The vast majority of women’s college basketball players didn’t play in this year’s Final Four.
Whether they made the tournament or not, whether they advanced to a regional final or lost in the first round, only four teams traveled to Tampa Bay. And while Oregon, UConn, Notre Dame and Baylor all feature star power of their own, a number of stars had to watch from afar.
So let’s take a moment and parse through the list of elite players who didn’t have a chance to shine on the brightest stage. Because some of them, especially these five, could've been All-Final Four team contenders.
Bridget Carleton, Iowa State
Carleton led the Cyclones to a berth as a 3-seed in the NCAA tournament and a 26-9 record this season. She earned Big 12 Player of the Year and All-Big 12 First Team honors. Oh, and she won the Cheryl Miller Small Forward of the Year Award.
Any matchup between her and UConn’s Katie Lou Samuelson, Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu or Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale would have been must-watch TV. Carleton averaged 21.7 points, 8.6 rebounds, four assists and 2.3 steals per game this season. She finished her career with a 17.3-point, seven-rebound, 2.8-assist and 1.7-steal per game average that saw her finish with 2,142 points.
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Maybe a fourth matchup against Baylor would have been what Iowa State needed to finally top the Bears this season. Even if not, Carleton would have had a big weekend.
Asia Durr, Louisville
Durr and the Cardinals went 32-4 this season and earned a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament. Louisville, behind her strong play, came one win away from making the Final Four. And she won her second consecutive player of the year award for the ACC.
There’s a reason she's the Ann Meyers Drysdale Shooting Guard of the Year Award winner. She averaged 21.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game this season and finished her career with 2,485 points. She nearly finished with a career mark of 40 percent on 3s and recorded a-better-than-80-percent clip on free throws. Durr has scored 47 points multiple times in her career, and no one should doubt she’d come close to putting that up if Louisville had been able to have a third shot at Notre Dame.
Megan Gustafson, Iowa
Gustafson won the Big Ten Player of the Year award, Lisa Leslie Center of the Year Award and Naismith Player of the Year award. Of course she’d be a factor in the Final Four. Iowa doesn’t go 29-7 and reach a regional final without her. The Hawkeyes don’t win the Big Ten tournament without her.
See, she finished with a double-double average of 27.8 points and 13.4 rebounds per game. She led all Division I scorers in points per game and finished third in rebounds per game behind the next two players on this list. Gustafson scored 1,001 points this season alone, and finished her career with 2,781 points in addition to 1,451 rebounds — which put her at a career average of 20.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game in 134 appearances.
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Whether Iowa had won a game or two in the Final Four or lost in one, Gustafson would have left her mark.
Kristine Anigwe, California
Anigwe and the Golden Bears had a shot at the Baylor Bears in the second round of the NCAA tournament and lost by 39. But that doesn’t take away from the team’s 20-13 record and at-large bid. California showed in a three-day stretch earlier this season against Stanford, the only team to beat Baylor this season, how one day the Golden Bears could beat a team by one and another lose by 25. Given another chance against Baylor, California might have won.
And if it did win, it’d be because of Anigwe. She led all Division I players in rebounding with 16.2 boards per game and also averaged 22.5 points per game. She hit more than 50 percent of her shots, something she didn’t come close to doing against Baylor. She scored more than 2,000 points in her career and grabbed more than 1,000 rebounds. If the Golden Bears made the Final Four, Anigwe would have starred.
Teaira McCowan, Mississippi State
McCowan will always be in the conversation of the game's most impressive post players. The Bulldogs went 33-3 and swept the SEC regular season and tournament titles. They earned a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. And leading the way was McCowan.
The SEC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year averaged 18.4 points, 13.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game. She attempted close to 400 shots and hit 66.2 percent of them. The Bulldogs went toe-to-toe with the Oregon Ducks both times the two sides met, although Oregon won both, and in the regional final loss McCowan led the team in points and rebounding.
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Mississippi State has had a deep roster the past few years, but it doesn’t make the run it has without McCowan and she would have been a force in the Final Four.