Besides being one of the key Pac-12 women’s basketball games of the season, Sunday’s meeting between No. 11 Stanford and No. 3 Oregon will showcase two of the very best players in the county.
Both Alanna Smith of the Cardinal and Sabrina Ionescu of the Ducks hope to lead their teams to the national title. But first things first. Even if Stanford wins Sunday, it would still need help from somebody else to knock Oregon out of first place. These two teams are probably going to face each other again in the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas.
The 1 p.m. game should draw one of the largest crowds of the season to Maples Pavilion. It could be Ionescu’s last chance to play in her home area; there’s speculation that the former Miramonte-Orinda star may leave school to join the WNBA as the probable top pick in the draft.
It’s definitely the last college season for Smith, and the senior forward from Australia has said from the start that nothing short of the national title will satisfy the Cardinal.
Who: No. 3 Oregon (22-1, 11-0 Pac-12) at No. 11 Stanford (19-3, 9-2)
Where: Maples Pavilion
When: 1 p.m.
There are three main national player-of-the-year awards: the Naismith Trophy, the Wade Trophy and the Wooden Award. The winners will probably be among the following 10 players, listed in alphabetical order. (Statistics are through Friday’s games.)
Kristine Anigwe, Cal, center/forward, 6-4, senior
Averaging 22.4 points and nation-leading 15.6 rebounds
Someday her number will be retired at Haas Pavilion. She’s the school’s all-time leading scorer and soon will be its top rebounder and shot blocker too. She has had a double-double in every game this season. Cal’s 14-8 record (5-6 Pac-12) won’t help her chances for a top postseason award, but she sure passes the eyeball test despite routinely getting double- and even triple-teamed.
Kalani Brown, Baylor, center, 6-7, senior
Averaging 15.8 points, 7.2 rebounds
A two-time All-American and last year’s Big 12 Player of the Year, Brown is the big ticket on the No. 1 team in the country. She struggled in a December loss to Stanford but had 22 points and 17 rebounds in a 68-57 win over then-No. 1 UConn on Jan. 3. Brown’s dad, P.J., had a 15-year NBA career that ended with a title with the Boston Celtics in 2008. Her mom, Dee, played at Louisiana Tech.
Napheesa Collier, UConn, forward, 6-1, senior
Averaging 14.4 points, 7.2 rebounds
She’s the fifth Husky to reach 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a career, the others being Tina Charles, Rebecca Lobo, Maya Moore, and Breanna Stewart. How consistently excellent is she? “It’s like talking about the sun came up,” head coach Geno Auriemma said. “There’s no more guarantee than what you’re going to get from Pheesa every day at practice and every night.”
Asia Durr, Louisville, guard, 5-10, senior
Averaging 17.3 points
She was WNBA-ready two years ago and was a first-team All-American and ACC Player of the Year last season, when she torched Ohio State for 47 points and Notre Dame for 36. She had a game-high 24 points when they beat UConn 78-69 recently before a home crowd of 17,023. Huskies coach Auriema said, “Take out Asia Durr, and we would have won by 30.”
Megan Gustafson, Iowa, forward, 6-3, senior
Averaging 26.6 points (tops in the nation) and 12.7 rebounds
The Wisconsin native is second in the nation in field goal percentage (70.4). She has been Big Ten Player of the Week 10 times this season. She had 41 points and 14 rebounds in an 86-71 win over No. 21 Michigan State. In that game she hit 17 of 24 field goal attempts and all seven of her free throws.
Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon, guard, 5-11, junior
Averaging 19.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 8.2 assists (leads nation)
If she’s not the best player in the country, and she very well could be, she undoubtedly has the best court vision. Her assist total – including a school-record 669 for her career — is all the more amazing considering she’s not the point guard. The reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year is women’s basketball’s all-time leader in triple-doubles with 16, having broken the previous record of seven when she was a sophomore.
Teaira McCowan, Mississippi State, center, 6-7, senior
Averaging 16.9 points and 13.7 rebounds
She led the Bulldogs to the NCAA final in each of the last two years and wants to get them over the final hump this year. She has had 18 double-doubles this season, getting plenty of help along the way from forward Anriel Howard, a grad-transfer from Texas A&M. The No. 6 Bulldogs (21-1, 11-0 SEC) are winning by an average of 33.8 points, 24.1 in conference games.
Arike Ogunbowale, Notre Dame, guard, 5-8, senior
Averaging 20.7 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists
She scored 30 points, 26 of them in the second half, in the Irish’s 82-68 win over then-No. 2 Louisville. Don’t be misled by that score. It was a thriller until a 14-2 Irish run in the final 1:48. It’s going to be hard for Ogunbowale to match her heroics in last year’s Final Four: In the semis, her contested shot handed UConn its first loss of the season. In the final she hit an even tougher buzzer-beater, a running three from the corner with a hand in her face, to beat Mississippi State for the title.
Katie Lou Samuelson, UConn, guard/forward, 6-3, senior
Averaging 18.9 and career-high 7.0 rebounds
The sister of former Stanford sharp-shooters Bonnie and Karlie is a two-time All-American who led the nation in 3-point shooting last year (47.5 percent). She was in a seven-game shooting slump until she poured in 31 points, including 27 in the first half, Wednesday against East Carolina.
Alanna Smith, Stanford, forward, 6-4, senior
Averaging 20.7 points, 8.0 rebounds
With every game, the first international recruit in Stanford history is adding to her case as one of the school’s all-time greats. The Australian has 53 blocks, one fewer than other teams have totaled against Stanford. Although her 3-point shooting has fallen off lately, her 44.4 percent is still one of the best in the country. She worked hard to make herself an excellent perimeter shooter this season. Her experience in the World Cup in Spain in September helped make her a threat on both ends of the court.