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Mitchell Northam | NCAA.com | October 28, 2019

The top 5 returning passers in women’s college basketball

Will this be the year for Oregon women's basketball?

Preceding a highlight-worthy lay-up, a deep three-pointer or a post move leading to a bucket is often a well-timed pass.

Racking up assists in women’s college basketball is no easy task. One small mistake can result in a turnover, leading to an easy basket for the opposition. But the best and most crisp passes can create the best offensive sequences, the kind that create open shots and feature fluid movement.

There’s a handful of really crafty passers returning to women’s college basketball this season. These are the players who know when and where to hit their teammates at the exact right place and right time. These players racked up the dimes last season and look to do so again this season.

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Crystal Dangerfield, Senior, UConn

The 5-foot-5 native of Murfreesboro, Tennessee is entering her final season for Geno Auriemma’s side in Storrs, Connecticut. A season ago, Dangerfield doled out 225 assists over 38 games for 5.9 per-game average. Her assist total ranked sixth last season and is second among returning college players.

Last year, Dangerfield had a pair of All-Americans to pass to in Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson. They’re gone and off the WNBA, so Dangerfield will have a bigger responsibility this season for the Huskies as they look to extend their streak of making the Final Four. Dangerfield showed last season that she could score too, posting 13.4 points per-game.

WATCH: Listen to Geno Auriemma at UConn's second practice this season

Gina Conti, Junior, Wake Forest

Of the players returning to play in the ACC this season, Conti is the top passer, having dished out 4.9 assists per-game over 30 contests last season. Only Syracuse's Tiana Mangakahia (who will miss this season due to her battle with breast cancer), and Notre Dame’s Jackie Young and Marina Mabrey tallied more.

And from the sounds of it, fans of the Demon Deacons can expect more dimes from the 5-foot-10 Grove City, Ohio native this season.

“Personally, I’ve worked on looking to get my teammates’ better open shots. I’m learning my teammates’ personality, how they play, when’s the best time to call something for them,” Conti told NCAA.com at ACC Media Day. “So, getting to the paint and then kicking out to them.”

Wake Forest hasn’t had a winning record since the 2015-16 season and hasn’t appeared in the NCAA tournament since 1988. Conti’s play will have a big impact on whether or not Wake can begin to right the ship this season.

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Barbara Sitanggan, Senior, Pepperdine

Casual viewers of women’s college basketball might not be so aware of Sitanggan’s passing prowess as she played in the  West Coast Conference with the Waves, but she’s one of the sport’s best when it comes to setting up her teammates and doling out assists.

A season ago, Sitanggan ranked third in the nation in assist-turnover ratio with a +3.82 mark. Among returning players this season, that was the highest. The 5-foot-6 native of Fullerton, California led the WCC in total assists with 176 and posted a per-game average of 5.17 over 34 contests.

The Waves haven’t made the NCAA tournament since 2006, but could rack up wins this year if Sitanggan continues to pile up assist numbers.

2019 FINAL FOUR: Baylor's old school ways | DiDi Richards' heroics | Win over Notre Dame

Taja Cole, Graduate student, Virginia Tech

Cole spent last season at Georgia where she was fifth in the nation in assists per-game with a 7.1 average. She has since transferred to Blacksburg, Virginia and will play her final season of college hoops for the Virginia Tech Hokies.

With Cole and Dara Mabrey — one of the top three-point shooters in the country — Virginia Tech will have a formidable backcourt, one that could lead them to their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2006.

Cole was the only ACC guard named to the watch list for the Nancy Lieberman Award — given to the nation’s top point guard — this preseason. Last year at Georgia, she led the SEC in assists with 202 dimes.

AWARD WATCH LISTS: Lieberman Award | Meyers Award | Miller Award | McClain Award | Leslie Award

Sabrina Ionescu, Senior, Oregon

How Sabrina Ionescu became NCAA's leader in triple-doubles

Ionescu’s abilities have been well-documented, on this here website and elsewhere. She is one of the most electric and dynamic players in the game, a two-time Lieberman Award winner, a two-time Pac-12 Player of the Year, and last year’s winner of the Wade and Wooden awards.

SABRINA IONESCU TRACKER: Where we left off with Oregon's triple-double record-breaker

She’s also the NCAA’s all-time leader in career triple-doubles, and most guards don’t rack those up without being prolific passers. Ionescu’s passing powers may have been at their peak last December, when she dished out 17 in a win over Long Beach State, breaking a single-game record for the Ducks.

The style that Oregon plays also makes the most out Ionescu’s skills. It’s an offense that’s fast-paced and puts an emphasis on sharing the ball and taking a lot of three-pointers. The Ducks ranked sixth in the nation in assists last year, 12th in three-point attempts and first in effective field goal percentage.

“It’s fun,” Ionescu said at the 2019 Final Four of Oregon’s playing style. “It’s fun for the viewers to watch fast breaks, three’s — it’s kind of similar to the (Golden State) Warriors and they’ve had much success with it and so have we. It’s also effective.”

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