NCAA Women: 2018 All-Australian Awards

2017-18 NCAA All-Aussie Women | Credit: www.shelleycreative.com

The 2016/17 All-Australian teams were comprised entirely of players who returned to college this season, meaning it looked as if the All-Australian list would be harder to get out of than into. But with three players going down injured early in the season and Utah Valley centre Sam Lubcke turning pro and moving to Europe, positions immediately opened up and there was no shortage of candidates as a number of players stepped up to make their cases for recognition.

Player of the Year

Kristy WALLACE | Baylor

The additions to the CV in the last month alone say it all. Unanimous All-Big 12 First Team. Big 12 All-Defensive Team. WBCA All-American Honourable Mention. 16th overall pick in the 2018 WNBA Draft. The postseason selections came thick and fast for Wallace, who led the Baylor team at both ends before injury cruelly brought an end to her season on her own Senior Day, just days before the postseason commenced.

Having started alongside now-Phoenix Mercury guard Alexis Prince in 2016/17, Wallace became the true leader of the team this season, directing the offence at one end and leading by example on defence at the other. Her numbers may not have been as mind-blowing as Courtney Woods’ 22.1 points per game or Tiana Mangakahia’s nation-leading 9.8 assists per contest, but that unanimous all-conference selection speaks to the elite level at which Wallace played all season – you don’t lead a power conference team to a 28-1 record unless you play at an elite level for the entirety of the season, which is exactly what Wallace did in 2017/18.

Freshman of the Year

Taylah SIMMONS | Wagner

This may come as a surprise to some, as Simmons played for a much smaller program than many of the bigger-name freshman that made the move to college this year. However, her performances for Wagner were impossible to ignore throughout the season. Of Australian freshman to play 10 games or more, Simmons was one of just three, alongside Eastern Illinois’ Grace McRae and Eastern Washington’s Brittany Klaman, to play more than 20 minutes per game, with her performances clearly earning a continued stretch of playing time. Simmons started every game bar Senior Day in the period after New Year’s, having put up a solid 6.8 points and 4.5 rebounds per contest to that point. The freshman forward took on the increased responsibility with aplomb in an otherwise struggling Wagner side, rounding out the season with 8.9 points and 5.1 assists for the year thanks to an improvement at both ends once becoming a regular starter.

Most Improved Player

Jade JOHNSON | St. Francis Brooklyn

Having featured in just 15 of St. Francis’ games in 2016/17 due to injury, just managing to play in the majority of the Terriers’ contests would have been a significant step up for Johnson. However, the sophomore went far above and beyond that in a scintillating second season in Brooklyn Heights. Of course, a return to full fitness and increased playing time led to an improvement in points production, but it took an improvement in performance for Johnson to earn that playing time.

Having knocked down her three point attempts at a fairly dismal 23.5% in her freshman year, Johnson increased that clip to 42.1% in her sophomore year, a mark that sat comfortably inside the top 100 players in the nation and also led all Australians who attempted more than a single three point attempt this season. That assisted Johnson in improving from 7.0 to 14.7 points per game, whilst the wing provided solid assistance on the boards, tallying 4.4 rebounds per game. Having been mentored by fellow Australian Alex Delaney for the past two seasons, Johnson will now be relied on to build on this season’s improvement and become a leader herself in her final two seasons of college basketball on a team with a new face on the sidelines after Terriers’ coach John Thurston announced his retirement after the season.

Defensive Player of the Year

Stephanie REID | Buffalo

Several players picked up conference All-Defensive team awards, including Kristy Wallace and Jasmine Trimboli, whilst Courtney West surely would have been in the mix if the Big Sky had selected a team, but Reid’s tenacity combined with her ability at the defensive end were simply irresistible. The senior picked up the third MAC All-Defensive selection in her four years at Buffalo, but there’s a catch: the MAC All-Defensive team didn’t exist in her freshman year. On a Bulls team renowned for their defensive intensity – their defensive rating was in the top 40 in the nation – Reid was one of the leaders. Whilst she was just edged out for most steals per game among Australian players by Tiana Mangakahia, Reid finished in the top 100 in the nation with 2.4 steals per game, a tangible reminder of the senior’s impact. However, it is well known that the box score has never been the best descriptor of defensive ability, and Reid’s exploits were on show not just this season, but for the last four years.

First Team

G | Kristy WALLACE | Baylor

Wallace had been a solid player throughout her first three seasons in college, and with the players who had mentored her at Baylor having now moved on, the Lady Bears became the Australian senior’s team to lead. Having been selected for an Opals camp after the 2016/17 campaign, Wallace seemingly derived improved confidence over the offseason, showing more aggression at both ends of the court and reaping the rewards for her efforts. A perennial contender, Wallace led Baylor to a 28-1 record before disaster struck on the final day of the regular season as an ACL injury struck the senior down on the eve of the postseason. However, that doesn’t take away from what Wallace did in those 29 games.

Getting to the hoop with more regularity and aggression saw her two point field goal percentage make a massive improvement from 45.5% to 57%, good enough to sit just outside the top 100 in the nation. Combined with an ability to knock down the three at 38.4%, the senior’s point production improved from 7.6 points per game in 2016/17 to 12.9 points per contest this season. However, that didn’t take away from her ability to facilitate her teammates. Wallace’s assist numbers remained near enough to steady at 5.3 per game, and her turnover rate reduced from 23.4% to 18.9%. The Lady Bears were good enough to get through the Big 12 Tournament without Wallace, but once again the old nemesis Oregon State knocked off Baylor earlier than they would have liked, taking the Bears down in the Sweet 16 in a rematch of last year’s Elite Eight match up.

G | Tiana MANGAKAHIA | Syracuse

Mangakahia had not played a game of competitive basketball in two years, but you would never have known it as the sophomore dished and swished her way to a record-breaking first season in Division I which culminated in an All-ACC First Team selection. Having sat out both season at Hutchinson Community College, it would not have been totally surprising to see Mangakahia ease into things at Syracuse, but instead she came out firing, dishing out 10 assists on debut before rattling off double-doubles in 9 of her next 10 games, with the other game being a 13 point, 9 assist performance against Colgate.

The sophomore’s scoring became more of a factor as conference play rolled on, led by a 44 point performance against Georgia Tech, but her ability as a facilitator rarely wavered. This led to Mangakahia firstly breaking Alexis Peterson’s single season assists record for Syracuse, before going on to top former Notre Dame and current New York Liberty guard Lindsey Allen’s ACC single season assists record, eventually rounding out the season with 9.8 assists alongside 17.5 points per game. Despite falling to Virginia Tech in the opening round of the ACC Tournament, the young Syracuse team comfortably reached the NCAA Tournament with a 22-8 record, but fell in the opening round, ironically to Oklahoma State, the last school alongside Syracuse in contention to recruit Mangakahia.

G/F | Courtney WOODS | Northern Illinois

A truly elite scorer, Woods finished the season 11th in the nation for scoring average among qualified players, pouring in an eye-opening 22.1 points per game, up from 16.6 in 2016/17. Woods racked up 30 points six times during the 2017/18 season, with two 39 point games, a 38 point effort, and a 37 point outing the highlights, and scored in double figures in all bar one game. However, the Queenslander was far from being just a scorer, finishing in the top 5% in the nation with 8 rebounds per game and the top 10% for assists with 3.3 per game, with both numbers significantly improving on last season’s marks. It is little wonder that Woods was named to the MAC All-Conference First Team, finishing fourth in the voting for conference player of the year and garnering four first place votes from the 48 voters. Despite going 15-15 to finish with a .500 record this season, Woods and Northern Illinois have plenty to look forward in 2018/19 to as the team loses just one starter from this season to graduation.

F | Alanna SMITH | Stanford

An outstanding second half of last season was expected to continue into 2017/18 for Smith, and the junior promptly delivered as Stanford’s most commanding front court player. No doubt buoyed by her performances in her first tournament for the Opals where she came away with a silver medal at the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup competition, Smith took that form into the college season to dominate at times on her way to an All-Pac 12 selection.

Stanford found the going tough in the early stages of the season as star local Brittany McPhee sat out injured, but Smith enjoyed a reasonably solid start to the year before really kickstarting her campaign with a 33 point, 11 rebound outing in an overtime loss to then #9 Ohio State. Tallying double figures in 27 of the team’s 35 games, Smith finished second in scoring and rebounding for Stanford with 13.5 points and 7.0 boards per game as her status as a leader of the team shone through for a Cardinal team that reached the Sweet 16 for the eleventh consecutive season before falling to Final Four team Louisville. Smith also stepped up on defence following the graduation of imposing paint presence Erica McCall, tallying 1.8 blocks and 1.3 steals per game, with the former seeing the junior finish the season in the 3% in the nation. Already one of the most experienced players in the side, Smith will now enter her senior year in 2018/19 as the undisputed leader of the Stanford side following the graduation of both McPhee and Smith’s front court partner in Kaylee Johnson.

C | Megan McKAY | Saint Mary’s

A dominant presence in the paint for Saint Mary’s since the moment she stepped foot in McKeon Pavilion, McKay remains the premier post player among Australian women in college. The Western Australian showed marked improvement on offence, increasing her scoring from 10.7 to 15.3 points per game without her minutes changing from the 25.3 per game she played in 2016/17. Extremely adept at making room to find a clean look around the basket, McKay parlayed this into 60.3% shooting from the field, good enough for 28th in the country and just shy of the 61.9% that the junior managed in her freshman year, albeit on a lot fewer shots.

As impressive as McKay’s scoring was, her rebounding efforts alongside local player Sydney Raggio were just as vital to the Gaels’ success. The pair helped Saint Mary’s finish 10th in the nation for offensive rebounding rate and 25th for defensive rebounding rate, preventing opponents from getting second chances and creating those same opportunities at their own offensive end. Despite a 20 win season and knocking off perennial favourites Gonzaga in the regular season, Saint Mary’s, and McKay’s, season ended abruptly after falling in the first round of both the WCC tournament and the WNIT. However, with a young team that sees only Kiwi star Stella Beck graduating after this season, the Gaels have the roster to make a deeper postseason run in 2018/19.

Second Team

G | Stephanie REID | Buffalo

Stephanie Reid came into her senior year with a glowing resume that was missing but one thing: a win in an NCAA Tournament game. However, by the end of the season, Reid had pocketed a pair of victories as Buffalo upset the apple cart to reach the Sweet 16 and even gave defending champions South Carolina plenty to think about in their regional semi-final.

As per usual over the last four years, Reid was at the centre of just about everything good that Buffalo did, leading the Bulls from the point with maturity and aplomb. An All-MAC Second Team and All-Defensive team selection, Reid once again exhibited her class at both ends of the floor after receiving an All-Defensive selection in 2016/17 but missing out on an all-conference nomination until this year. Averaging a career high 12.1 points per game as well as 6.8 assists per contest, Reid proved yet again that she is an elite all-round player, and after shooting a dismal 19.1% from three point range last year, bounced back for a career year from beyond the arc, hitting her threes at a 35.5% clip. Reid also scored 19 points against South Florida and 18 against Florida State in Buffalo’s NCAA Tournament wins, showcasing her ability to step up in big games yet again, having written herself into Buffalo folklore in 2016 with an overtime buzzer-beater to win the program’s first MAC Tournament.

G | Funda NAKKASOGLU | Florida

Nakkasoglu was forced to sit out the 2016/17 season after transferring from Utah State, but returned with a vengeance for Florida as the program’s rebuild began under new coach Cameron Newbauer. With the step up in level from the Mountain West Conference to the SEC and playing in a team in a rebuilding phase, Nakkasoglu’s numbers were down on her second season in Utah State, but nonetheless the redshirt junior performed admirably for her new team. Nakkasoglu led the Gators in scoring with 14.9 points per game, which represented nearly a quarter of the team’s points as her ability to score in multiple ways made her a dangerous proposition for defences. Although Florida only picked up 3 conference wins this season, Nakkasoglu had many performances to be proud of, most notably a run of three consecutive 20 point games late in the season that included a 21 point outing against defending national champions South Carolina and 24 points against nationally ranked Texas A&M.

F | Alex SHARP | Wake Forest

One of the most well-rounded Australian players in college, Sharp provided an elite presence at both ends for Wake Forest throughout the season. Having been named to the ACC All-Freshman team in 2016/17, the lack of a surprise factor had the potential to play against Sharp, but it mattered little to the sophomore, who improved her numbers across the board. 7.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per game were a solid start, but Sharp improved to 10.5 points and 8.4 rebounds this season, no doubt setting herself up for a look at a double-double average next season. The sophomore also exhibited her ability to find a teammate by tallying 3 assists per game as her combination of athleticism, skill set, and game sense proved vital for a Wake Forest team looking to improve on last year’s 16-16 record. Whilst that didn’t come to pass as the Demon Deacons finished 14-17, the team has now played schedules ranking in the top 50 in the nation for the past two years and will surely be battle-tested coming into next season.

F | Geraldine McCORKELL | Idaho

Forming part of a formidable trio with local stars Taylor Pierce and Mikayla Ferenz, McCorkell enjoyed a scintillating senior season, but with little support for the three stars, Idaho could only compile a 19-14 season. The trio each averaged in excess of 15 points per game, with McCorkell tallying 16.5 points and a team-high 7.8 rebounds per contest, but no other player averaged more than 6.5 points per game. However, despite the lack of support, McCorkell was simply dominant throughout conference play on her way to a Big Sky All-Conference Second Team selection.

The senior finished her final conference slate on a run of 16 consecutive double-figure scoring efforts, including two 30 point games and finishing with no less than ten 20 point games in Big Sky play to help her team to a 13-5 conference record before unfortunately falling to a rampant Northern Colorado in the conference championship. McCorkell will be looked on fondly as one of the finest of a large number of Australians to have played at Idaho in the last decade, with her graduation also appearing to spell the end, or at least the pause, of an era of Australian Vandals, with the roster having featured at least one Australian every season since 2009/10.

C | Courtney WEST | Portland State

Although the numbers weren’t quite as mind-boggling as last season, Courtney West continued to dish out more blocks than the Lego store, and maintained her presence in other facets for a Portland State side forced to play their home games off-campus for the entire season as their arena was rebuilt. Having fallen just short of a .500 record in 2016/17 at 16-17, West helped Portland State to a solid 19-13 record, with the team putting their crosstown move behind them to finish 10-2 on their temporary home floor.

West finished fourth on the Vikings roster in scoring with 9.7 points per game, but led the team by over 2 rebounds per game, averaging 8 boards per contest. Her 81 blocks were 32 more than the rest of her team managed all season and equaled the total that opponents were able to dish out to the Vikings as the junior’s defensive presence continued to be a hallmark not only of her own game, but of the Portland State gameplan. Somewhat surprisingly, West also finished 3rd on the team in assists as her passing ability shone through when given the chance. Despite an outstanding season, West was once again denied an All-Big Sky selection courtesy of some lopsided selection decisions regarding positions. Having picked just three frontcourt players among the 15 players in 2016/17, the Big Sky voters selected just four this season, with West surely among the next couple of frontcourt players that just missed out.

Third Team

G | Jess GAJEWSKI | Grand Canyon

Gajewski had long shown that she could be a dominant scoring threat for Grand Canyon, and it finally came to pass in her senior year as the Queenslander obliterated all of her scoring and shooting percentage numbers from previous seasons. Her true shooting and effective field goal percentages both sat at around the 60% mark, good enough for the top 3% in the country, aided by her first season shooting at over 40% from beyond the arc. Gajewski was also the only Australian to hit her free throws at over 90%, good enough for top 20 in the nation. The senior’s performances, which saw her improve her scoring from 10.3 to 15.1 points per game, earned Gajewski an All-WAC Second Team selection, the only All-Conference selection for a player who will no doubt be remembered as one who helped the new Division I program thrive in its early years at the top level, with Grand Canyon only becoming postseason-eligible this season after a five-year probationary period.

G | Jade JOHNSON | St. Francis Brooklyn

Johnson hardly played a major role in 2016/17, but emerged as one of St. Francis’ most integral players in her sophomore year. Having been afforded just 15 appearances in her freshman year as injury cut her season short, Johnson made sure that she secured a starting berth early and grabbed on with both hands. The team’s preseason trip to Canada did Johnson a world of good, and the sophomore parlayed that into a scintillating start to the season, dropping 28 and 22 points inside the first eight games of the season. That outstanding scoring continued throughout the season, with Johnson not scoring below 10 points between November 25 and January 20 and hitting double figures in all bar five games throughout the campaign.

Featuring alongside fellow outstanding Australians Amy O’Neill and Alex Delaney, the trio performed admirably for a St. Francis side that unfortunately could only conjure a 13-17 record as their solid 9-4 record on their home court was undone by a 4-11 road record. Johnson and Delaney both picked up All-NEC selections, with Johnson earning second team honours alongside senior Delaney’s third team nomination. Their selections also represented the first time multiple St. Francis players had secured All-Conference selections in the same season.

F | Jasmine TRIMBOLI | South Dakota

Having missed the 2016/17 season through injury, Trimboli had plenty of reasons to give her last season at South Dakota a red-hot crack, and her efforts produced outstanding results in a solid senior year. Coming off the bench for the Coyotes, Trimboli was almost automatic from close range, hitting her two point attempts at 63.6%, a rate good enough for 17th in the entire nation. Although the senior only averaged 23.4 minutes per contest, Trimboli was still able to contribute 8.8 points and 4.5 rebounds per contest as the Coyotes barreled through the Summit League before unfortunately falling to South Dakota State in the conference championship game, with the loss also costing them an NCAA Tournament berth. Trimboli was also a lockdown defender for the Coyotes, averaging 1.7 steals per game on her way to a Summit League Defensive Player of the Year award alongside a Sixth Woman of the Year award and All-Conference second team selection to round out her college career.

F | Georgia PINEAU | Boston College

It would be fair to say that Georgia Pineau eased into things in her freshman year, but her second season at Boston College saw the sophomore stand tall – both literally and metaphorically – in what was otherwise a difficult season for the Eagles, who finished 7-23. Finishing third on the team in scoring with 11.6 points and top for rebounds with 7.2 per game, Pineau also led the team in blocks and finished second in assists, speaking to the sophomore’s all-round value to the team. In a young team, Pineau emerged as a leader, scoring in double figures 13 times including a 23 point outing in a 72-61 win over Pittsburgh, one of just two conference wins for the Eagles. Despite the team’s struggles this year, the Eagles graduate just one starter and have a solid recruiting class which includes fellow Australian Lana Hollingsworth, meaning the future is bright for both Pineau and her team.

C | Shannon DUFFICY | Utah State

Dufficy continued to churn out double-doubles as Utah State’s chief presence around the basket, racking up another seven in 2017/18 after tallying five in 2016/17. In an Aggies side that saw coach Jerry Finkbeiner switching up the front court starters in an effort to find something that worked in a challenging season, Dufficy remained the constant as her size combined with her ability to run the floor alongside Utah State’s speedy back court made her the one indispensable front court player on the roster.

As was the case in her freshman year, Dufficy averaged more rebounds than points, collecting 8.2 boards to 7.9 points per contest. However, with little rebounding help at the defensive end, Dufficy’s outstanding work on the glass failed to translate into any significant benefit for Utah State, with the team posting a defensive rating in the bottom 50 in the nation. The Aggies will need to improve at both ends in 2018/19 to add to this season’s tally of seven wins, but with Dufficy there for the next two years, at least one part of the front court equation is in place for a reasonable stretch of time to come.

Honourable Mention

A number of players made cases for a spot in one of the three teams, and in many cases it almost came down to a coin-flip.

St. Francis senior Alex Delaney enjoyed an outstanding season and picked up an All-NEC Third Team nomination, whilst teammate Amy O’Neill finished fourth for assists by an Australian this season, and alongside Jade Johnson it speaks to the level of impact that the Australian trio have had on the team that all three either made or were in contention for All-Australian spots. Taylor Ortlepp was scintillating at times alongside Georgia Pineau at Boston College, improving her scoring from to 7.3 to 12.3 points per game courtesy of improved three point shooting, whilst Jasmine Forcadilla’s emergence as a leader at the point for Saint Mary’s was one of the most enjoyable story lines to follow this season.

Finally, it would be remiss to not mention the performances of the three Australians at Utah State who regularly started alongside Shannon Dufficy. Eliza West dished out assists almost at will, whilst Olivia West was a regular beneficiary of those pinpoint passes on her way to 12.3 points per game. Finally, Rachel Brewster was once again a leader for the Aggies, even if her production was slightly down this season. With so many players putting up solid cases for inclusion, it begs the question: how hard would these teams have been to make if the likes of Alicia Froling, Carly Turner, and Grace Lennox had been able to play this season?

Written by

Fan of all things Aussie women's basketball. Too much college is never enough. Firm believer that winter was made for freezing in tin sheds at Waratah League games.

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