It's getting right down to crunch time, with teams playing not only for conference tournament seedings, but potentially first weekend hosting rights for the NCAA Tournament. Those hosting rights were well and truly on the line for Syracuse this week, and Tiana Mangakahia stepped up with one of the biggest weeks of her already illustrious career. Meanwhile, Alanna Smith was recognised twice in the space of as many days as the awards continue to roll in for the senior.
Usually when a player drops 44 points, they obliterate their career scoring mark, but Tiana Mangakahia hit that exact number for a second occasion in her time at Syracuse, completely taking over on offence as the Orange eked out a 94-88 win over Florida State.
As was the case when Mangakahia first scored 44, against Georgia Tech last season, the dominant scoring effort proved vital to her team’s chances as Florida State remained in close contact throughout, even tying the game at 85-85 with two minutes to play. But with Mangakahia scoring Syracuse’s last nine points via an and-one and six consecutive free throws to ice the game, the junior’s exemplary performance was not wasted. She connected on 16 of 20 from the field and 10 of 11 at the line alongside 8 assists, 5 rebounds, and 3 steals to lead her team to a 10-5 mark in conference play, securing the 5th seed in the ACC Tournament.
Despite that astounding performance earlier in the week, Mangakahia’s touch all but deserted her in the first half of the Orange’s game against Boston College as Syracuse hit just 11 of 30 from the field to head into halftime up 30-29 after coming into the game as clear favourites. But a dominant 46-30 second half, led by a revitalised Mangakahia, saw Syracuse roll to a 76-59 victory, with the junior finishing with 27 points, 7 rebounds, and 8 assists to round out a dominant week.
Mangakahia also picked up her 1,000th point in the victory, breaking the Syracuse record for fastest player to the coveted mark, doing so in just 60 games. Taylor Ortlepp chipped in 9 points in 21 minutes for the valiant Boston College side, whilst Georgia Pineau added 4 points and 5 rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench.
Unsurprisingly, Mangakahia received ACC Player of the Week honours for her performances across the two games, just edging out Louisville’s Asia Durr, who notched 47 on the same day as Mangakahia’s 44 as the conference’s stars continue to demonstrate why it is considered arguably the best league in women's college basketball.
Amy O’Neill had already racked up more dimes than a piggybank this season, delivering a scintillating performance in a 101-77 demolition of Bryant. On her own Senior Day, the occasion delivered the point guard the Northeast Conference single-season assists record along the way.
O’Neill buried 4 of 4 from deep on her way to a career-high 28 points, whilst her 9 assists included her 230th of the season to secure the record, continuing a magical season for the senior. Jade Johnson was also exemplary in tallying 26 points as her season average hovered just above the magical 20-point mark.
Things didn’t come quite as easily for either the Australian pair or the Terriers as a whole against Mount St. Mary’s. They pushed St. Francis all the way, coming back from 12 down to close within 3 before Johnson helped ice the game at the charity stripe for a 69-65 victory. Those free throws formed part of a 12-point outing for Johnson, whilst O’Neill once again came close to a triple-double, tallying 10 points, 9 assists, and 8 rebounds to guarantee the Terriers a top four spot in the Northeast Conference with still one regular season game remaining.
Utah State picked up a pair of victories to end the regular season on a four-game winning streak courtesy of some outstanding performances from their Australian cohort.
The Aggies cruised to a 71-59 win over Nevada that was never as close as the scoreline suggested, with Eliza West knocking down 4 of 4 from three-point range to tally 18 points, 6 rebounds, and 8 assists, whilst Rachel Brewster added 16 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists.
Hosting Colorado State on Senior Day a couple of days later, Shannon Dufficy helped deliver countrywoman Brewster a victory in her last home game with a simply scintillating performance in a 70-59 win that saw Utah State rally from an early deficit to pick up the victory.
Dufficy dominated for the entire 40 minutes, connecting on 12 of 20 from the field, including 4 of 7 from deep, to drop in a career-high 29 points and collect 14 rebounds for a school-record 17th double-double of the season. Eliza West added 12 points including a halftime buzzer-beating three from halfcourt, and also dished 9 assists as the junior moved within two dimes of Utah State's program career record of 436.
Despite the unfortunate news that Jasmine Forcadilla would miss the rest of the season with an ACL injury, Saint Mary’s put Pacific to the sword in their final conference game, with Megan McKay securing the West Coast Conference Player of the Week award for a dominant Senior Day performance in the 75-62 victory.
The Gaels were rarely troubled in the win, with an efficient McKay dropping in 17 points on 7 of 11 from the field whilst collecting an impressive 14 rebounds to lead Saint Mary’s in both categories. Sam Simons added 12 points and 7 rebounds, whilst Carly Turner added 8 points, 5 rebounds, and a career-high 4 blocks in her final game at McKeon Pavilion. The victory secured Saint Mary’s the fourth seed in the West Coast Conference Tournament, delivering the Gaels a double bye but also putting them on a collision course with nationally ranked Gonzaga, who would await in the semi-finals.
Santa Clara will have to go the long way around if they are to make a deep run in the West Coast Conference tournament, but Tia Hay ensured that the Broncos will go in with the wood on first round opponents San Diego after leading her team to victory over the same opponent on Friday. A 26-16 third quarter proved to be the catalyst for Santa Clara’s 77-68 victory, with Hay enjoying an outstanding night offensively.
The junior connected on 9 of 10 free throws on her way to 23 points, and also tallied 5 assists and 4 rebounds as Santa Clara held off a San Diego team that got within five points late in the fourth quarter, but no closer as the Broncos iced the game at the line. The result wasn’t quite as positive against BYU later in the week as Santa Clara fell to a 69-64 defeat, but another 18 points and 5 assists from Hay combined with a 25-13 final quarter against the second-placed Cougars will no doubt give the Santa Clara side confidence heading into the conference tournament.
Stanford travelled north to face the Pac-12’s Washington schools, rolling to a pair of victories and finishing regular season play on a six-game winning streak, with Alanna Smith once again among the team’s leaders.
Despite missing all six of her attempts from beyond the arc, Smith finished 7 of 9 from closer range in a 67-42 win over Washington State, registering 18 points as well as 11 rebounds and a pair of blocks as Stanford cruised against a Cougars team for whom Aussie freshman Ula Motuga top-scored with 10 points. Washington managed to keep things slightly closer, but Stanford still came away with a comfortable 72-53 victory, with Smith registering 12 points and 7 rebounds, playing just 22 minutes, whilst freshman Darcy Rees added 6 points and 4 rebounds in 17 minutes for Washington.
However, Smith’s week was far from complete as the senior received recognition twice in the space of a couple of days. The senior became the second Stanford player in as many years, after Perth Lynx star Brittany McPhee, to secure the Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Scholar-Athlete of the Year. The award, which takes into consideration both academic and athletic performance, requires players to maintain a 3.0 GPA (out of 4) and play in at least 50% of their team’s games. Smith’s GPA currently sits at 3.47, and her second recognition this week served to further prove her prowess on court as the Opals forward was named as one of the ten semi-finalists for the Naismith Award for Player of the Year. Smith remains on watchlists for several other awards, and will almost certainly be on the final shortlist for some, if not all of those.
A late stumble means that Portland State will not be finishing top of the Big Sky standings, but with Courtney West leading the way, the Vikings remain in good shape after splitting a pair of games this week. Beating Idaho was vital to Portland State’s chances of finishing top of the standings, and although West finished with an impressive 12 points and 15 rebounds, as well as three blocks, Idaho were able to secure an 81-68 on the back of 43% shooting from three-point range, which even outdid the 40.7% that Portland State shot from the floor. West followed up with another solid outing as the Vikings got back on track with a 76-57 victory over Eastern Washington. The senior shot an efficient 6 of 8 on her way to 13 points, and also collected 7 rebounds whilst swatting away 5 opposition shots as the Vikings remain in contention for a top two berth as they head to Montana for their final two regular season games this weekend.
Vanderbilt were riding high after their first win against arch rivals Tennessee in program history, but they didn’t count on a red-hot Funda Nakkasoglu as they came up against Florida in a battle of the SEC cellar-dwellers. Coming in fresh off 14 points in a loss to Georgia, Nakkasoglu ensured that her team would not be finishing bottom of the conference standings, draining 5 of 9 from deep on her way to 23 points as Florida pulled away in the second half to secure a 78-66 victory and, on paper, a slightly easier matchup against #12 seed Mississippi in the first round of the SEC Tournament.
Finally, Wake Forest may have fallen to a 69-57 defeat against Virginia Tech, but Alex Sharp's performance simply could not be ignored. The junior connected on 9 of 17 from the field to finish with 18 points, and also pulled down 10 rebounds to finish with a double-double as well as coming up with three blocks. With the Demon Deacons coming up against the same opponents in the opening round of the ACC Tournament, another performance of that ilk from Sharp would go a long way to delivering an upset for a Wake Forest with just one win under its belt in conference play this season.