There’s lots of awards in women’s college basketball, but since 1983, we have considered the Naismith Award to be the trophy of record that is awarded to the game’s best player each year.
Last season, Iowa’s Megan Gustafson took home this award after leading the Hawkeyes to a Big Ten title and an Elite Eight appearance. She led the nation in scoring with 27.8 points per-game and was third in rebounding with 13.4 boards per contest.
Gustafson has since graduated, so she won’t be around this season to defend her title as the best in women’s college basketball. Who’s going to step up and take the reins? We take a look at a few candidates here.
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Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon
Ionescu looks like the favorite to win this award as she is the only finalist from last year who is back for another season. Ionescu took home her own fair share of hardware last season, claiming the Wooden Award, the Wade Trophy, the Pac-12 Player of the Year and the Lieberman Award.
The Walnut Creek, California native is the NCAA’s all-time leader in triple doubles, and she averaged 19.9 points, 8.2 assists and 7.4 rebounds per-game last season. If those stats increase and if Ionescu can lead Oregon to another Final Four appearance, she might join the exclusive club of Naismith winners.
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Kaila Charles, Maryland
Charles had an impressive junior season for the Terps. She was a finalist for the Miller Award and named to the midseason watchlist for the Naismith Award. She was an All-American honorable mention and named to the All Big Ten first team.
The Glenn Dale, Maryland native averaged 17 points, 2.3 assists and 6.7 rebounds per-game last season while also shooting 48 percent from the floor and 80 percent from the free throw line. Maryland underachieved last season by losing in the Big Ten title game and bowing out in the second round of the NCAA tournament, but could be in for a big year with a host of starters returning, led by Charles.
Lauren Cox, Baylor
Fresh off a national championship, Cox may be asked to do more for Baylor in her senior season after her front court mate Kalani Brown graduated. Lindy’s Sports, Athlon and Street & Smith have already named Cox as a preseason All-American.
A season ago, the Flower Mound, Texas native was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, a third team All-American, the most outstanding player from the Greensboro Regional, a finalist for the McClain Award and an All-Big 12 First Team selection.
Cox was sixth in the nation in blocks last season and averaged 13 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists per-game. If Cox stays healthy and paves the way for Baylor to another Final Four, she could be in the mix for the sport’s biggest individual award.
Beatrice Mompremier, Miami
For Miami, Mompremier grabbed 25 double-doubles last season, which is the most of any player returning to women’s college basketball this season. Last season, she was ninth in the nation in rebounds per-game (12.2) and ninth in the ACC in scoring with 16.7 points per-game.
The 6-foot-4 Miami native was an All-ACC First Team selection, a finalist for the Leslie Award, and was named to the midseason watch lists for the Naismith and Wade awards last season. She had perhaps her best game against Marquette, where she racked up 24 points and 21 rebounds. More performances like that could certainly get her into the Naismith conversation.
Aari McDonald, Arizona
McDonald was third in the nation in scoring last season with 24.1 points per-game. She’s the leader among all returning players to college basketball this season and only trailed Gustafson and Buffalo’s Cierra Dillard in scoring last season.
The 5-foot-7 native of Fresno, California scored 890 points last season, setting a single season record for Arizona. But she wasn’t all offense, as McDonald also made the Pac-12’s All-Defense team. She was an honorable mention All-American too.
In addition to her scoring totals, McDonald averaged 4.6 assists and 6.5 rebounds per-game, helping the Wildcats win the WNIT title over Northwestern.
Chennedy Carter, Texas A&M
Carter was an All-American and an All-SEC first team selection last season after averaging 23.3 points per-game last season, a mark that is a single season Texas A&M record and was good enough for sixth in the nation. Among all the players returning to women’s college basketball this season, Carter is the only one who averages more than 20 points per-game over her career.
As a sophomore, the 5-foot-7 Mansfield, Texas native helped the Aggies win 26 games and advance to the Sweet 16 where they lost to Notre Dame by just seven points. Carter also averaged 3.4 assists and 4.8 rebounds per-game last season.