NCAA Women: Mangakahia and Smith drop career-highs, pick up awards

Alanna Smith | Credit: Eric Evans Photography

With many teams playing early season tournaments this week, there were extra opportunities for players to showcase their talents as many outfits packed two or three games into one weekend, capped off by Tiana Mangakahia and Alanna Smith picking up Conference Player of the Week awards.

Tiana Mangakahia is now the only player in the country averaging double figures for assists, and was able to set a number of records with some fantastic performances running the offence for Syracuse as the Orange finished with three wins from three games at the Paradise Jam.

In a back-and-forth game against Wisconsin, Mangakahia was by far the best on court on her way to 19 points and a tournament record 14 assists, and nailed the game-sealing free throws in the final few seconds as Syracuse managed to sneak a 77-74 win. A 4-18 shooting night wouldn’t have been on Mangakahia’s agenda in Syracuse’s 84-78 win over Vanderbilt in their second game of the week, but the Queenslander still managed to notch 11 points. However, an outstanding night feeding teammates in good positions saw Mangakahia tally a mind-boggling, school-record 17 assists to take her average for the season to 12.2 dimes per game. Syracuse found things slightly less taxing in a 74-62 win over George Washington, with Mangakahia again notching a double-double, her fifth in six games, with 11 points and another 10 assists.

Mangakahia would be duly recognised for her big week, being named Atlantic Coast Conference Co-Player of the Week. She averaged 14.5 points, 12.8 assists and 3.8 rebounds in her four games. She has also recorded at least 10 assists in every game for the Orange this year, leading the nation in total assists (71) and assists per game (11.8).

It’s been a transition of sorts for Alanna Smith this season as the Opals rookie takes up her role as a regular starter for Stanford, but the junior found her groove this week with some scintillating performances as the Cardinal travelled to Las Vegas for a three-game weekend at the Play4Kay Showcase.

Smith eased into the week with a 15 point, 8 rebound performance in a 79-54 win over  Kent State, also chipping in 3 assists, 3 steals, and 3 blocks. Belmont proved to be a tougher opponent in the first half as a late run from the Bruins saw the teams tied 37-37 at halftime, but Smith led Stanford to a 74-53 win with 14 second half points as part of a 23 point, 11 rebound double-double in which the junior shot 10-16 from the field. However, the best was yet to come.

Having fallen 85-64 to Ohio State just a fortnight earlier, Stanford showed a much improved performance in a 94-82 overtime loss, with Smith the undoubted star for the Cardinal, dropping a career-high 33 points on 67% shooting from the field which including the game-tying basket late in regulation, and also collected a career-high 16 rebounds to round out an outstanding weekend and collect Pac-12 Player of the Week honours in the process.

Funda Nakkasoglu started the week promisingly, but unfortunately her recent good form was hampered by injury just when the point guard was looking at her outstanding best. Shooting 7 of 9 from beyond the arc on her way to a game-high 25 points, Nakkasoglu was the leader for Florida as the Gators turned a one-point deficit into a seven point win in the final quarter to run out 87-80 winners over Richmond. However, the win was soured by a late injury to Nakkasoglu, who was forced off the court with two minutes to play with an apparent ankle injury. The junior missed the team’s next two games at the Savannah Invitational tournament, and remains listed as day-to-day heading into Florida’s next game on Wednesday.

Stephanie Reid also unfortunately suffered an apparent injury, lasting less than a quarter against Nebraska before going down in a lot of pain with what appeared to be a knee injury, eventually being helped off the court by trainers. However, before that injury, Reid dished out five assists before fellow Australian Katherine Ups took over. Ups finished with 18 points on 6 of 11 shooting and 5 rebounds as the Bulls knocked off the Cornhuskers 82-72 for their first win against a Big Ten opponent in program history. Ups continued her solid weekend with another 10 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals in Buffalo’s second win in as many days, a 61-41 victory over Clemson. However, there was no return for Reid, who remained on the sideline on crutches, with still no news of the extent of her injury.

Kristy Wallace and Baylor travelled to The Bahamas for the Junkanoo Jam, facing Missouri State and Georgia Tech on consecutive days. With the Lady Bears comfortably handling Missouri State 100-58 in their opener, Wallace, like many of the Baylor players, didn’t even register 20 minutes of playing time, but still managed to dish out six assists in her 19 minutes on court. Georgia Tech proved to be a slightly more challenging opponent, but Baylor were still able to roll to an 80-57 win to secure the championship. Wallace played 31 minutes, chalking up 12 points on 4 of 7 shooting from the field for her third double-figure scoring performance this season, whilst adding 7 rebounds and another 5 assists.

Northern Illinois travelled to San Antonio for a tournament during which they faced home side UTSA as well as Lamar. Courtney Woods led the Huskies in scoring in both games, but the team couldn’t quite secure a perfect weekend, finishing with one win from two games. A 6 of 15 shooting performance from Woods was perhaps slightly below her expectations in the team’s opening game against UTSA, but nonetheless the Queenslander managed to finish with 14 points, as well as 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 steals as Northern Illinois eased to a 69-55 win. The Huskies were well in the contest at halftime against Lamar, trailing 34-31, but the Cardinals shot 57% from the field in the second half to extend their lead and take a 90-80 win as Northern Illinois dropped to 4-2. Woods again top scored for the Huskies, shooting 8 of 18 to finish with a season-high 22 points as well as 6 rebounds as the junior continues to shoulder an impressive share of the scoring load.

Ashley Taia started the season spectacularly with 22 points in the opener against Saint Louis, but the senior’s progressed had slowed since that point, with one game out and a combined four points in her last two games. However, the Indiana State forward was back to her scoring best, even if the Sycamores were unable to secure a victory against South Dakota in Cancun, Mexico.

Hitting an impressive five of her seven attempts from beyond the arc, Taia finished the night shooting 8 of 12 from the field to finish with a game-high 21 points, and also picked up 3 steals in a solid defensive effort. However, South Dakota proved too good on the night, running over the top of Indiana State with a 50-34 second half to win 71-59. Fellow Australian Jasmine Trimboli finished with 6 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 steals for South Dakota in their victory, before backing up with another 6 points and an impressive 11 rebounds in the Coyotes’ 69-49 loss to Tennessee in their final game in Cancun.

Geraldine McCorkell has had a solid start to this season, but certainly kicked things up a notch with two excellent performances this week as Idaho split a pair of games at a tournament hosted by Cal State Northridge.

Facing the home side in the first game, and up against one of the top mid-major post players in the nation in Channon Fluker, McCorkell was simply dominant even as Idaho nearly threw away a double-digit lead before holding on for an 80-73 win. The senior finished the night shooting 67% from the field to notch a game-high 25 points alongside 6 rebounds, playing all bar 3 minutes of the contest.The result was not quite as positive for the Vandals in their second game of the week, going down 86-76 to TCU, but McCorkell was once again one of the best players on the court. On an 8 of 15 shooting night, the senior again topped 20 points, finishing with 22, as well as 12 rebounds to secure a double-double, and also dished out four assists to cap off a pair of outstanding performances.

With four Australians in the starting lineup, there was always a decent chance that at least one would deliver a solid performance in Utah State’s game against Southern Utah, and in the end three put up good numbers, even if the result may not have gone the Aggies’ way this week, falling 70-67 to see their record drop to 1-3. Shannon Dufficy tallied a double-double of 12 points and an impressive 19 rebounds, the most in a game by a Utah State player since 1982. Alongside Dufficy’s outstanding night, Olivia West and Rachel Brewster each cleared the 20 point mark. West shot 7 of 15 to tally 22 points and 4 assists, whilst Brewster shot 50% from the field on her way to 20 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists.

Saint Mary’s hosted a tournament this week, and Megan McKay took advantage of the chance to play two games in quick succession in familiar surroundings. Used sparingly in an 89-59 demolition of UC Santa Barbara, McKay was still able to tally 9 points and 4 rebounds in just 17 minutes of playing time as the reserves got the job done with ease. Indiana proved to be a much tougher challenge, but McKay pulled out another solid performance despite suffering foul trouble.

Shooting 6 of 10 from the field, the Western Australian finished with 18 points and 6 rebounds as the Gaels opened up an 8 point halftime lead before hanging on for a 6 point win, with Indiana leading for less than a minute late in the third quarter before Saint Mary’s restored their advantage. Jasmine Forcadilla was also solid against Indiana to finish with 11 points and 5 assists, whilst also playing her part on defence as the Gaels’ backcourt forced Tyra Buss into some ill-advised shots, with the Indiana star eventually taking almost half of the Hoosiers’ 63 field goal attempts to reach 24 points.

Alex Sharp came close to her first career triple-double last week, but this week managed to secure the first double-double of her career as part of a two-game stretch in Las Vegas against Minnesota and Hofstra.

Sharp was one of five Wake Forest players to finish in double figures, tallying 16 points and 6 rebounds, but Minnesota were too good on the day, registering a 93-81 win. Like many of her teammates, Sharp had a tough night shooting in the team’s second game against Hofstra, going 4 of 16 on her way to 10 points, but made up for it on the boards, pulling down 15 rebounds to secure a double-double as the Demon Deacons took the game down to the wire. However, Hofstra were good enough to sink their free throws down the stretch, and in the end Wake Forest fell to a 69-66 loss, seeing their record slip to 2-4 as a result.

It’s been a tough start to the season for Grand Canyon, who currently sit at 1-5, but Jess Gajewski provided a bright spot for the Antelopes even in their loss to Valparaiso. 23 points from the senior were enough to equal the game-high, but despite shooting 51% from the field for the night, Grand Canyon fell to an agonising 80-75 loss after rallying from 12 down with a quarter to play to come within a point of Valparaiso in the final minute of the contest.

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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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