Every week, NCAA.com's Starting Five will bring you a look at some of the top women's basketball players in the country. Here are this week's standout competitors:
Nina Davis, Baylor, Jr., Forward
Nina Davis averaged 23.3 points and 5.6 rebounds in Baylor’s three victories last week over Oral Roberts, previously undefeated No. 23 Miami (Fla.) and James Madison. In addition, she shot 61.2 percent (30-49) from the floor and 10-11 (90.9%) from the free throw line. Davis poured in 26 points and hauled down six rebounds vs. Oral Roberts. She hit 12-of-16 shots (.750) and nailed both of her free throws. In the Florida Sunshine Classic against Miami, the junior tallied 25 points, seven rebounds, three assists, three steals and a blocked shot. She was 10-of-15 from the floor and was 5-of-5 from the free throw line. She came back with 19 points in the win over James Madison. Davis is the No. 2 scorer in the Big 12 this season at 17.8 points per game. Baylor returns to action on Dec. 30 with its Big 12 opener at Oklahoma State.
Ariel Hearn, Memphis, Sr., Guard
Ariel Hearn again filled up the stat sheet for Memphis, averaging 23.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, five assists and 3.5 steals in a 2-0 week for the Tigers. The senior shot 50 percent from the field (16-of-32) and 81.8 percent from the charity stripe. Hearn started the week by converting a game-winning three-point play with 6.5 seconds remaining in regulation to boost Memphis past Central Michigan, 64-61. The product of Memphis, Tennessee, finished with 18 points, four rebounds and four assists against the Chippewa. The guard produced a well-rounded performance with 29 points on 8-of-14 shooting (57.1-percent), seven rebounds, six assists and five steals in an 81-75 win against Illinois over the weekend. With her 29 points, Hearn moved into the top-10 on the Tigers all-time scoring chart. She sits in the No. 10 spot with 1,664 career points. Her six assists against Illinois give Hearn 352 for her career and placed her in the No. 8 spot on the Memphis all-time assists chart. Hearn now is the only player in Tigers history with 1,500 points and 350 assists for a career. The 2-0 week pushed Memphis to a 6-5 record heading into American Athletic Conference play after the Christmas break. The Tigers return to action Dec. 30 with their league opener at Temple.
Jasmine Nwajei, Wagner, Jr., Guard
After averaging 37.5 points per game in two outings last week, Wagner guard Jasmine Nwajei was named Co-Northeast Conference Player of the Week. Nwajei started the week by pouring in a school-record 45 points at home vs. Stony Brook on Dec. 18. She followed that up by hitting the 30-point plateau for the third time this season and 13th time in her career in a 78-50 loss to Penn on Dec. 21. The nation's No. 2 scorer last season at 24.8 points per game, Nwajei broke the previous school record of 43 points set by Stephanie Samuels nearly 30 years ago, on February 18, 1986, at Fairleigh Dickinson. The 5-8 New York City guard's previous career high was 40 vs. Columbia in 2014. Against Stony Brook, Nwajei shot 16-of-40 from the floor, including 5-of-11 marksmanship from three-point range, while going 8-of-12 from the free throw line. She committed just one turnover in the game while playing the entire 40 minutes. Nwajei, who improved her season scoring average to 21.2 points per game this season, also moved into seventh place on the Wagner all-time career scoring list, with 1,447 points, as she surpassed Hall of Famer Chris Anderson whose 1,429 career points now rank eighth. Wagner is next in action on December 30 when the Green & White travels to Columbia to meet the Lions.
Jessica Shepard, Nebraska, Fr., Forward
Hoping to contend for the Big Ten Conference title this season, Nebraska gained momentum as Jessica Shepard set a Huskers freshman record with 35 points in a 90-67 win over Northern Arizona on Dec. 19 and then followed that up with her fourth double-double of the season with 19 points and a career-high 13 rebounds as the Huskers defeated Arkansas State, 79-71 on Dec. 21. The 6-4 freshman from Fremont, Neb., also pulled down 21 rebounds in the two wins. Shepard's 35 points against Northern Arizona came on 12-of-16 shooting from the floor and included 11 free throws. Her performance surpassed Nebraska's previous freshman mark of 34 points by Debra Powell on Feb. 25, 1982 against Notre Dame. The Huskers closed non-conference play with a 9-2 record, including a 9-0 mark at Pinnacle Bank Arena to stretch their home non-conference winning streak to 20 games. Nebraska opens Big Ten Conference play on Thursday, Dec. 31 when the Huskers take on Iowa.
Victoria Vivians, Mississippi State, So., Guard
A stellar showing at the Puerto Rico Classic last week has helped earn Mississippi State’s Victoria Vivians NCAA.com Starting Five honors. Vivians averaged 14.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.3 steals for the week as the Bulldogs went 4-0 en route to improving to 11-1 on the season. The sophomore from Carthage, Mississippi, tallied 16.0 points and 5.7 rebounds over three games in as many days to lead Mississippi State to the Puerto Rico Classic championship. After scoring 10 points in a home win against Southern Mississippi, Vivians tallied 15 points, 13 in the first half, to lead the Bulldogs to a 65-60 win against reigning Atlantic Sun Conference champion Florida Gulf Coast in the tournament opener. She added 15 more points the following day against Western Michigan, with nine coming in the second half as the Bulldogs pulled away for the 22-point win. In Monday’s championship game against SMU, Vivians sparked Vic Schaefer's squad to an early lead by scoring 16 of her 18 points in the first half. Vivians, who ranks second in the Southeastern Conference, averaging 18.3 points per game this season, has scored double figures in 11 straight games, the most since Diamber Johnson had 13 straight in 2011. She eclipsed 700 career points and 100-career made 3-pointers on Sunday. Mississippi State, now ranked No. 8 in the country, breaks for Christmas before returning on Dec. 28 at home against Southeastern Louisiana.
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