NCAA Women: Gajewski, Panousis pull out Christmas crackers

The final full week of play before Christmas saw a number of Australians provide their teams with some early presents to lead their teams to victory. In particular, Jess Gajewski, Vanessa Panousis, Carly Turner, and Rachel Brewster produced crucial performances to lead their respective teams to victory.

A career night for Jess Gajewski led Grand Canyon to an early Christmas present in the form of a win over Northern Arizona. Following an 11 point effort in a 76-73 win over Southern Utah, Gajewski poured in a massive 31 points on 12-18 shooting, including 5-8 from beyond the arc, to lead the Lopes to a 76-65 win in their final match before a short break over Christmas.

Jessie Edwards also enjoyed a career high scoring performance in a vital effort for Minnesota against Belmont. Having gone down heavily as expected to South Carolina, losing 98-58, the Golden Gophers really needed a win to bounce back before conference play. Enter Edwards, whose sublime midrange shooting helped her to 29 points on 11-15 shooting, and the Western Australian also added 5 rebounds as Minnesota survived a late Belmont fight back to eke out a 75-74 win, with Edwards also knocking down a pair of vital free throws to put Minnesota three points ahead with less than 10 seconds to play.

Samantha Roscoe has had a solid, if slightly modest, start to the season, but that all changed this week as the North Dakota senior put up some excellent numbers. Up against NCAA Division II side University of Mary, Roscoe took full advantage to shoot 50% from the field and a perfect 4-4 from the line for 19 points in a 79-67 win. Things didn’t come quite as easily for Roscoe or North Dakota in a 74-53 loss to Northern Iowa, but the Fighting Hawks’ co-captain once again put up double figures, getting to the free throw line with regularity to finish with 10 points despite shooting just 22% from the field for the contest.

Vanessa Panousis’ shooting has been slowly improving all season, and once again the Virginia Tech senior’s three point accuracy came in very handy for the Hokies. Although they did their best to throw away a win at Auburn, Panousis shot 6-14 from the field on her way to a 20 point effort as the Hokies let what appeared to be a game-winning lead slip before regrouping to dominate overtime and leave with a 92-87 win after five extra minutes. The win sees the Hokies remain undefeated, one of just ten teams in women’s college basketball yet to drop a game.

After an 11 day break, Southern Methodist packed three games into four days, travelling to Los Angeles to play in the Women of Troy classic at USC. Thrown in the deep end with their first game coming against Mississippi State, it was a tough outing for Alicia Froling, Steph Collins, and the Mustangs. Froling was only able to drop in 5 points and pull down 6 rebounds, with Collins adding 6 points and 3 rebounds of her own in a heavy 91-42 loss. Things came a little easier for Froling in the consolation game against Grambling State, though. The junior forward hit an impressive 6 of 8 from the field for 13 points and hauled in 16 rebounds to return to her usual double-double form as SMU cruised to a 56-36 win.

After a quick flight home, SMU then faced Texas Southern on their home court the very next day. With two games and a flight in their legs, the Mustangs were perhaps a step slower than expected but still eased to a 61-36 win over Texas Southern. Froling scored a game high 12 points on 5-8 shooting and reeled in 6 rebounds to again star for the Mustangs.

It was a mixed week for Northern Illinois, but the hot shooting of Courtney Woods never abated. The sophomore hit 50% from three-point range on her way to 21 points on 7-12 shooting and also pulled down 7 rebounds as the Huskies pulled away in the final quarter to cruise to a 97-78 win over SIU Edwardsville in their first game of the week. Unfortunately, Northern Illinois ran into an even sweeter shooting South Dakota side the next day. The Coyotes shot 55% from the field for the game, and even Woods’ 19 points couldn’t help Northern Illinois over the line as the team shot just 10-29 from deep in a 97-83 loss.

Pacific played just the one game this week, and Emily Simons took full advantage of the long rest to produce the first double-double of her college career. Afforded a rare start against Northern Colorado, Simons shot 4-8 from the field to finish with 10 points and also collected 10 rebounds in 35 minutes of action, but Pacific couldn’t quite finish the comeback, falling 60-56 despite coming back from 9 points down to tie the game with just over a minute to play.

Saint Mary’s also took on Northern Colorado this week, with Carly Turner the star for the Gaels in a 75-65 win. The Victorian junior hit 7-11 from the field, including 3-5 from deep for 18 points and added 10 rebounds for a double-double, with the Gaels’ other Aussies not far behind. Jasmine Forcadilla tallied the first double figure scoring effort of her career, shooting 7-8 from the line on her way to 10 points in 18 minutes of action. Megan McKay also impressed, chipping in 8 points and 6 rebounds in the victory.

The Gaels took on Australian freshman Lizzy Tonks and CSU Northridge in their second game of the week, and this time it was McKay who would star amongst the Aussies. The Western Australian shot 40% from the field to register 12 points, but her 16 rebounds were far more impressive. Carly Turner also collected 8 rebounds, but it was the Matadors who got the chocolates on this occasion. Tonks had an impact all over the floor, tallying 6 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds as CSU Northridge left Moraga with a 73-61 win.

Rachel Brewster once again fired for Utah State as the Aggies moved to a 7-3 start to the season. The sophomore poured in 19 points, including a halftime buzzer beater from just shy of half-court, to lead her side to a 56-45 win over Utah Valley. Brewster was supported principally by Shannon Dufficy, who hauled in an impressive 14 rebounds to go with 6 points, whilst Eliza West also chipped in with 6 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists. Things didn’t quite go to plan against BYU in the team’s second game of the week, though. Brewster and Eliza West were able to collect 7 and 6 rebounds resepctively, but with the entire Utah State team’s radar off and no Shannon Dufficy to clean up on the boards, the Aggies fell to a 60-40 loss after shooting just 29% from the field.

Geraldine McCorkell once again led for Idaho in their only game this week as the Vandals comprehensively dismantled NCAA Division II side Central Washington. McCorkell shot a highly impressive 9-13 from the field to collect a game high 21 points as Idaho extended their lead at every break on their way to a 79-45 hammering of their thoroughly outmatched opponents.

Finally, down in Winston-Salem, Alex Sharp continued the impressive start to her career that has seen her rewarded with a starting spot for the last four games. An efficient performance saw the freshman shooting 5-6 from the field to tally 12 points in a 51-40 win over Samford, also picking up 7 rebounds to further solidify her spot as a starter for the Demon Deacons.