The Atlanta Tip-off Club announced the ten semifinalists for the Naismith Player of the Year award last week. The committee will cut the field to four finalists on March 22, the first day of NCAA Tournament play. The winner will be chosen between the days of the Final Four.
WomensHoopsWorld presents a statistical comparison of the players. A brief consideration of those numbers shows why this year’s Naismith, like this year’s Tournament, is a wide-open contest. The candidates, alphabetically, are:
Kristine Anigwe, 6-4 senior C/F, University of California, Pac-12
Anigwe completed her 30th consecutive double-double last week by scoring 32 points and grabbing 30 rebounds in a win over Washington State. It was the first 30-30 game since 2002. The athletic Anigwe is an active center, resembling Candace Parker rather than Ruth Riley. She may be the least known member of this group, largely because her Cal Bears, at 18-11 on the year, are not ranked. Anigwe leads the nation in rebounds per game with 16.4. She is second among the ten semifinalists in points per game at 23.1. She was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year this week.
Kalani Brown, 6-7 senior C, Baylor University, Big-12
Brown is a presence in the paint that propels Baylor to be the best defense among ranked teams this year. While not a major shot-blocker like Alanna Smith or Teaira McCowan, she is a prolific shot-changer, and the backbone of the Bear defense. Her offensive stats are down from her first-team All-American year in 2018, in both scoring (20.1 to 15.4) and rebounding (10.2 to 8.1), but that is partly because her teammates are so much improved over last season. She is a two-time WBCA All-American, and was named to the Big-12 All-Defensive Team in 2017.
Napheesa Collier, 6-2 senior F, University of Connecticut, AAC
Collier is the consistent rock for UConn’s offense. Her lowest point total on the year was 12 (twice) and she has had 10 or more rebounds in sixteen games. She plays quicker than most big post players, and moves extremely well without the ball. She ranks among the centers on our list of ten in blocks, and has by far the most steals (43) of the shot-blockers. Her consistent excellence and quiet demeanor has kept her out of the spotlight, though she is the best player on her team. She lacks the killer instinct that elevates several of the players on our list, and might have made the difference in the last two Final Fours. She is a 2017 AP and WBCA All-American.
Asia Durr, 5-10 senior G, University of Louisville, ACC
Durr has taken nearly twice as many shots as any of her teammates, though she also plays the most minutes on the team. Durr can be counted on to want the ball for crucial shots, and has the skills to take over a game when her team needs that. She cannot be guarded one-on-one, and can score from anywhere on the court. Her 44 steals are second on our list of players. She was a 2018 unanimous All-American, and repeated as ACC Player of the Year.
Megan Gustafson, 6-3 senior C, University of Iowa, Big Ten
Gustafson has led the nation the last two years in points per game and field goal percentage. She is the prototypical back-to-the-basket center, with dominant strength and positioning in the block, and an ability to score from all angles. She once scored 35 points without dribbling the ball once. She has missed a double-double just twice this season, and has averaged a double-double since sophomore year. She was named Big Ten Player of the Year.
Sabrina Ionescu, 5-11 junior G, University of Oregon, Pac-12
Ionescu is best known for crushing the NCAA triple-double record, now at 17. The only junior on this list, she won the Nancy Lieberman Award for best point guard in 2018 as a sophomore, and was a unanimous first team All-American as well. The unquestioned leader of a surging Oregon team, Ionescu’s court awareness may be the best in the nation. Her ability to score nearly 20 points while averaging 8.1 assists (third nationally) attests to her versatility. She repeated as Pac-12 Player of the Year.
Teaira McCowan, 6-7 senior C, Mississippi State University, SEC
McCowan has a rare combination of size and agility that has made her into a force at both ends of the floor. She stands out in this group for her defense, as much as the double-double she has averaged on offense the last two years. She won the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award in 2018 and was a WBCA All-American. McCowan won both SEC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.
Arike Ogunbowale, 5-9 senior G, University of Notre Dame, ACC
Ogunbowale became the face of women’s basketball by sinking two buzzer-beating shots in last year’s Final Four, shots which beat UConn and Mississippi State for Notre Dame’s second national championship. She leads her team in scoring, and has improved her defense significantly this season. Her extreme confidence and ability to score from anywhere allows her to take over a game when necessary. She has taken 175 more shots than the closest of her fellow starters, all of whom score at rates between 54 and 175 percentage points higher than hers. She is a 2018 WBCA All-American.
Katie Lou Samuelson, 6-3 senior G, University of Connecticut, AAC
Samuelson, long known as a three-point shooter, has diversified her game this year, more than doubling her career rebound average, and taking on – somewhat reluctantly at times – primary leadership for the Huskies. With a post-player’s height and a guard’s skills, she is essential to UConn’s offensive and defensive flow. Her shooting, however, has been “off” for much of the latter half of the season, and she is averaging 100 points lower than last season’s nation-leading three-point percentage. She is a two-time WBCA and AP first-team All-American.
Alanna Smith, 6-4 senior F, Stanford University, Pac-12
Stanford’s first-ever international player, from Tazmania, Australia, Smith has improved in every aspect of her game to become the most versatile player on her team, and perhaps on this list. She shoots over 50 percent, scoring nearly 20 points a game while grabbing 8.2 boards, and matching McCowan with 71 blocks on the season. At the same time, she shoots .399 from beyond the arc, on 163 attempts. She was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.