NCAA Women: Alanna Smith leads Stanford to Bay Area success

Late season charges continued for a number of Australians this week, as Stephanie Collins, Taylor Ortlepp, and Alanna Smith all maintained form that has seen their minutes grow considerably over the last few weeks. In the west, Utah State won a thriller courtesy of some clutch play from a couple of Aussies, and a pair of lesser-known names put themselves on the map for the first time.

Alanna Smith was unquestionably the star of the week among the Australians. Taking on arch rivals California twice in the space of just a few days, the sophomore led Stanford to a pair of victories to earn bragging rights in the Bay Area. Smith scored almost a point a minute on Cal’s home court as Stanford eked out a 72-66 win, shooting 50% from the field and 6-8 from the line on her way to a game-high 27 points and 6 rebounds in 28 minutes of play. The Victorian fouled out late with the game still tight, but Stanford managed to keep Cal at bay in the final stages.

Moving back to Maples Pavilion for Senior Night, Stanford had a much easier time of it in the second game against Cal, eventually cruising to a 72-54 win to send their senior trio off in style. Smith again led from the front for the Cardinals, shooting 8-14 to end with a game-high 17 points as well as 8 rebounds to be far and away Stanford’s best player across the weekend. The Victorian was simply dominant at both ends, even against the highly rated California front court.

Grace Lennox again produced a bucket-load of points for Eastern Illinois this week, but her two performances could scarcely have been more different. Facing Murray State, Lennox racked up 18 points and 8 rebounds, but shot just 7-22 from the field as the Panthers fell to a 66-57 defeat. The Tasmanian was back to her efficient best against Austin Peay, though. In a 78-73 overtime win, Lennox hit the game-tying basket late in the fourth quarter and then scored four of Eastern Illinois’ 8 points in the extra five minutes. Lennox finished the game with 27 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists, with her 9-18 shooting from the field a vast improvement on her performance against Murray State just days earlier.

A few weeks between double-doubles for Alicia Froling feels like forever, but the Queenslander snapped her drought in remarkable fashion this week. However, it was fellow Australian Steph Collins who came up big for the Mustangs first. Despite a 66-52 loss to nationally ranked Temple, Collins connected on 50% of her shots from the field to finish with 10 points as her minutes continue to grow as the season progresses. Desperate to prevent two consecutive losses turning into an extended streak, Southern Methodist came out firing against Tulsa. The Mustangs held their opponents to single digits in two separate quarters in the 62-41 demolition job, with Froling at the forefront. The junior got to the line with regularity, shooting 6-8 from the line and 5-13 from the floor to end the game with 16 points and 16 rebounds. Froling's performance earned her a spot on the conference honour roll for the fifth time this season and tied the Mustangs’ record for double-doubles in a season.

Utah State may have finished the week with a win and a loss, but Rachel Brewster was solid throughout. The Aggies may have cost themselves a chance at victory at San Diego State after allowing the Aztecs to outscore them 23-11 in the second quarter, but Brewster led from the front. The sophomore was one of two Utah State players in double figures, finishing with 14 points on 6-14 shooting in a 66-59 defeat. Eliza West was also solid, chipping in 7 points and 6 assists. Fortunately, the Aggies were able to shake off that loss to secure a thrilling victory against Nevada. With the game swinging back and forth, Utah State went up 58-55 on a pair of Shannon Dufficy free throws with 11 seconds to play. With three seconds to play, Olivia West fouled a Nevada shooter, but her blushes were spared as the Nevada player hit only two of her three free throws. Eliza West was then fouled and hit both her free throws to ice the game and spare her namesake and compatriot’s blushes. Eliza West finished 12 points and 5 assists on the back of 7-8 shooting from the line, but Brewster was the star yet again. The Victorian ended with a game-high 21 points, shooting 9-17 from the field as Utah State snapped a two-game skid with the nail biting 60-57 win.

Stephanie Reid continued her outstanding form as both a scorer and facilitator for Buffalo, and her two performances this week have seen her move into the top 3 in the nation for assists per game. Leading Buffalo in both points and assists with 14 and 8 respectively, Reid’s performance helped the Bulls keep Eastern Michigan at bay in the fourth quarter to come away with a 56-52 win. Buffalo then put Akron to the sword, with Reid again leading the way. The Victorian shot a highly impressive 7-8 from the field for 17 points, and brought up her fourth double-double of the season with 11 rebounds in the 81-51 demolition. Reid now sits in the top 10 in the nation for assists per game, total assists, and assist to turnover ratio as the junior continues to deliver for Buffalo.

Taylor Ortlepp was highly impressive last week against North Carolina, and showed no signs of slowing down against another Tobacco Road team in the form of North Carolina State. Although Boston College fell 70-58, Ortlepp was again impressive on the offensive end. The freshman scored 9 points on 3-6 from beyond the arc on her way to 18 points and a team-high 6 assists but the Eagles were unable to hold on despite taking a 19-8 lead after the first quarter.

However, Alex Sharp and Wake Forest managed to manufacture a more positive outcome against North Carolina State. Having suffered a heavy 79-53 loss to Duke, a game in which Sharp scored 8 points, the Demon Deacons were not expected to make any real waves against the nationally ranked Wolfpack. However, that message clearly never reached the Wake Forest team, who won every quarter to run out 89-77 victors. Sharp was instrumental in the win, finishing with 16 points on 6-10 shooting as well as 9 rebounds to fall just shy of a first career double-double as the freshman fouled out with a minute to play.

Megan McKay starred for Saint Mary’s but the Gaels fell to an unexpected heavy defeat to Loyola Marymount. The sophomore led the team with 16 points, shooting a perfect 7-7 from the field, but Saint Mary’s scored just 13 points in the first half. A 28-14 final quarter cleaned up some of the mess for the Gaels, but a 72-57 scoreline flattered Saint Mary’s. Carly Turner then took over for the Gaels as they turned things around in a 64-58 win over BYU. Shooting 6-10 from the field, including 4-7 from beyond the arc, Turner scored 16 points and also chipped in 4 rebounds and 3 assists in the win. Megan McKay was again solid, contributing 8 points and 7 assists in the win.

Reeling from six losses on the trot, Alex Delaney and St Francis had a real chance to turn things around on Senior Day against lowly Wagner. Delaney and the Terriers duly delivered, with the Sydneysider dropping a team-high 17 points on 5-11 shooting as St Francis ran out 63-50 winners courtesy of a 23-6 second quarter which blew the game wide open. Delaney put in another solid effort in a 62-58 loss away to LIU Brooklyn. The junior forward scored 8 points, but also managed to pull down 10 rebounds as the Terriers narrowly lost after their opponents won the second half 39-29 despite trailing by 6 at halftime.

Finally, there were two players given rare minutes this week who took their chances with aplomb. Rebekah Hatchard notched the first double figure scoring performance of her career, finishing with 10 points on 3-6 shooting in Montana State’s 104-82 win over Sacramento State. In Honolulu, Courtney Middap finished with a career high 13 points in just 15 minutes of playing time as Hawaii went down 69-50 to UC Davis as both players gave rare glimpses of their potential.