Bueckers, named to the all-tournament team, was unsurprisingly excellent with a game-high 22 points against the Jayhawks as she poured it on with graduate guard/forward Aubrey Griffin (20 points) and helped stave away a feisty KU team which stuck around for most of the game.
UConn could use some rest, and with a week until another top-25 showdown at No. 12 Texas next Sunday, the Huskies will be hoping to get healthier and get back to being the best version of themselves.
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