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NCAAW tipoff: Beyond the top-10 drubbings, ranked teams are tested and DI newbie makes an entrance

Cassandra Negley
Yahoo Sports Contributor
Stanford had no problem taking the season-opening win on the first night of the 2019-20 schedule. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

The college basketball season tipped off Tuesday and 14 of the Associated Press’ Top 25-ranked women’s teams hit the hardwood. It was a standard showing for the six top-10 teams that opened their season, led by reigning 2018-19 champion Baylor’s sheer dominance and runner-up Notre Dame escaping an upset to join the 1,000-win club.

Top-10 teams handle business as expected

Defending champion Baylor, ranked No. 2 behind Oregon, was unfazed against New Hampshire and opened with a 97-29 victory. The Bears led 51-3 at the half.

No. 3 Stanford, fresh off playing the U.S. national team, opened with a 92-27 drubbing of Eastern Washington. The Cardinal was led by freshman Francesca Belibi, the McDonald’s All-American dunk contest winner, who had a double-double with 12 points and 15 rebounds.

No. 4 Maryland easily handled Wagner, 119-56, in a morning tip. The Terrapins, who return all five starters, came two points shy of tying the all-time school record set in 1992.

No. 8 South Carolina also hit triple digits in a 103-43 win over Alabama State. The Gamecocks led 17-11 through one and outscored Alabama State 62-22 in the second quarter to seal an early win.

No. 6 Texas A&M defeated Little Rock, 78-35, with 24 points and 13 rebounds from sophomore center Ciera Johnson. And No. 9 Louisville beat Western Kentucky, 75-56, with four of its five starters in double digits.

Notre Dame gets a scare, wins 1,000th

No. 16 Notre Dame lost all five starters from its back-to-back finals teams and one of its few returning scholarship players on the eve of the season. Yet it does have two of the nation’s top freshmen and behind them earned the program’s 1,000th win Tuesday night against Fordham, 60-55.

Fordham, the reigning Atlantic 10 champs, cut a 15-point deficit to two with 11 seconds to play.

Irish freshmen Sam Brunelle and Anaya Peoples hit double-digits in their debuts, and will need to continue their strong play if the Irish are going to be a contender in the tournament.

Minnesota, Syracuse get wanted tests

No. 23 Minnesota and No. 21 Syracuse squeezed into the top 25 preseason rankings and both coaches wanted an early non-conference test.

“We wanted to schedule harder, so we knew right away what we had and what we need to work on,” second-year Minnesota coach Lindsay Whalen said, via The Athletic earlier this week.

Missouri State, which is fresh off a Sweet Sixteen appearance, did just that and swiped a victory, 77-69.

The Gophers never led, got into early foul trouble, were outrebounded (41-21) and got beat in the paint (36-26). If not for 30 points off Missouri State turnovers, it could have been worse. Junior Destiny Pitts, the 2017-18 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, led the team with 18 points, shooting 6-of-8 from 3-point range, and six assists. The Gophers have three of four leading scorers back.

Amaka Agugua-Hamilton won in her first game coaching Missouri State, which was led by junior Brice Calip’s career-high 21 points and six assists.

Syracuse goes into the season without star point guard Tiana Mangakahia, who is recovering from breast cancer, and fell behind Ohio early. The Orange dominated the boards, 57-32, and turned a one-point halftime lead into a 66-54 win.

“We have a lot of new players," senior guard Gabrielle Cooper told Syracuse.com. "I feel like that was a nice game to get us going, to show us, ‘OK, now here we are. Here’s the season, it’s time to play, it’s time to pick it up.’ An easy blowout wouldn’t have done us justice.”

Playing tough competition early, even if it means falling out of the rankings, will build a better team down the road. Winning everything with blowouts — looking at you, No. 5 UConn — doesn’t make a great team, but identifying weaknesses and fixing them does.

Allow Merrimack, Davis-Stewart to introduce themselves

Merrimack played and won its first Division I game on Tuesday night, 79-64, over the University of Massachusetts. Senior forward Denia Davis-Stewart didn’t miss a beat from her standout year and put up a triple-double of 31 points, 13 rebounds and 12 blocks. She was 10-of-22 from the field, including 4-of-5 from distance and 7-of-7 from the line.

According to Her Hoop Stats, only three of the 34 triple-doubles last year included blocks. And only one of those three was for more than 30 points. Welcome to DI.

Historic triple-double debut for Boston

South Carolina freshman Aliyah Boston also joined the triple-double club in her collegiate debut, a 103-43 win over Alabama State. She had 12 points, 12 rebounds and 10 blocks for the program’s seventh triple-double all time. Head coach Dawn Staley was close to taking her out before she hit the marks.

It’s the first time a player has had a triple-double in her collegiate debut in Division I history. The 6-foot-4 center was the No. 3 prospect in espnW HoopGurlz’ 2019 class. The Gamecocks have four of the top 13 freshmen in the country and the top recruiting class.

Triumphant return for Duke’s Lambert

Kyra Lambert missed the last two seasons for Duke with a torn ACL she suffered March 18, 2017, in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The point guard was out a total of 962 days due to three surgeries, according to the Duke Chronicle, and checked into her first game back midway through the first quarter.

She notched a steal in the first minutes, but went quiet until the final seconds of the first half when she put up her first field-goal attempt in two years, seven months and 18 days. And it was a deep one.

Lambert was a top-10 recruit out of Texas in 2015 and earned her undergraduate degree last spring in cultural anthropology and environmental science. She had five points and three steals playing eight minutes, and Duke defeated High Point, 93-57.

What to watch this week

No. 14 NC State begins its season Wednesday night against North Carolina AT&T, and No. 24 Indiana opens its schedule Thursday against Mount St. Mary’s, which lost 67-44 against No. 13 Kentucky on Tuesday.

The action kicks back into high gear this weekend, highlighted by Oregon’s exhibition against the U.S. national team Saturday night and a top-10 matchup Sunday between No. 4 Maryland and No. 8 South Carolina. Yahoo Sports will preview the weekend action later in the week.

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