NCAA Women: 2019 All-Australian Awards

In a season that began with in excess of 80 Aussie women on NCAA Division I rosters, the number of players who enjoyed outstanding seasons meant that even with some top players falling victim to season-ending injuries, places among the three All-Australian teams were hard to come by.

Whilst that meant that some highly deserving players missed out on spots, it also bodes well for the future of women’s basketball in Australia as the college pathway delivers an increasing number of high-level players, as evidenced by the Opals selections of Alanna Smith and Tiana Mangakahia.

Player of the Year | Alanna SMITH | Stanford

Already a World Cup silver medallist and the undoubted star of one of the nation’s top teams in Stanford, Smith’s reputation as the top Australian player in college had been well-established.

The senior lived up to that billing this season, leading Stanford to a Pac-12 tournament championship and NCAA Tournament Elite Eight berth. The Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Scholar-Athlete of the Year, Smith’s name littered award watchlists throughout the season, including the Naismith and Wooden Player of the Year awards, Senior CLASS Award, and Katrina McClain Award for best power forward in the nation. Smith’s performances lived up to those selections, with her name remaining on those watchlists deep into the season, including being named as one of the five finalists for the Katrina McClain Award.

The Stanford star also picked up the Pac-12 Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after leading her team to the championship, whilst in any year not dominated by Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu, Smith would surely have picked up Pac-12 Player of the Year for her efforts this season.

Freshman of the Year | Haylee ANDREWS | Portland

This award was almost a toss-up between Andrews and Duke first-year player Miela Goodchild, but Andrews’ all-round impact on her team just edged her ahead of the sharpshooting Blue Devil.

Whilst Portland may have finished under .500 at 13-17, their record was a vast improvement on last season’s 7-23 mark, and Andrews was a large part of that. Averaging 11.8 points and 4.1 assists per game, the freshman finished top among Aussies in her class for dimes, and second in scoring behind Seattle’s Courtney Murphy. Outstandingly for a 5’9 point guard, Andrews also finished second among Aussie freshman for rebounds, picking up 4.5 per contest, picking up a WCC All-Freshman Team selection alongside fellow Australian, Sam Simons of Saint Mary’s.

Defensive Player of the Year | Courtney WEST | Portland State

The only Australian player to pick up a conference Defensive Player of the Year award, West’s three-year block party continued as the centre helped lead Portland State to a conference title and a spot in the NCAA Tournament in her final season of college basketball.

Finishing in the top 20 in the nation for rejections per game with 2.74, West represented an imposing presence around the basket, altering not only opposition shots but entire strategies as taking on the senior proved to be a plan fraught with danger. In a remarkable season for Portland State, West provided the foundation of a Vikings defence that reduced its average points conceded per game from 70.1 last season to 60.3 per game, rating in the top 15 in the nation for field goal percentage, holding opponents to just 35.6% shooting for the season.

Most Improved Player | Shannon DUFFICY | Utah State

shannon Dufficy had been a solid contributor in her first two seasons at Utah State, but 2018/19 delivered a new version of the Aggies’ frontcourt leader.

The junior more than doubled her scoring output from 7.8 to 15.7 points per game, whilst a slight uptick in her rebounding numbers led to a double-double average whilst also putting up a school-record 19 double-doubles in her 33 appearances. That improvement from Dufficy helped turn a team that sat in the bottom 100 in the nation for rebound margin into a team just outside the top 100, in turn helping to deliver a 17-16 record and a spot in the postseason WBI for a team that finished 7-23 last season.

However, it appears unlikely that Dufficy will be back in 2019-20 to help continue that upward trajectory, with a recent social media post implying that the Aggies star will be transferring in the near future.

First Team

G | Tiana MANGAKAHIA | Syracuse

In just about any other season, Tiana Mangakahia would win the Player of the Year award by the length of the proverbial straight.

The point guard was scintillating for Syracuse for the second year in succession, leading the Orange to a Sweet 16 berth and putting her name in the conversation to leave early for the WNBA Draft. It’s not hard to see why; the junior finished 2nd in the nation for average assists with 8.4 per game, and also tallied 16.8 points and 4.9 rebounds per contest as well as chalking up her first triple-double alongside 9 double-doubles.

With scintillating vision and the ability to switch to a scorer’s mentality as the situation requires, Mangakahia’s performances were not lost on Opals coach Sandy Brondello, who handed the junior a call-up to national team camp earlier this month after initially leaving the point guard out of the extended squad for the build-up to the 2020 Olympics.

G | Amy O’NEILL | St. Francis Brooklyn

Only one player in college basketball averaged more assists than Mangakahia, and it was fellow Australian Amy O’Neill, who put together a stunning senior campaign to lead the nation in dimes.

O’Neill racked up 8.6 assists per contest, beating out Mangakahia and Wooden Award winner Sabrina Ionescu for top spot, leading the Terriers to their first winning season since 2013-14 with an 18-13 mark. The point guard was hardly just an assist merchant though. The senior also tallied 10.1 points and 6.9 rebounds per game to emerge as the Terriers’ most potent all-round threat, stepping up for a team in serious need of leadership following the graduation of fellow Australian Alex Delaney after the 2017-18 campaign.

O’Neill also secured an All-Northeast Conference First Team selection for her exploits, one of three Aussies in the league to collect awards, rounding out a two-year stint in Division I that begs the question: what could O’Neill’s legacy at St. Francis have been if she had spent all four years there?

G | Jade JOHNSON | St. Francis Brooklyn

You need great scorers to rack up the kind of assist numbers that O’Neill did this season, and fellow Terrier Jade Johnson was only too happy to oblige her countrywoman.

Finishing just two points shy of averaging 20 per game, Johnson finished the season as the top scorer amongst Australian players, aided no small part by her 41.9% shooting from beyond the arc and 91.7% free throw percentage. Like O’Neill, Johnson picked up an All-Conference selection, slotting into the All-Northeast Conference Second Team after finishing the season as the second-highest scorer in the league.

Johnson’s shots were also split almost 50/50 between two-points and three-pointers, demonstrating her threat from multiple spots on the floor, something that will be vital next season as the Terriers look to cover the holes left by seniors O’Neill and Maria Palarino, as well as English import Ebony Horton, who is no longer listed on the roster after adding 8.4 points per game as a freshman.

F | Alanna SMITH | Stanford

Alanna Smith’s performances in 2017-18 saw the Stanford star land an All-Australian first team selection, but even that paled in comparison to the campaign that the senior put together this year.

Smith finished in the top 50 in the nation for points, rebounds, blocks, field goal-percentage, three-point percentage, and double-doubles, improving her numbers in just about every facet of the game to lead Stanford to the Pac-12 tournament championship and a spot in the NCAA Elite Eight before falling to eventual runners-up Notre Dame. Tallying 13 double-doubles in 36 games, Smith compiled averages of 19.4 points and 8.6 rebounds per game whilst shooting 39.7% from three-point range, a remarkable improvement from the 30.2% she had shot in the previous season. The senior also averaged in excess of 2 blocks for the first time in her four years at Stanford, leading Smith to finish behind only former WNBA star Jayne Appel-Marinelli on the Cardinal’s career block leaders list with 225.

Smith’s outstanding career culminated in a selection at #8 in the WNBA Draft by Opals coach Sandy Brondello and the Phoenix Mercury, the highest selection of any Australian college player in the history of the league. The selection represented a just reward for a player whose outstanding play saw her join Maya Moore, Breanna Stewart, and Elena Delle Donne as the only players in women’s college basketball history to finish their career with 1600 points, 200 blocks, and 150 made threes.

C | Shannon DUFFICY | Utah State

Another solid year in the same vein as 2017-18 from Shannon Dufficy would have been more than pleasing to Utah State fans this year, but what the junior produced was something else entirely, earning a spot on the Mountain West All-Conference Team for her exploits.

The only Australian in Division 1 to secure a double-double average this season, Dufficy rightly became the focal point of the Utah State offence this season, averaging almost 16 points per game and dominating the frontcourt as the Aggies improved their rebound rate from 47.4% to 51% on the back of Dufficy’s efforts. The junior also increased her shooting range markedly this season, hitting 33% of her 102 three-point attempts after knocking down a fairly dismal 23.9% on 71 attempts in her junior year. Whilst her outstanding form this season has set Dufficy up for an even better senior year, that will likely not be in a Utah State uniform.

A recent social media post suggests that Dufficy will be transferring, with teams likely to be lining up for the chance to convince the dominant forward to join their program.

Second Team

G | Tia HAY | Santa Clara

A junior college transfer, Tia Hay claimed the starting point guard spot at Santa Clara from day one before helping the Broncos to improve from 9-21 in the previous season to a respectable 14-17 record in 2018-19.

Using her ability to get to the basket as a weapon, Hay shot 48% from two-point range in her first season in Division 1, culminating in the junior tallying 15.4 points per contest to lead the Broncos in scoring average by over 4 points. Hay also averaged 4.3 assists per game to sit just outside the top 100 in the nation in that category, helping the junior to secure a spot in the WCC All-Conference Second Team.

Things can only be expected to improve going forward for Hay and the Broncos, who spent the season integrating a number of transfers and freshmen, and are projected to not lose a single starter from this year’s roster.

G | Funda NAKKASOGLU | Florida

It was a tough old season for Florida, but without the scoring punch delivered by Funda Nakkasoglu in her final campaign, it would have been a whole lot worse for the Gators.

One of just two players to finish the season averaging double figures, Nakkasoglu’s 16.6 points per game was more than six ahead of the next best on the roster. On a team that shot just 29% from three-point range, Nakkasoglu’s 42% clip gave the Gators a lone outside threat, and landed the senior in the top 20 in the nation for three-point shooting percentage. Whilst Nakkasoglu’s assist numbers were well down this season, that can be attributed as much to the team’s poor shooting as anything else, and there is no doubt that the Turkish national squad member will be missed in the upcoming season as Florida’s long rebuild continues.

F | Taylah SIMMONS | Wagner

The Pick and Roll’s Freshman of the Year last season, Simmons showed that her outstanding first season was no fluke, making vast improvements to challenge Shannon Dufficy for the Most Improved Player award. Having averaged 8.9 points and 5.1 rebounds last season, Simmons improved those numbers to 15.3 points and 7.2 rebounds this year, chalking up 8 double-doubles in the process.

Simmons’ performances this season did culminate in two conference awards, with the sophomore picking up an All-Northeast Conference Second Team selection alongside Jade Johnson as well as the league’s Most Improved Player award. Having emerged as one of the most dominant frontcourt players in the conference to finish in the top 7 in the league for both scoring and rebounding, Simmons is now set to test her skills in another environment. The sophomore has entered her name in the transfer portal and looks set to leave Wagner, with there likely to be no shortage of suitors for the forward from Melbourne.

F | Alicia FROLING | Southern Methodist

Making her comeback from the knee injury that kept her out for the entirety of the 2017-18 campaign, Alicia Froling made a welcome return to the Southern Methodist lineup, keeping the team competitive throughout the season with her impact around the basket at both ends.

One of the top players in the nation on the offensive glass with 3.7 offensive rebounds per game, Froling came within touching distance of a double-double average, putting up 10.3 points and 9.0 boards per contest courtesy of a dangerous combination of power, athleticism, and touch around the rim. The senior also dished out 1.8 blocks per game, and broke the program career records for blocks, rebounds, and double-doubles in an exemplary final season that culminated in an American All-Conference Third Team nod to go alongside two All-Conference Second Team nominations and an All-Conference Freshman Team selection in previous years.

C | Megan McKAY | Saint Mary’s

Megan McKay’s scoring numbers may have been slightly down on her junior year, dropping from 15.3 to 12.7 points per game, but the Saint Mary’s centre remained one of the top frontcourt players in the West Coast Conference. That presence helped the Gaels to a fourth 20-win season in McKay’s four years at Moraga as Saint Mary’s finished 21-12, with a WNIT second round finish to show for their exploits.

Shooting at over 60% from two-point range for a season for the third time in her career, McKay’s scoring may have been down but her efficiency was not as time and again the Western Australian proved to be an extremely reliable scorer for the Gaels. McKay also tied her career-high for single season rebounds, tallying 259 boards in 33 games – the exact same number that she produced in her sophomore year – for an average of 7.8 per game. That commanding interior presence delivered McKay an All-Conference First Team selection to go with another First Team selection in 2017-18 and an honourable mention in 2016-17, rounding out an outstanding college career that will no doubt set the Gaels star up for the professional pathway if she so chooses.

Third Team

G | Haylee ANDREWS | Portland

An instant sensation for Portland, Haylee Andrews delivered in all facets during her freshman campaign to help improve a Pilots side that finished 7-23 in 2017-18 to a respectable 13-17 mark, setting a platform for the future in the process. An All-WCC Freshman Team selection, Andrews delivered in a number of ways, tallying 11.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game whilst shooting a solid 51.5% from two-point range to finish as one of four Portland players to average double figures this season whilst leading the team in dimes and also finishing second on the roster for rebounds per game.

Perhaps the most telling outcome of the season, however, was that Andrews was selected as one of three players on the roster to be consulted on the selection of the team’s new coach, perhaps the ultimate indicator that the freshman will be one of the Pilots’ most integral parts going forward.

G | Miela GOODCHILD | Duke

Coming into the season, Miela Goodchild was expected to provide some impact off the bench for Duke, but starting was hardly in the works. However, a combination of injuries and suspensions forced Goodchild to step up, which the freshman did, with scintillating results.

The freshman finished sixth in the nation for three-point percentage, knocking them down at a 44.5% clip. That accurate outside shooting set Goodchild up to finish the season as Duke’s third-highest scorer with 10.9 points per game, behind only star pairing Haley Gorecki and Leaonna Odom. The 2016 Under 17 World Champion also chipped in 1.7 assists and 1.9 rebounds per game, setting a solid foundation for the future for the Queenslander who will continue to play an integral role for a Blue Devils side looking to return to the NCAA Tournament after appearing for 21 years straight before missing out in two of the last four seasons.

F | Eve BRASLIS | Utah Valley

Even before she set foot on court, it looked as though Eve Braslis could be a steal of a recruit for Utah Valley, and the freshman proved this time and again in her first season in Orem.

Four double figure scoring efforts in her first five games, including a combined 35 points and 16 rebounds in her first two games alone, entrenched the freshman as a starter, with Braslis not relinquishing the spot throughout the season. A couple of dips in form at the offensive end threatened to shake Braslis’ season off the rails, but the first-year player rode those out to finish the season with nine consecutive double-figure games to average 10.7 points and 5.8 rebounds, whilst also dishing out 2.3 assists per game, demonstrating her solid all-round game time and again. Having set herself a solid platform with an outstanding freshman year, Braslis shapes to be one of the most intriguing players going forward as the Victorian looks to become a dominant force in the WAC over the next three seasons.

F | Georgia PINEAU | Boston College

Ever-reliable for Boston College, Georgia Pineau once again proved to be one of the mainstays of the Eagles’ frontcourt in yet another solid season for the junior. Although her numbers were down slightly on what she had produced in her sophomore year, Pineau remained a vital part of the Eagles’ roster, helping lead the team to a 14-16 record after finishing a dismal 7-23 in 2017-18.

Pineau finished second on the Boston College roster for rebounds with 5.6 per game to go alongside 8.1 points, whilst her impressive passing led to 2.4 assists per contest. The junior also added just over 1 block per game as her defensive presence around the basket proved crucial to the Eagles’ improvement. With not a single senior on the roster this season, Pineau, playing alongside fellow Australian Taylor Ortlepp, looks well-positioned to help deliver the Eagles a first winning season of her time in Chestnut Hill in 2019-20 and also vastly improve on this season’s ACC record of 3-13.

C | Courtney WEST | Portland State

Despite being perplexingly overlooked for All-Conference selections in all three of her seasons in Division 1, Courtney West still managed to finish on a high, leading Portland State to a Big Sky championship and a spot in the NCAA Tournament in her senior year with the Vikings whilst also securing the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year award.

Finishing just two blocks shy of a spot in the top 10 in the nation for average blocks per game, West combined an imposing defensive presence with efficient 55% shooting and outstanding work on the boards to tally 10.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks per game, West’s turnover numbers all fell once again, continuing a trend that featured throughout her college career to see the senior cut her turnovers to just over 1 per game after that number sat at almost 2 in her first season. Unlike most seniors who will have to wait until May to graduate, West has already commenced her post-college career, returning to junior club Sutherland in the Waratah League for the remainder of the 2019 season.

Honourable Mentions

The honourable mentions list is headlined by a pair of players who had compiled outstanding seasons before injury struck, and a freshman whose scintillating campaign was delayed for almost half a season due to injury.

Mississippi State sophomore Chloe Bibby had proven to be an integral part of a team fighting for a national title before her season was cruelly ended by an ACL injury early in the SEC campaign. Through 18 games, Bibby had improved her scoring from 3.9 to 11.9 points per game, shooting a mind-boggling 45% from three-point range after hitting shots from deep at just 31% in her freshman year, and there is little doubt that an All-Australian First Team spot was a possibility before the injury. Wake Forest junior Alex Sharp was similarly impactful for her team, averaging 12.7 points and 9.3 rebounds for the season. However, Sharp was restricted to just 15 games for the Demon Deacons as a number of injuries cut into her season.

Meanwhile, Seattle freshman Courtney Murphy could possibly have made a run at Freshman of the Year if not for an ankle injury that kept the sharpshooter out for the first half of the season. Shooting 46.1% from three-point range, Murphy averaged 12.5 points and 4.4 rebounds per game, and also broke the Redhawks’ Division I scoring record with 33 points in just her sixth college game. It would also be remiss not to mention Northern Illinois star Courtney Woods, who tallied 141 points and 46 rebounds in 7 games before falling victim to a season-ending injury.

Megan McKay may have been the star among Saint Mary’s Aussie contingent, but Sam Simons and Jasmine Forcadilla each compiled solid campaigns to be vital contributors for the Gaels. Simons put herself in the conversation for Freshman of the Year with an impressive first season. Forcing herself into the starting lineup for the final 11 games of the campaign, Simons averaged 11.1 points per game, headlined by a 28-point outing in an 81-68 win over Santa Clara, whilst also chipping in 3.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. Forcadilla also finished in double figures, tallying 10 points per contest alongside 3.1 assists and 2.6 rebounds in 27 games before an ACL injury cruelly ended the redshirt junior’s season prematurely.

In a season featuring scintillating guard play across the nation, there were two backcourt players especially unlucky to miss out on a spot for highly contrasting reasons. Boston College sharpshooter Taylor Ortlepp was close to joining teammate Georgia Pineau after another solid season in which the junior averaged 10.3 points and 3.3 assists per game, improving her two-point shooting from 36.5% to 44% and seeing a slight uptick in her three-point shooting in the process. Elsewhere, Utah State’s Eliza West’s ability to find teammates was on show all season as the junior improved her assist numbers from 4.4 to 5.5 per game to finish third among Australian players, behind only first-team pair Mangakahia and O’Neill. Whilst her scoring was down slightly to 5.3 points per game, those assists proved crucial in helping Utah State to reach the postseason Women’s Basketball Invitational.

Finally, the performances of sophomore guard Georgia Dale, whose Cal Baptist team stepped up from Division II to Division I this season, cannot be ignored. Having put up 10.1 points per game in Division II as a freshman, Dale’s production took but a tiny dip against the higher level of competition, shooting an efficient 47.1% from two-point range to tally 8.3 points and 4.1 rebounds per game, fairly impressive numbers for a player who stands just 5’6. However, Dale also facilitated her teammates solidly, finishing the season with 3.4 assists per game to finish sixth among Australians.