Brittney Griner. Skylar Diggins. Elena Delle Donne. They all are seniors who have enjoyed a sustained level of success over their careers and have stamped women’s basketball with their ability and personalities. They are the face of Division I women’s basketball today.
Who’s got next? Which juniors are waiting in the wings for their moment to shine? Here are several standing on the cusp of being the next big thing:
Natalie Achonwa, 6-foot-3 Forward, Notre Dame
Kayla McBride, 5-foot-11 Guard, Notre Dame
With Diggins deservingly grabbing the headlines in yet another Notre Dame attempted title run in 2013, McBride and Achonwa can hardly be considered second fiddles.
Nicknamed “Ace,” Achonwa is the first international player to suit up for Notre Dame in the program’s 36-year history. She gained great experience competing for her native Canada at 2010 FIBA World Championships and 2012 London Olympics. That has helped take her game to the next level as a junior, as she is averaging 13.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game.
McBride, a solid player on both ends of the floor for Notre Dame, averages 14.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. The Fighting Irish are 23-1 this season and are tough to play from behind against, because of their expertise at the free-throw line where they lead the country, connecting on 80.1-percent of their attempts. McBride is a big part of this effort, connecting on 56-of-60 (93.3-percent).
Kelsey Bone, 6-foot-4 Center, Texas A&M
It has been an interesting journey for Bone, who started her college career at South Carolina, earning Southeastern Conference (SEC) Newcomer of the Year honors in 2009-10. She then transferred to Texas A&M following her freshman season, which at the time was a member of the Big 12 Conference. After earning Big 12 Newcomer of the Year honors last season, Bone is now back in the SEC with the Lady Aggies and performing to her usual high standards. Ranked third in the Big 12 and 19th nationally with a 52.0 field goal percentage, Bone averages 17.1 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. Behind the play of Bone, Texas A&M has returned to the national championship picture this season while enjoying a 19-5 overall record and 9-1 SEC revival.
Gennifer Brandon, 6-foot-2 Forward, California
Using every inch of her 6-foot-2 frame, Brandon has come up large for the Golden Bears this season as they continue to give Stanford all they can handle in the battle for the 2013 Pac-12 championship. Averaging a 13 point and 11.6 rebound double-double, Brandon also leads team with 23 blocked shots. Ranked 13th nationally in rebounding this season, hitting the boards is a big part of Brandon’s resume. She set the Cal record for rebounding as a sophomore.
Stefanie Dolson, 6-foot-5 Center, Connecticut
Bria Hartley, 5-foot-7 Guard, Connecticut
Dolson and Hartley both began their Connecticut careers playing alongside the legendary Maya Moore. Both now put their own stamp on the Huskies attack on a nightly basis.
Averaging 14.2 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, Dolson can change a game in many ways. The 6-foot-5 junior possesses an outstanding shooting touch, connecting on 62.3-percent from the field and 75.4-percent from the free throw line. An overlooked part of her game is her passing ability as she ranks second on the Huskies with 73 assists on the season, with only guard Kelly Faris dishing out more. The reigning Big East Player of the Week averaged 19.0 points and 4.5 rebounds in wins against Marquette and DePaul last week.
Not relied upon for her offensive production, Hartley leads a deep Connecticut team on the defensive end. A defensive stalwart, Hartley’s perimeter defense is one of the reasons that Connecticut is No. 1 in the country in scoring defense, allowing opponents only 46.8 points per game. Hartley’s all-around game includes averages of 9.4 points, 3.0 rebounds, while dishing out 70 assists.
Chelsea Gray, 5-foot-11 Guard, Duke
An All-American as a sophomore, Gray runs a Duke attack that has won 22 of 23 games this season. One needs to look no further than Monday’s boxscore which she filled in Duke’s 71-56 win against No. 7 Maryland. Gray led the way with 28 points that included 6 of 13 shooting from the floor, 13 of 14 at the free throw line, four steals, three rebounds and three assists. For the season she ranks second for the Blue Devils, averaging 13.6 points per game while leading the attack with 128 assists. Her assists per game average of 5.7 ranks her No. 28 in the country, one spot ahead of Diggins.
Maggie Lucas, 5-foot-10 Guard, Penn State
No. 3 in the Big Ten Conference and No. 18 in scoring average with 19.7 points per game, Lucas provides that and more for a Nittany Lion team currently leading the Big Ten by two games against Purdue. Penn State has won 15 of the last 16 games behind the conference’s best offense which averages 72.9 points per game. Also currently No. 18 nationally with 67 3-point field goals, Lucas has continued to refine her game since being named Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2011.
|WOMEN’S FINAL FOUR TICKETS|
A select number of individual all-session tickets to the 2013 NCAA Women’s Final Four in New Orleans are currently available for purchase by logging on to www.ncaa.com/tickets.
All-session tickets will enable the ticket holder to watch the two national semifinal games on April 7, beginning at 5:30 p.m. CT, and the national championship game on April 9 that tips off at 7:30 p.m. CT. All games will be played at New Orleans Arena.
Chiney Ogwumike, 6-foot-3 Forward, Stanford
Having the name Ogwumike stand out in a Stanford boxscore has become a Cardinal tradition. Following in the large footsteps of sister Nnemkadi, Chiney has emerged as Stanford’s go-to inside performer this season as the Cardinal attempt to make a run to the programs sixth consecutive Women’s Final Four appearance. She has recorded 19 double-doubles this season to tie for second nationally and is the only player to rank in the national top 10 in scoring (22.4 ppg — fourth), rebounding (12.4 rpg — sixth) and field-goal percentage (58.8 — sixth). Ogwumike has been named the Pac-12 Student-Athlete of the Week award winner five times already this season.
Meighan Simmons, 5-foot-9 Guard, Tennessee
Nicknamed “Speedy,” Simmons supplies the get up and go to the Lady Vols attack. The former SEC Newcomer and Freshman of the Year, Simmons’ career continues to blossom in Knoxville as she is averaging 17.5 points per game this season while leading Tennessee with 46 3-point field goals. She had a career-high 33 points in a win against North Carolina in early December. For Tennessee to again claim the SEC regular season championship, the Lady Vols will need for the streaky Simmons to be at the top of her game.
Odyssey Sims, 5-foot-8 Guard, Baylor
While Griner is Baylor’s go-to player and defensive trend-setter, Sims has been a steady hand in the backcourt for the Lady Bears over the last three years. Most basketball experts agree that Baylor would have been hard pressed to win the 2012 national championship without her support of Griner. Sims has averaged 12.7 points while dishing out a team-high 110 assists this season. She ranks among the Big 12 leaders in assists, steals, assists to turnover ratio and free throw percentage. Earlier this season she set a Baylor record by connecting on 38 consecutive free thows. Baylor is 62-1 in the last two seasons and it’s no coincidence that the Lady Bears saw their 42-game winning streak come to an end on Nov. 16 to Stanford, when Sims was forced out of the lineup due to a strained hamstring after only four minutes of action.
Alyssa Thomas, 6-foot-2 Forward, Maryland
With numerous players out with injuries this season, Maryland has survived behind the play of several others who have stepped forward to answer the call. Thomas has come up big for the Terrapins who came into play on Monday against Duke with a No. 7 national ranking. Known for her competitiveness, Thomas averages a double-double at 17.0 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. Together with senior Tianna Hawkins, who averages 19.0 points per outing, the Terrapins have a substantial one-two punch that coach Brenda Frese can count on for 36 points per game. Thomas also has 124 assists to lead Maryland. She has scored in double figures in 76 of 86 games in her college career with one triple-double this season.
The 900-win coaching club might grow by two new members within one week. North Carolina’s Sylvia Hatchell notched career-win No. 900 when the Tar Heels defeated Boston College on Feb. 7, becoming only the third coach all-time to surpass the mark, joining Pat Summitt and Jody Conradt. Rutgers’ C. Vivian Stringer remains one win shy of the 900-win coaching club after the Scarlet Knights lost on Feb. 12 at DePaul. Next up for Rutgers and Stringer is a Feb. 16 game at Connecticut. … Delaware senior Elena Delle Donne became the Colonial Athletic Conference’s all-time scoring leader when she scored 20 points in a win against James Madison on Feb. 10. Delle Donne needed 11 points to break the record of 2,667 points scored by Dawn Evans of James Madison (2007-11). Shooting 6 of 12, the 6-foot-5 senior also tied Gabriela Marginean of Drexel (2006-10) for most career field goals with 904. Delle Donne needs three more free throws to beat Marginean’s record of 684. … Kate Thompson of Michigan is now the schools’ single season record holder with 91 3-point field goals. … Brittney Griner of Baylor is already the Big 12 career scoring leader and is now 47 points shy of 3,000 career points. She extended her NCAA record for blocks — for men or women — to 693 with seven in a Feb. 12 victory against Texas Tech. … Behind Keena Mays the SMU Mustangs are off to their best conference start in program history. SMU is now 18-4 overall and 9-0 in Conference USA play. Mays who earned her fourth C-USA Player of the Week award last week, leads the team and ranks 15th in the country averaging 20.6 points per game.