Women’s basketball: 7 of the most talented tandems in the country
Having one dynamic go-to option is a huge boon for any team. Having two could be what lifts it to a Final Four spot.
With March Madness only about a month and a half away, here’s a look at some dangerous duos that could push their teams deep into the tournament.
Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson | Connecticut
40.4 PPG, 12.2 RPG, 4.7 APG, 3.5 SPG, 57.1 FG%
To be clear, this could just as easily be Samuelson and Collier, Gabby Williams or Kia Nurse. Or really any combination of the Big Four. Samuelson is pretty clearly the Huskies’ best player, but any combination of the quartet is going to be better than just about any other team can boast. That may or may not have something to do with the Huskies' 95-games-and-counting winning streak.
At any rate, Samuelson and Collier get the nod here. The two combine for more than 40 points per game, could break the UConn tandem scoring record, and are a nightmare to handle.
Samuelson is 13th in the country with 21.6 points per game, with Collier coming in at 36th with 18.8. Samuelson is doing it at an even 50 percent, including a very impressive 45.9 percent from deep considering she averages nearly eight attempts from there. Collier is second on the Huskies with 8.2 rebounds per contest, and leads with 1.7 blocks and a frightening 66 percent rate from the field.
Lexie Brown and Rebecca Greenwell | Duke
34.5 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 5.7 APG, 4.6 SPG, 45.0 FG%
It might not be the world’s purest form of basketball, but coach Joanne P. McCallie has implemented a clear plan for her Blue Devils this year: Give the ball to Brown or Greenwell and let them decide the rest.
The usage rates of the two have been staggering this year. They have combined to attempt 44 percent of Duke’s field goals, and a mind-blowing 83 percent of the team’s 3-pointers. Brown and Greenwell have combined to hit 101 shots from deep; the rest of the roster has made 20.
Brown, a transfer from Maryland, has been the catalyst of the pair, holding advantages in just about every category except for rebounding. But Greenwell has certainly been no slouch, with her 16.3 points per game sitting not far behind Brown’s 18.2. The two have also been outstanding at the charity stripe, shooting a combined 145-of-161 (90.1 percent). Brown ranks fifth in the country in that category.
There might not be much time for either to get a breather (each is averaging over 33 minutes per game), but if they can keep the motors going in March then Duke could be a tough out.
Brionna Jones and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough | Maryland
36.3 PPG, 14.9 RPG, 4.8 APG, 3.6 SPG, 61.4 FG%
Maryland’s only loss came to UConn, and even that one was only by six points — somewhat of a victory against a team known for demoralizing its opponents early. Now in their third year of Big Ten play, the Terps have only dropped two in-conference games. There’s no coincidence that those great years have gone hand-in-hand with the emergence of the senior Jones.
Maryland had an early exit in last year’s tournament after going to the Final Four the year before, but it should have another deep run in store this March. Jones has been absolutely dominant in the middle, with her 69.2 percent field-goal rate sitting only behind West Virginia’s Lanay Montgomery for the national lead. Jones is also averaging a double-double, pulling in just over the required 10 rebounds per game.
Walker-Kimbrough has been a great sidekick, using the extra attention Jones commands inside to get free on the perimeter. She’s averaging 16.9 points per night and doing it at a 53.5 percent clip, a very impressive percentage for a primary shooter. She also leads the Terrapins in steals and free-throw percentage and is second in assists.
Stephanie Mavunga and Kelsey Mitchell | Ohio State
34.5 PPG, 14.3 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.9 SPG, 46.8 FG%
Ohio State basketball has been all about Mitchell since her arrival two years ago. The junior set the program’s single-season scoring record in both her freshman and sophomore seasons, though she would really have to catch fire to do it a third time. Still, not quite reaching one’s lofty standards doesn’t make that player any less dominant, and she still has a great chance to be the nation’s all-time leading scorer by the time next season wraps up.
Mitchell is nearly doubling up her next-closest teammate with her 22.8 points and 4.0 assists per game. She shoots a lot — her 419 field-goal attempts are the fifth-most in the country, and nearly half of those are from 3-point territory — but she can put up points in a hurry like few others.
Mavunga, a transfer from North Carolina, has fit marvelously next to Mitchell in her first year with the Buckeyes. She doesn’t need the ball a ton, but when she gets it inside she can convert. She ranks second on the team with 11.7 points per game, but her real value comes from her defense and rebounding. She is No. 8 nationally in rebounds per game (11.3) and 28th in blocked shots (2.3).
The Buckeyes started the season a bit disappointingly with three losses in their first eight games — albeit to some very good teams in South Carolina and Baylor — but have looked much better in Big Ten play.
Alaina Coates and A’ja Wilson | South Carolina
30.6 PPG, 18.7 RPG, 3.2 APG, 3.8 BPG, 60.8 FG%
What is a team supposed to do against two dominant bigs? You can focus on one, but then the other scoops up rebounds and dominates the paint. That’s a problem that South Carolina’s opponents face every night with the 6-foot-5 Wilson and 6-foot-4 Coates.
Wilson leads the way with just short of 17 points per game, shooting 57 percent. She has the ability to step out of the paint and do some work from mid-range, freeing up room for Coates down low. The senior center is shooting the sixth-best field-goal percentage in the country at 65.8 percent, while putting up well over a double-double per night with 11.1 rebounds.
If there’s a way to beat them, it might have to be getting one or both in foul trouble, as they are close to unstoppable when on the court together. Their size and willingness to get physical really affects the game on both ends and makes the Gamecocks one of the top contenders to dethrone UConn.
Diamond DeShields and Mercedes Russell | Tennessee
34.0 PPG, 15.8 RPG, 4.5 APG, 2.9 BPG, 48.1 FG%
The Lady Vols have not been up to their standards this season, sitting outside of the AP Top 25 with a 13-7 record. But DeShields and Russsell have certainly done their part, putting up some of the best tandem numbers in the nation.
The redshirt junior DeShields gets a lot of the fanfare around the team, as one of the best players around the nation since her freshman year at North Carolina ought to, but Russell has been just as impressive this year. The fellow redshirt junior has really stepped up, putting up very solid averages of 16.5 points and 9.2 rebounds per game while doing her damage mostly in the paint to the tune of 56 percent.
DeShields, on the other hand, is the team’s leading scorer at 17.5 points a night, which she couples with a 6.6-rebound and 3.4-assist average. Her field-goal percentage and number of turnovers are not stellar, but a lot of it can be explained by the high proportion of times she has to create for herself.
The Lady Vols are currently an upper bubble team, but a program with that much prestige is never a favorable tournament draw, especially when DeShields and Russell are on their game.
Kelsey Plum and Chantel Osahor | Washington
46.5 PPG, 20.0 RPG, 9.2 APG, 3.1 SPG, 51.2 FG%
Has a duo ever put up numbers like this at the college level? What these two seniors have done in Seattle this year has been mesmerizing. Not only do the two lead the nation in some major categories, but they are leading by some ridiculous margins.
Plum is the nation’s leading scorer averaging 31.3 points per game — a shocking 6.5-point advantage over the next-best scorer. To put that over the full season to date, her 720 points are nearly 200 more than the closest. She has eclipsed 40 points four times, something only one other person has done twice. Plum is closing in on Jackie Stiles’ all-time career scoring record, and she shouldn’t have any problems at this pace.
As a result of Plum’s dominance, her teammate Osahor might get a little overlooked. But she absolutely shouldn’t be. The 6-foot-2 senior is pulling in 14.6 rebounds per contest, the most in the country by an average of 2.2. Her 18 double-doubles are also the most, and she’s putting up a surprising 15.2 points per game given how many shots Plum takes. Her 4.3 assists per night are also impressive for a forward, and she made headlines for setting the Pac-12 record with 30 rebounds a couple of weeks ago.
The Huskies were the darling of last year’s tournament, riding a No. 7 seed all the way to the Final Four, but they won’t be catching anyone by surprise this year. But you can prepare until you’re blue in the face but Plum and Osahor will still put up some gaudy numbers.