NCAA Women: Wallace takes ESPN National Player of the Week honours

Kristy Wallace | Credit: Baylor Photography

It was certainly a week to remember for the Australian women in college, but especially for Kristy Wallace.

The Baylor star was at her scintillating best, picking up ESPN’s National Player of the Week award for two dominant performances against nationally ranked opponents. Meanwhile, Stephanie Reid passed another milestone, four players– including Wallace– set career-high scoring marks, and Tiana Mangakahia received national billing as the final Lieberman award watch list was revealed.

The match-up between #3 Baylor and #6 Texas had been billed as the biggest game of the Big 12 conference slate, with the contest set to go down to the wire. However, Kristy Wallace had other ideas. With Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox taking care of business in the front court, Wallace dominated back court proceedings for 40 minutes in an 81-56 demolition of the Longhorns. The senior dropped in a career high 27 points on a highly efficient 11 of 16 shooting, while also collecting 7 rebounds and dishing out 4 assists in a comprehensive display that helped prove that little has changed atop the Big 12 – Baylor are still the team to beat.

Wallace continued that outstanding form into the Bears’ game against #20 West Virginia. Baylor trailed 47-41 at the half, but an inspired decision from the Baylor coaches to move Wallace off the ball freed the Queenslander up offensively, and she dominated the second half. Wallace came close to eclipsing the career-high she had set against Texas, shooting 9 of 14, including 3 of 5 from beyond the arc on her way to 25 points and 4 assists as Baylor rolled after halftime in chalking up an 83-72 win on the back of a 42-25 second half. Tuesday morning then brought the news from ESPN that Wallace had been awarded national player of the week, a deserving honour for a pair of outstanding performances against nationally ranked opponents.

However, Wallace was not the only Queenslander putting up big scoring numbers. Courtney Woods carried Northern Illinois yet again, even as the Huskies fell to a pair of agonising losses. The junior compiled solid numbers in a heartbreaking 77-75 loss to Ohio, shooting 7 of 16 to finish with a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds, as well as 4 assists. It was a game where Northern Illinois controlled things at halftime before Ohio rallied in the third quarter to tighten things up prior to a barnstorming finish. Despite that result, Woods put the Huskies on her back against Ball State.

Shooting an impressive 14 of 21, including 7 three-pointers, Woods almost matched her career-high of 40 points, dropping 37 and collecting 15 rebounds in a dominant effort. Unfortunately, the remainder of the Northern Illinois shot at under 35% for the contest, and with the turnover count reading 21-13, the Huskies were on the back foot as Ball State ran out 81-72 winners. However, the 37 point effort lifted Woods’ season numbers to 21.6 points per game, good enough for 14th in the nation at this point.

Tiana Mangakahia rounded out an outstanding week for those hailing from north of the Tweed, leading the way for Syracuse as the Orange won their two games this week by a combined margin of 53 points.

In a battle of orange-coloured teams, Mangakahia led a dominant Syracuse to an 86-51 victory with a near double-double. Finishing 7 of 13 from the field, the sophomore tallied 18 points, whilst dishing out an almost-expected 9 assists, as the Orange cruised to a 35 point win. Mangakahia’s stat line was almost identical in a slightly closer contest against Boston College, tallying 19 points and 9 assists, but also adding 7 rebounds to come within touching distance of a triple-double for the second time in as many weeks as Syracuse moved to 5-4 in conference play with a 75-57 win.

More impressively, Mangakahia was this week named to the Top 10 Narrow Watch List for the Nancy Lieberman Award, which recognises the top point guard in college basketball. The nominees include, among others, NCAA triple-double record holder Sabrina Ionescu and Big Ten all-time scoring leader Kelsey Mitchell, putting the Australian in esteemed company just over half a season into her Division I career.

Geraldine McCorkell also put together an outstanding scoring week, with the senior’s performances vital in helping Idaho to extend their winning streak to four games. McCorkell opened the week with a perfect 9 of 9 night from the field against high-flying Northern Colorado which culminated in 22 points alongside 10 rebounds, but more importantly, a 79-71 victory for the Vandals. As scintillating as that performance was, it was simply the entree, with the main course coming against North Dakota.

McCorkell was on fire from all over the court on her way to a career-high 34 points, shooting 50% from beyond the arc, 90% from the free throw line, and 10-19 from the field as the Vandals moved to 6-3 in conference play with a 78-64 win. McCorkell also picked up 9 rebounds to come agonisingly close to a double-double, but the senior will no doubt be pleased enough with the win and the career-high scoring effort.

Courtney West’s well-rounded skillset was on show yet again as the junior led Portland State to an 81-72 win over Sacramento State in the Vikings’ only game of the week. West dropped a career-high 25 points on 11 of 18 shooting, and also collected 12 rebounds for an impressive double-double. The Sutherland product also brought up her 50th block of the season with her fifth and final swat of the game, and also delivered 4 assists as the Vikings came from 4 points down with a quarter to play to dominate the final term 23-10 and secure the 9 point win.

Alex Sharp also tallied a career-high this week, leading Wake Forest in a hard-fought contest against North Carolina State. Sharp hit 8 of 12 from the field to tally an impressive 19 points, and also collected 5 rebounds in 36 minutes of action. Unfortunately a slow start to the second half from the Demon Deacons allowed North Carolina State to extend their 6 point halftime lead to 17 points after 3 quarters, eventually running out 82-68 winners.

Stephanie Reid became Buffalo’s career assists record holder last week, and this week brought up another milestone, passing the 1,000 career point mark as part of yet another outstanding performance for the point guard. Reid dropped in 23 points on 8 of 15 shooting, dished out an impressive 9 assists, and picked up 6 steals, but Buffalo still required overtime to defeat Eastern Michigan 97-92 after all but throwing away a seven point lead with a minute to play in regulation. Whilst Reid was outstanding, fellow Australian Katherine Ups continued to display her ability in a supporting role, chipping in 9 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists for the Bulls.

Wins remain tough to come by for the now 6-15 Boston College, but both Taylor Ortlepp and Georgia Pineau continued their solid individual seasons with some of the better performances from Eagles players this week.

Facing nationally ranked Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium was never going to be easy for Boston College, but both Australians performed admirably. Ortlepp chalked up 11 points, while Pineau delivered a solid all-round performance of 8 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists. However, a slow start from the Eagles allowed Duke to open up a lead before easing to a 75-50 win. The Eagles then ran into a rampant Tiana Mangakahia and Syracuse, falling to a 75-57 loss. Whilst Mangakahia’s effort has already been mentioned, both Boston College players also delivered. Pineau shot an impressive of 8 from the field, falling just short of a double-double with 17 points and 9 rebounds. Ortlepp also once again finished in double figures, tallying 11 points with assistance from a perfect 4 of 4 night at the charity stripe as both Aussies continued to shine in spite of the team’s results.

Coming up against Mississippi State and Georgia meant that Funda Nakkasoglu and Florida faced one of the toughest weeks in the SEC, but the point guard delivered two solid scoring efforts against tough opposition. Despite falling victim to a Mississippi State onslaught in a 90-53 loss, Nakkasoglu was still able to put together a 7 of 13 shooting night and deliver 19 points and 3 assists. The unfancied Gators then took it to Georgia in their second game of the week, and even led 42-35 with a quarter to play. But despite 18 points from Nakkasoglu, Florida were unable to hold on as the Bulldogs unleashed a 31-15 final quarter which saw the Gators fall to a 66-57 defeat as last week’s pair of wins were quickly forgotten.

Grand Canyon only played the one game this week, but that was all Jess Gajewski needed to make an impact. Of her 16 field goal attempts on the night, 13 were from beyond the arc, and seven makes delivered all 21 of the redshirt senior’s points as the Antelopes knocked off Utah Valley, 81-61. Gajewski also chipped in 4 assists as Grand Canyon jumped away midway through the first quarter on their way to a comprehensive victory.

Finally, Jade Johnson rounded out the week with an impressive midweek performance against Sacred Heart. Earlier in the week, St. Francis had been led by 15 points from Amy O’Neill and a 10 point, 9 rebound performance from Alex Delaney against Fairleigh Dickinson, but the Terriers fell to a 70-62 loss. Needing a win to prevent a continued slide down the NEC standings, the Australians, led by Johnson, came to the fore. Aided by 9 points each from fellow both Delaney and O’Neill, who also had 6 assists, Johnson hit 4 of 7 from beyond the arc on her way to a game high 23 points, leading the Terriers to a 63-48 win and moving to within one game of third place in the Northeast Conference at 4-5.

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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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