It's been a massive week for Australian women's basketball with the selection of the Opals squad and the short listing of Tiana Mangakahia and Alanna Smith to the midseason Wooden Award Top 25. The good news just kept coming too, with some outstanding performances across the board.
Sophomore Chloe Bibby led the way for Mississippi State as the national title contenders started conference play on a high, while Smith and Mangakahia continued to prove that they belong in the conversation for national awards.
Bibby started the week in solid form and rounded it out in dominant fashion as the Bulldogs moved to 3-0 in SEC play. The Warracknabeal product finished as one of four Mississippi State players in double figures in an 86-71 victory over #16 Kentucky, tallying 18 points in 37 minutes of action. Bibby did most of her damage at the free throw line, hitting 7 of 8, whilst also collecting 7 rebounds and dishing three assists.
Georgia provided Mississippi State with a tougher test in their most recent outing, taking the lead midway through the final quarter before Bibby’s team emerged as 80-71 victors with the Australian emerging as one of the stars, playing all 40 minutes in the process. 13 points in the first 11 minutes of the game paved the way for Bibby to finish with a career-high 24 points, knocking down 4 of 6 from deep to lead four Bulldogs players in double-figures. Scoring was far from Bibby’s only impact on the game, as although the box score wouldn’t suggest it, the sophomore’s tenacity and willingness to get amongst it in any situation earned her team a number of additional possessions that proved vital to the eventual win.
Alanna Smith continues to be the dominant force for Stanford, leading the Cardinal to a 3-0 record in Pac-12 play courtesy of a pair of victories this week. Playing every minute of the game against a UCLA side featuring fellow Aussie Chantel Horvat, the Opals forward was one of three Stanford players to finish with over 20 points as the Cardinal secured an 86-80 victory. Tallying 24 points on the back of shooting 3 of 5 from deep and 5 of 6 at the charity stripe, Smith also collected 11 rebounds and made life difficult for the Bruins at the other end, coming up with five blocks as Stanford held off a late UCLA charge.
The Cardinal then travelled to Tempe to take on #16 ranked Arizona State in a game that proved tight for much of the way before Stanford secured a 72-65 victory. Smith top-scored for Stanford with 25 points, hitting 6 of 6 from the line but attempting an unusually low three-pointers, hitting one as the senior exhibited her offensive prowess around the basket. The Opals forward also collected six rebounds, and whilst foul trouble down the stretch limited her impact in the latter stages, Smith returned in the final few minutes to help Stanford close out the win.
The ACC awards keep coming for Aussies, with Miela Goodchild’s Rookie of the Week award being followed by Tiana Mangakahia’s selection as the conference Player of the Week after some scintillating play in an overtime win over Virginia Tech. Having put up a solid 13 points and 8 assists in Syracuse’s 84-75 win over Clemson, Mangakahia was the dominant force for her team as the Orange escaped with a 75-73 win after being forced into overtime despite leading 66-61 with 25 seconds to play. The junior found her way to the charity stripe with regularity, knocking down 10 of 12 free throws to go with 3 of 6 from deep on her way to a season-high 27 points, whilst also tallying 9 assists and 6 rebounds. The junior also knocked down the go-ahead three with just over 90 seconds to play before Syracuse held on for a two-point victory.
Shannon Dufficy has been among the most improved Australians this season, no small feat considering her high level in previous seasons, and continued her outstanding form even as Utah State fell to a 70-59 loss in their matchup against Fresno State. The junior put together her 8th double-double of the season, eclipsing last season’s mark of 7, leading the Aggies in both points and rebounds with 14 and 15 respectively whilst playing all bar one minute of the game. Freshman Steph Gorman also finished in double figures, connecting on 3 of 7 from deep on her way to 11 points, whilst Olivia West added 9 points. Senior Rachel Brewster added 7 points and 6 assists, but it was Fresno State’s Aussie duo of Genna Ogier and Bree Delaney who ended the evening celebrating victory. Delaney chipped in with five points for the Bulldogs, whilst Ogier added 9 points to play a vital supporting role behind local star Candice White’s 26 points.
Fans may have been denied a battle between some of the top Australian players when Wake Forest star Alex Sharp missed their game against Boston College due to injury, but Eagles’ stars Georgia Pineau and Taylor Ortlepp put on a show, with the pair instrumental in their team’s nail-biting 65-64 victory. In a game that see-sawed back and forth throughout, Ortlepp’s fifth and final three-pointer of the night with four minutes to play gave Boston College a 5-point lead, and although the team scored just two more points, that was enough to secure the win. Ortlepp finished the game with 19 points and 4 rebounds, whilst front court starter Pineau was solid in all facets to tally 10 points, 6 rebounds, and an impressive 7 assists as the Eagles picked up their first conference win at their third attempt.
It’s been a tough season for Wagner to this point, but Taylah Simmons helped ensure the Seahawks would get their first conference win early, leading her team to a 75-63 victory over Central Connecticut State to move to 3-10 overall but 1-1 in conference play. The sophomore tallied a season-high 19 points, eclipsing the 18-point mark she set twice previously, and also collected a season-high 11 rebounds for a third double-double of the season. Alongside four assists and two steals, it was certainly a day out to remember for Simmons as the team picked to finish last in the Northeast Conference proved that they are no pushovers.
Southern Methodist may have fallen to a pair of losses in their first two conference games, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying from senior forward Alicia Froling. Although the Queenslander may not have impacted the scoreboard with just three points in a 69-57 loss to Cincinnati, Froling did attack the glass with venom throughout to collect 12 rebounds, including four offensive boards. Unfortunately, Cincinnati managed to knock down five three-pointers to SMU’s lone make from deep in what was otherwise an extremely tight game.
Froling rebounded from that low-scoring game against Cincinnati with 16 points against Houston, but the Mustangs would fall 72-61 to in-state rivals Houston. The senior also contributed 7 rebounds and three assists, but once again three-point shooting would be the difference as SMU couldn’t connect on any of their 10 attempts whilst Houston buried 12 of 29 from deep to score half of their points from beyond the arc.
Sam Simons has been impressive in her freshman year at Saint Mary’s, and hit double figures for the fourth time in her last six games in another impressive performance as the Gaels defeated San Diego 74-60. Although the South Australian hit just 1 of 4 from deep, Simons found other ways to score to connect on 6 of 11 from the field on her way to a team-high 15 points, whilst her fellow Australians also performed admirably. Megan McKay dominated in the paint to finish with a double-double of 11 points and 14 rebounds, whilst Jasmine Forcadilla added 10 points and 3 rebounds. Carly Turner came off the bench to play 20 minutes and chipped in 6 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists as the Gaels returned to .500 at 2-2 in WCC action alongside their overall record of 9-6.
Santa Clara travelled to Malibu to take on Pepperdine, and despite the best efforts of point guard Tia Hay, it was a tough day for the Broncos as they fell to a 74-48 defeat. However, Hay continued to showcase her abilities as a scoring threat, shooting 8 of 15 from the field on her way to 18 points and four assists, but a 24-8 third quarter for Pepperdine tripled their halftime advantage of eight and allowed the Waves to cruise to victory in the final term. Hay was not the only Aussie to impact the game though, with Pepperdine sophomore Mia Satie collecting 8 rebounds in just 18 minutes alongside 2 points and 2 steals.