ATLANTA -- The finalists for the James A. Naismith Trophy, given to the nation’s Most Outstanding Women’s College Basketball Player, include two sets of teammates and one player seeking history. A’ja Wilson and Tiffany Mitchell, who both hail from the University of South Carolina, and Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson, who both play for Connecticut, make up the final ballot as announced by the Atlanta Tipoff Club.
Stewart won the Naismith Trophy the past two seasons and seeks to become the first three-time college winner since Cheryl Miller (USC) in 1984-86. Wilson (2013) and Stewart (2012) each won the Naismith High School Trophy as well. Additionally, Stewart would become the only player in the history of the award – male or female – to win four total Naismith Trophies.
The four finalists were chosen by the Atlanta Tipoff Club’s national voting academy, comprised of leading journalists from around the country, current and former head coaches, former award winners and conference commissioners, which based their selections on outstanding performances during the 2015-16 college basketball season. The vote was tabulated and certified by the accounting firm of Habif, Arogeti & Wynne, LLP. HA&W is the largest independent accounting firm in Georgia and one of the top 50 firms in the United States.
The winner will be announced on Monday, April 4.
“To be a great leader, one must also be a great teammate, and the four finalists for the James A. Naismith Trophy have led their teams on and off the court with their character, commitment and unrivaled play,” said Eric Oberman, executive director of the Atlanta Tipoff Club. “These gifted student-athletes have helped to lift their teams to new heights, and their inclusion in this prestigious group is a testament to time they’ve put in to bettering their programs and themselves.”
About the finalists:
Moriah Jefferson, Connecticut, Sr.
She was named to the American Athletic Conference First Team for the third straight year after averaging 12.6 points per game on 55.1 percent shooting to go along with a team-best 5.4 assists per contest.
She has scored 1,457 career points, dished out 622 assists and recorded 341 steals.
Jefferson is only the second Husky all-time, along with former UConn great Jennifer Rizzotti, to accumulate at least 600 assists and 300 steals.
She was selected as the American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year and honored as a 2016 All-AAC Tournament Team pick.
Tiffany Mitchell, South Carolina, Sr.
She earned First-Team All-SEC honors from both the league’s coaches and the Associated Press.
Mitchell impacts the game on both sides of the ball, ranking among the SEC’s top 11 in five categories in league play – fifth in scoring (15.6 ppg), second in free throw percentage (.833), sixth in made three-pointers per game (1.7), eighth in steals (1.9) and 11th in assists (2.8) – all while playing just 30.7 minutes per game.
Her 15.7 points per game in the conference postseason led the Gamecocks to their second-straight SEC Tournament title, earning her the honor of SEC Tournament MVP.
Mitchell tied for the team lead with 3.3 assists per game.
She has been the Gamecocks’ go-to player in every tight-game situation this season, averaging 10.7 points, 1.6 assists, 1.3 steals and 2.1 rebounds in the second half of games that were within single digits in the final five minutes, including four against ranked teams.
Breanna Stewart, Connecticut, Sr.
She claimed her third consecutive American Athletic Conference Player of the Year award after averaging team highs with 19.2 points and 8.3 rebounds, plus 107 blocked shots.
Stewart is second on the team in assists with 125. In her career at UConn, she has scored 2,554 points and grabbed 1,113 rebounds.
Stewart is the third UConn star to be a three-time conference player of the year honoree.
She was a unanimous selection to the all-AAC first team.
A two-time winner of the Naismith Trophy (2015 and 2014), she also won the Naismith High School Trophy in 2012.
A’ja Wilson, South Carolina, Soph.
She was named SEC Player of the Year by both the league’s coaches and the Associated Press, a unanimous selection by the latter.
She was just the second player in SEC history to earn both Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors from the league’s coaches.
Wilson leads the SEC and ranks 12th nationally in blocked shots per game (3.1), amassing a school record 94 heading into NCAA tournament action.
She ranks among the SEC’s most productive and efficient players, ranking fifth in scoring (16.4 ppg), second in field goal percentage (.544) and double-doubles (12), fourth in rebounding (8.7 rpg) and ninth in free throw percentage (.728).
No stranger to recognition from the Naismith Committee, Wilson won the Naismith High School Trophy in 2014.
The Naismith College Player of the Year award was first presented to male athletes in 1969 and was expanded to include women’s players in 1983. Notable men’s winners have included Bill Walton (1972-74, UCLA), Larry Bird (1979, Indiana State), Michael Jordan (1984, North Carolina), David Robinson (1987, United States Naval Academy) and Tim Duncan (1997, Wake Forest).
Notable women’s winners have included Anne Donovan (1983, Old Dominion), Cheryl Miller (1984-86, Southern California), Dawn Staley (1991-92, Virginia), Lisa Leslie (1994, Southern California) and Diana Taurasi (2003-04, Connecticut).