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Rick Nixon | | January 25, 2017

Players of the Week: Cunningham leads Starting Five

  Sophie Cunningham averaged 20.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists to lead Missouri to two victories.

Every week,'s Starting Five will bring you a look at some of the top women's basketball players in the country. Here are the standout competitors:

RELATED: Duke Blue Devils named Team of the Week

Fans’ Choice: Sophie Cunningham, Missouri, Sophomore, Guard

Sensational sophomore guard Sophie Cunningham steered Missouri to a pair of wins last week as the Tigers extended their win streak to three games. Cunningham averaged 20.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists to lead Missouri to victories over No. 25 Texas A&M and Arkansas.

On Thursday, Cunningham guided her team to an overtime upset win over No. 25 Texas A&M with the top scoring performance in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) during league play this season. Cunningham poured in a season-high 36 points on 10-of-19 shooting in the victory. She made a career-high 14 free throws, just three shy of the single-game program record. She is the first Tiger in 15 seasons with 10 field goals and 10 free throws in the same game and she has now accomplished that feat twice in her career. Ten of her 14 free throws came after the 1:04 mark of the fourth quarter. Her game-tying, clutch layup with three seconds remaining sent the game to overtime and her free throws in the extra period sealed the win.

On Monday, in a blowout win on the road at Arkansas that saw nine Tigers find the scoring column, Cunningham chipped in five points and five assists. She added seven rebounds in the rout for the second consecutive game to complete an all-around solid effort. It marks the fourth time this season she's recorded at least seven points and five assists in the same game.

After her stellar week, Cunningham is now the only player in the SEC shooting above 80 percent from the free throw line and above 45 percent from the field. She has reached 20 points in a game five times since returning from an injury in mid-December and has done so 16 times in 50 career games. For the season, Cunningham ranks third in the SEC in scoring with 16.9 points per game.

Missouri begins a two-game homestand when it hosts Auburn on Thursday night at Mizzou Arena before a rematch with Kentucky on Jan. 30.

Diamond DeShields, Tennessee, Junior, Guard

It’s been no coincidence that Tennessee has moved back into contention in the SEC just as junior guard Diamond DeShields has begun playing her best basketball of the season. DeShields has scored 20 or more points in four out of her past seven games, including all three games against ranked teams during that span.

On Jan. 19, DeShields had 17 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in a 79-61 setback at Auburn.

Tennessee bounced back to defeat Vanderbilt 91-63 on Sunday as DeShields led four Lady Vols in double figures with 23 points to go along with four rebounds, three assists and a steal. It was her fifth game of the year with over 20 points, and 29th time in her career she has surpassed that mark.

DeShields leads Tennessee in scoring (16.9 points per game) while ranking second in assists per game (3.4), steals (1.3) and blocked shots (1.2). She is also third on the team in rebounding (6.6). DeShields is shooting .405 from the field thus far, including .320 from the three-point arc, and is hitting .810 from the free throw line. The Norcross, Georgia native has three double-doubles so far this season and has stepped up her play during SEC play, bumping her averages up to 19.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists in conference play.

Tennessee will next face Florida on Jan. 26.

Ellen Nystrom, Colorado State, Senior, Guard

Colorado Sports Hall of Fame Female College Athlete of the Year for 2016, Colorado State's Ellen Nystrom led her team to wins last week over Fresno State and Utah State and kept the Rams’ one game back of Mountain West Conference (MWC) leader – Wyoming.

Colorado State defeated Fresno State, 73-56 as Nystrom opened the week scoring a team-high 20 points on 9-of-17 shooting, adding six rebounds and five assists.

Nystrom then combined with fellow senior Elin Gustavsson for 42 points on 18-of-23 shooting as Colorado State rolled to a 74-43 win over the Utah State Aggies on Saturday. Gustavsson picked up her third double-double of the season, tallying a team-high 22 points on 10-of-12 shooting with 12 rebounds and five assists. Nystrom shot 8-of-11 en route to a 20-point, nine-assist performance.

For the season, Nystrom leads Colorado State with an average of 16.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. The senior sharp-shooter from Lulea, Sweden is shooting 46.9 percent from the field, 41.4% from behind the 3-point line and is 66-79 from the free throw line (83.5%).

Winners of five straight games, Colorado State, 14-5 overall and 6-2 in MWC play, will next travel to San Jose State on Jan. 25.

Chantel Osahor, Washington, Senior, Center

Fresh off of setting a new Pac-12 Conference record for rebounds in a game, Washington senior Chantel Osahor earned Pac-12 Player of the Week honors and was named to the Starting Five.

Osahor, who leads the nation in rebounds per game, pulled down 30 and supplemented it with 20 points to lead the Huskies past Washington State, 87-44 on Jan. 22. The Phoenix, Arizona native became just the 11th player in NCAA history to record a 30-plus rebound game. In the game, Osahor also became the third player in program history to pull down 1,000 career rebounds. She now has 293 this season, which tops the NCAA and has pulled down 1,027 for her career.

Washington currently touts the nation’s best rebounder in Osahor and the top scorer in senior Kelsey Plum, who is averaging 31.0 points per game.

Winners of five straight games, Washington, 19-2 overall and 7-1 in the Pac-12, is back in action on Jan. 27, hosting California.

Katie Lou Samuelson, UConn, Sophomore, Guard/Forward

UConn sophomore guard/forward Katie Lou Samuelson averaged 33.0 points on 66.7 percent shooting, including 57.9 percent from long-range, to go along with 4.0 steals per game in only 29.0 minutes per contest during the top-ranked Huskies’ 2-0 week that included wins at Tulsa and over Tulane.

The Huntington Beach, California native started the week off with a career-high 34 points on 13-18 shooting in the 98-58 win at Tulsa on Jan. 17. She was 7-12 from beyond the 3-point arc in only 29-minutes of action.

She followed that up with 32 points on 11-18 shooting in the 100-56 win over Tulane on Sunday. Samuelson started the game 1-6 from the floor and made 10 of her final 12 attempts from the field to go along with a career-high seven steals.

Samuelson scored 66 points over the two games, marking the second-most points a Husky has scored in a two-game span. She then totaled 20 points in a Jan. 24 win over East Carolina and fell just short of the most points any Husky has scored over a three-game span. Maya Moore had 94 points over a three-game stretch during the 2010-11 season, eight more than Samuelson.

UConn will be looking to extend its NCAA-record winning streak to 95 games when the Huskies host Houston on Jan. 28 in Hartford, Connecticut.

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