Women's college basketball: UCF's Aliyah Gregory leads Starting Five
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 the standout competitors:
Sophie Cunningham, Missouri, Sophomore, Guard
Missouri sophomore guard Sophie Cunningham led the Tigers to a pair of dramatic wins over Florida and No. 6 South Carolina, averaging 27.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists in the process.
The two performances marked the second time this season Cunningham has scored at least 20 points in back-to-back games. She's reached 20 points eight times this season and 18 times in her career. Cunningham has scored in double figures in six consecutive games as Missouri, 19-9 overall and 9-5 in the Southeastern Conference (SEC), has won three in a row and eight of its past 11 contests.
The Tigers launched the week with a gritty 74-67 road win over Florida. Cunningham poured in a game-high 28 points, accounting for 44 percent of Missouri’s scoring output. The sophomore shot 4-of-7 from beyond the arc and 8-of-9 from the free throw line. Her six unanswered points in the fourth quarter erased a deficit and catapulted the Tigers ahead for good as they sealed the road victory.
On Sunday, Missouri toppled No. 6 South Carolina as Cunningham recorded a game-high 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting (62.5 percent). On the Tigers' final offensive possession, Cunningham took on multiple defenders, drove through lane and buried a game-winning layup with 0.6 seconds left to lift her squad to an upset over the three-time defending SEC champions.
Cunningham added seven rebounds and five assists in an all-around effort. She has racked up at least 10 points, seven rebounds and five assists on six different occasions this season. Cunningham scored 20 of her 28 points in the second half, making 8-of-11 field goals. Her clutch performance allowed Missouri to come back from down 10 and earn its biggest victory of the 2016-17 campaign.
Cunningham is the only player in the SEC shooting above 45 percent from the field and 80 percent from the free throw line. She's averaging 17.2 points per game this season, which ranks fourth in the league.
Next up for the Tigers is a home game against the Ole Miss Rebels on Feb. 23.
Aliyah Gregory, UCF, Junior, Guard
UCF junior guard Aliyah Gregory averaged 30.5 points per game for the second straight week and set a career mark with 34 points in a return to her hometown of Tampa, Fla., as UCF started the week with a 66-62 win over No. 22 USF.
Gregory led the Knights to the program's first-ever win over a nationally ranked opponent with the victory over the Bulls. Her 15 made field goals is tied for the fourth-most in a single game at UCF. She entered the game needing 10 points to become the 22nd Knight to reach 1,000 career points and achieved the feat with 3:40 remaining in the first quarter.
On Sunday, Gregory again led the way with a team-leading 27 points in the 79-51 win over East Carolina. She has now scored 20 or more points in seven of her last eight outings.
Averaging 21.6 points per game in league play, Gregory is the top scorer in the American Athletic Conference. She was also perfect 7-for-7 from the free-throw line this week and ranks third in the league in free throw percentage.
UCF, 17-9 overall and 7-6 in the AAC, returns to action on Feb. 22 at Tulane.
Tori Jankoska, Michigan State, Senior, Guard
Needing wins to remain in the hunt for a possible NCAA tournament bid, Michigan State senior guard Tori Jankoska averaged 26 points to lead the Spartans to two important wins over Minnesota and No. 20 Michigan last week.
Jankoska shot 54.3 from the field and 45.8 from behind the three-point line in the 2-0 week. In those two games she also averaged 7.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks, dishing out an average of 7.5 assists per game for a 3.0 assist to turnover ratio.
She recorded only the third triple-double in Michigan State women’s basketball history against Minnesota and the first since Kristin Haynie (2005) in route to an 85-69 win over the Gophers on Feb. 16. She scored 24 points, which was the most points in a triple-double in school history, and also grabbed 10 rebounds and recorded 10 assists, setting a new season-high.
Jankoska then tallied 28 points in a 86-68 road win against Michigan on Feb. 19. She also dished out a game-high five assists, grabbed five rebounds and blocked three shots.
With 11 three-pointers in the two games, Jankoska became the Spartan career record holder in three-point field goals made with 297 during her career and now has 99 on this season. Jankoska also moved up to No. 2 all-time in assists with 471, recording 15 assists in the wins over Minnesota and Michigan. She is currently the only player in the Big Ten to lead their team in points, rebounds, assists and steals.
Michigan State, 18-9 overall this season and 8-6 in Big Ten Conference action, returns to action on Feb. 22, hosting Penn State.
Fans' Choice: Peyton Little, Oklahoma, Senior, Guard
Oklahoma continued its rise in the Big 12 Conference standings as Peyton Little scored 15 points and connected on a go-ahead three-pointer with two seconds remaining in leading the Sooners to a 74-73 win over No. 8 Texas on Feb. 18.
In a game that featured 16 lead changes and nine ties, the Sooners trailed Texas 59-56 going into the fourth period, before Little combined with teammate Gabbi Ortiz for 13 of Oklahoma’s 18 points to spark a comeback. Ortiz pulled down two offensive rebounds and then hit a step back triple to put Oklahoma up four with 3:30 to play. The Longhorns regained the lead and led by two with 0:50 to play until Ortiz raced to the basket to tie the game at 70-70.
The Sooners forced a Texas turnover with 29 seconds remaining to set up the final play. With the possession under the basket, Ortiz triggered an inbounds pass to a wide-open Little for her third trey of the game to put Oklahoma in front for good with two seconds left.
The win was Oklahoma’s seventh straight at home over the rival Longhorns, who entered Saturday's game with the nation's second-longest winning streak at 19 games.
Little then had 11 points in Oklahoma’s 79-71 loss at Kansas State on Feb. 21. The Sooners, which fell to 21-7 overall and 12-4 in the Big 12, will travel to TCU this Saturday, Feb. 25.
Sparkle Taylor, UTEP, Senior, Guard
UTEP senior guard Sparkle Taylor became the first player in program history to post back-to-back 30-plus point games, scoring 34 points against both North Texas and Rice.
Taylor set the tone for the week with a career-high 34 points in a 76-69 loss to North Texas on Feb. 16. It was the most points by a Miner in a league game in 26 years (Holly Russ, 35 vs. San Diego State in 1991) and tied as the sixth-highest scoring output in program history. She connected on 11-16 shots from the floor while also setting career bests for free throws made (12) and attempted (16). The 12 makes tie for eighth most at UTEP while the 16 attempts earned her a share of 10th. Taylor was especially effective in the third period, scoring 13 of UTEP’s 18 points in the frame.
Just two days later and against Rice, the top-defensive team in Conference USA, Taylor again poured in 34 points in a losing cause as the Miners fell 80-76 to the Owls. She set the tone early by tallying 10 points and continued to pile them up as the contest progressed. She drilled 12-19 from the field, while making 9-10 at the free-throw line. Taylor also had the big rebounding day with 11 boards.
For the week, Taylor accumulated 68 points (34.0 points per game) on a combined 65.7 percent (23-35) shooting from the floor and 80.8 percent (21-26) at the free throw line. The Flint, Mich., native also averaged 9.0 rebounds per game.
Taylor and the Miners (6-20 overall and 11-3 in Conference USA) will return to action at home against Florida Atlantic on Feb. 23.