NCAA Women: Midseason All-Australian Awards

As the number of Australians in women's college basketball continues to rise, so too does the number of players producing at a high level not only relative to their countrywomen, but on a national level.

Names such as Alanna Smith and Tiana Mangakahia immediately jump to mind with the pair both considered WNBA prospects, but the list of players in contention for All-Australian selection runs far deeper than the ten players selected. With non-conference play having now wrapped up, we take a look at the top 10 Australian players as well as the top first-year student-athlete.

Midseason Freshman of the Year: Miela GOODCHILD | Guard | Duke

Unlike several other contenders for this award, Miela Goodchild has not put up exceptional all-round numbers to this point. However, the situation the former Sapphires captain has found herself in at the Blue Devils have made her already impressive performances all the more admirable, picking up an ACC Rookie of the Week award in the process. Coming into the season it appeared as though Goodchild would play a steady supporting role off the bench. However the loss of star guard Kyra Lambert to injury and the suspension of fellow freshman Rayah Craig, with whom Goodchild was expected to compete for minutes, has seen the Queenslander average 28 minutes a night and start in 10 of her first 15 games for a Blue Devils side that has managed to stay above .500 at 8-7 in the face of growing adversity.

Well-established in the top echelon of three-point shooters nationally, Goodchild was briefly in the top 10 in the nation for three-point percentage and still sits comfortably in the top 50, knocking down shots from outside at an impressive 44.1%. That electric outside shooting has culminated in the freshman tallying 9.1 points per game to this point, good enough for fourth on the roster behind established stars Haley Gorecki, Leaonna Odom, and Mikayla Boykin, who recently returned from injury. Boykin’s return to the starting lineup has seen Goodchild revert to a spot off the bench in recent weeks, but with Boykin having gone down with injury again and her status for the future uncertain, Goodchild may yet return to the starting lineup for the remainder of the season, with the freshman already having proven that she can take that kind of opportunity with both hands.

We now count down the Top 10 players at the mid-point of the 2018/19 season.

10. Amy O’NEILL | Guard | Senior | St. Francis Brooklyn

One of two Australians in the top 3 in the nation for assists per game, Amy O’Neill has developed from a solid performer for St. Francis Brooklyn into one half of an electrifying Australian duo for the Terriers alongside sharpshooter Jade Johnson. In her second and final season at St. Francis, O’Neill is putting up consistently outstanding numbers, helping the team to a 3-1 record in conference play to this point, including a win against a St. Francis University team that earned first-place votes in the NEC preseason poll.

O’Neill was a more than serviceable point guard St. Francis in her first season at Division I level in 2017/18, averaging 6.8 points and 5.0 assists, but the junior college transfer has reached a new level in her senior season. Whilst a double-double average is probably just out of reach, O’Neill has tallied 9.4 points and 8.1 assists per game to this point, having improved her shooting from 34% to 45% and almost doubling her three-point percentage from 25% to 48%, with only her lack of shooting volume keeping the Melburnian off the list of top shooters in the nation. It is perhaps the scoring stats of her teammates that point to O’Neill’s abilities as a point guard though. Although fellow Aussie Jade Johnson leads the team with 18.9 points per game, the next four leading scorers on the team all average between 9.2 and 10.2 points, alluding to O’Neill’s ability to selflessly find the right player in the right situation, which has been on show for all to see for the entirety of the season.

O’Neill’s improvement, alongside that of many of her teammates, has been one of the catalysts for St. Francis’ improvement this season, with the Terriers currently sitting at 9-7 and 3-1 in conference play. If they can even equal last season’s 9-9 conference mark, that would be enough to secure a first .500 season since 2013/14, but a first Northeast Conference title since 2014/15 would be a far more satisfying achievement.

9. Alex SHARP | Guard | Junior | Wake Forest

Despite an injury-plagued 2018/19 campaign, Alex Sharp has nevertheless produced for Wake Forest in her nine games to this point. Wake Forest’s second-leading scorer at 12.7 points per game, Sharp is nudging a double-double average with 8.7 rebounds per contest, whilst her three-point shooting has improved from a dismal 25% last season to a far more respectable 34.6% to this point in 2018/19, culminating in her points per shooting attempt creeping above the one point mark for the first time in her three seasons in Winston-Salem.

Although the Demon Deacons lost their first two games after Sharp’s return from a preseason injury, once the junior returned to peak fitness the team’s improvement was marked. The team rattled off a six-game winning streak, with Sharp reeling off three double-doubles and scoring 12 or more points in all bar one of those games to see Wake Forest enter conference play on a high. With the athletic wing bolstering the team’s scoring and rebounding markedly, sitting in second spot on the roster in both categories, there was reason to be optimistic heading into ACC action. However, a broken hand suffered in practice will see Sharp ruled out for four to six weeks and potentially miss at least the first half of conference play, dealing a savage blow to a Wake Forest team looking to improve on last season’s 14-17 record.

8. Megan McKAY | Forward | Senior | Saint Mary’s

Megan McKay’s numbers may be slightly down on what the senior produced last season, but the Western Australian is still producing for Saint Mary’s in spades, and a 29-point, 8-rebound performance against nationally ranked Gonzaga earlier this season reminded everyone of the dominant force that McKay can be.

Although McKay’s scoring average is currently sitting at 11.7 points per game, down from the 15.3 she put up in 2017/18, the Western Australian has maintained her mark of 7 rebounds per game whilst also influencing the game in other ways in her final season in Moraga. McKay’s turnover numbers have fallen significantly from 2.9 to 2.1 per game whilst seeing similar playing time, whilst improving in both blocks and assists to provide significant value to her team even as the significant focus that she receives from opposition defences leads to her scoring taking a hit. Impressively, McKay continues to shoot at 56% from the field, which puts the senior just outside the top 100 in the nation. However, ignoring the 4 of 14 that the senior has shot from beyond the arc this year, McKay has hit on 59.2% of her shots from closer range, leaving her with a chance to put together a 3rd season in four years shooting over 60% from two-point range.

Saint Mary’s have endured a bumpy start to conference play to sit at 2-3, but two of those losses have come to Gonzaga and BYU, both of whom are undefeated in conference action. If McKay continues to dominate in the paint, the Gaels will certainly right the ship in quick time, particularly with the senior receiving solid support from fellow Aussies Sam Simons, Jasmine Forcadilla, and Carly Turner, whose role continues to increase following her return from a torn ACL.

7. Funda NAKKASOGLU | Guard | Senior | Florida

Leading a young Florida team this season, Nakkasoglu has poured in the points throughout the campaign to average an impressive 16.6 per game, well in excess of 25% of her team’s scoring to this point. Nakkasoglu’s scoring has been fuelled by improved three-point shooting, up from 37.3% in her first season at Florida to 46.9% this year; good enough for 12th in the nation among qualified players. A 50/40/90 season isn’t out of the question at the moment with Nakkasoglu shooting 48.6% from the field and 90.6% at the charity stripe, and whilst her assist numbers are down this season, the senior is by far the most reliable scorer on the Gators’ side and is clearly utilising her skillset in a way that most benefits her side. This was best evidenced by a 30-point night in a 70-60 win over Charleston Southern, a game in which the senior shot 9 of 12 from the field whilst the rest of her team shot 11-40 to get the Gators over the line.

Although Florida have secured just five wins this season, they have already knocked off nationally-ranked Missouri in a thriller earlier this month in a rare off night for Nakkasoglu. If the Gators can regularly get everyone in rhythm at the same time, a rarity to this point, those upsets may come at more regular intervals for a Florida program on the rebuild this season, particularly if Nakkasoglu can add to her already seven-game long list of 20-point nights.

6. Jade JOHNSON | Guard | Junior | St. Francis Brooklyn

The Pick and Roll’s Most Improved Player last season, Jade Johnson’s development continues apace in 2018/19 and the South Australian is now one of the most lethal scoring threats in the Northeast Conference. The only player in the league in the top 50 for three-point percentage, Johnson’s continued improvement has helped to make up for the loss of the 11.5 points per game that Sydney Uni Flames wing Alex Delaney had delivered in her senior season in 2017/18.

Johnson had tallied 14.7 points per game to lead St. Francis last season, but an increase in both three-point percentage and attempts has led to the junior sitting within touching distance of the 20-point plateau at 18.9 points per game on 46.2% shooting from beyond the arc. With point guard Amy O’Neill directing the offence superbly Johnson has taken the opportunities provided with aplomb and the Australian duo have combined to become the leaders in a St. Francis team that does a good job of getting all players involved. Johnson is hardly just an outside shooter though, with the South Australian one of four Terriers collecting in excess of four rebounds a game. The junior has also shown an ability to wreak havoc on opposition defenders in closer quarters, sitting in the top 5% in the nation for free throw attempts and connecting on 91%, good enough for 46th in the nation.

5. Alicia FROLING | Forward | Senior | Southern Methodist

It’s not been the best season to this point for Southern Methodist, but Alicia Froling’s performances are doing plenty to keep the Mustangs competitive in cobbling together a 6-10 record to this point. Forced to sit out the 2017/18 season through injury, the senior has returned with a vengeance to average 12.3 points and 10.8 rebounds per contest, whilst shooting at a 51.4% clip that puts Froling firmly in the top 10% in the nation.

Whilst averaging a double-double is an impressive enough feat on its own, Froling is perhaps best known for her ability to challenge opposition shots and provide an imposing presence on the defensive end. Despite still having half a season to play in her college career, has already broken Southern Methodist’s career rebounds and blocks records, and with 40 blocks to this point in her senior year, remains an outside chance at breaking fellow Aussie Stephanie Collins’ program single-season record of 73 set in 2015/16. Froling also equalled the SMU single-game blocks record, also held by Collins, just this week with seven in a 78-50 win over Wichita State despite coming off the bench for the first time this season. However, it is not just shot-blocking that Froling brings to the table, as the senior’s sheer presence also does plenty to affect opponents’ confidence around the basket.

In a team that otherwise struggles in a number of facets, Froling’s skillset provides exactly what the Mustangs need, particularly on the offensive glass and in terms of rim protection. Having finished 10-20 last season and losing the majority of the roster, putting together a season better than 2017/18 in their final season before needing to replace the Queensland senior seems imperative, but Froling may just be able to help leave the program in a decent position going forward.

4. Chloe BIBBY | Forward | Sophomore | Mississippi State

The transfer of star forward Anriel Howard from Texas A&M has been integral in helping Mississippi State overcome the loss of four starters from last season’s national runner-up team, but the emergence of Chloe Bibby has been an integral member of the starting lineup may prove to be just as crucial to the Bulldogs’ continued presence in the upper echelon nationally.

Anyone who has watched a Mississippi State game this season will attest as to Bibby’s improvement since her freshman year, with the Warracknabeal product taking to her increased responsibility like a duck to water, exuding confidence on court and reaping the rewards of her labour. That has manifested in a vast improvement to the sophomore’s stat line.

Having been afforded just 13 minutes per game last season, Bibby has averaged 29 minutes to this point in the season, in turn increasing her scoring output from 3.9 to 12.9 points per game, a startling 330% increase, coupled with more than doubling her rebounding average from 2.1 to 4.5. However, it is the way that Bibby has transformed herself into a deadly outside shooter that poses the biggest threat to opposition offences. Having shot at a 31% clip last season, Bibby has emerged as a 45% shooter from outside to sit on the cusp of the top 20 in the nation among qualified players as the sophomore emerges as an all-round weapon at both ends of the floor.

Whilst Mississippi State may currently be ranked 7th in the AP Poll, this is one of the most open seasons in recent memory, and it is worth remembering that the Bulldogs were ranked 7th coming into the NCAA Tournament in 2016/17 when they reached the national title game for the first of two consecutive years. Unfortunately, Bibby will not be able to help her team in that charge for a national championship, having been ruled out for the remainder of the season after going down with a knee injury in the opening stages of the Bulldogs' win over South Carolina.

3. Shannon DUFFICY | Forward | Junior | Utah State

Shannon Dufficy has been a reliable player for Utah State throughout her time in Logan, but this season has seen the junior develop into a walking double-double for the Aggies. Improved shooting efficiency and increased assertiveness on the glass have seen Dufficy average 15.8 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, with the Victorian one of just two Australians alongside Alicia Froling averaging a double-double at this point in the season.

Although Dufficy is listed on the Utah State roster as a guard/forward, there is no doubting that the paint is where the junior makes her living, regularly dominating proceedings and proving to be the most crucial ingredient in Utah State putting together a 9-7 record to this point, including a 4-1 start in conference play. Alongside ten double-doubles in 16 games, Dufficy has also only failed to reach double figures in points in just two games this season, with her touch around the basket generating solid 53.5% shooting from two-point range. However, with a three-point shot that is slowly returning to her freshman mark of 30%, Dufficy is beginning to extend her range and may yet become a recognisable threat both in the paint and on the perimeter. Also of note is Dufficy’s ability to dominate the offensive glass, a category in which she sits in the top 50 in the nation with 3.7 offensive rebounds per game, providing plenty of help in an area in which the Aggies would otherwise be rather lacklustre.

It would be unfair to the rest of the Utah State roster to suggest that Dufficy is the sole cause of the team’s solid start to conference play, but there is no doubting that the junior will remain integral to the Aggies’ chances of continuing to outperform their lowly preseason poll ranking of 8th in the Mountain West Conference.

2. Tiana MANGAKAHIA | Guard | Junior | Syracuse

The nation’s assists leader in 2017/18, Mangakahia has continued to perform outstandingly in her junior season, forcing her way into the conversation surrounding eligible players who may make the jump to the WNBA a season early. A watchlist nominee for three of the biggest awards in women’s college basketball - the Wooden Award, Naismith Award, and Wade Trophy - Mangakahia has also earned a spot on the watchlist for the Nancy Lieberman Award for best point guard in the nation as the Syracuse star goes from strength to strength.

Although Mangakahia is not dishing out the eye-popping 9.8 assists that she did last season, the junior nonetheless still sits 3rd in the nation with a highly impressive 8 dimes per contest whilst also reducing her turnovers by one a game and increasing her scoring output from 17.1 to 17.5 points per game. However, those outstanding numbers tell only part of the story, as those who have watched Syracuse play this season will attest.

Mangakahia’s ability to take over a game as the situation requires has become renowned in the last season and a half, and has been on show in recent weeks. She reeled off a trio of outstanding performances in the team’s first three conference games, culminating in a career-first triple-double in a 90-77 victory over North Carolina. A dominant 34-point, 10-assist, 10-rebound performance represented the first points-rebounds-assists triple-double in program history, and led the Orange to a third consecutive victory to open conference play. With an ever-improving three-point shot that is now falling at 38% this season, a lightning first step, and the ability to finish in traffic, Mangakahia is not only an outstanding facilitator, but a versatile scoring threat that no team will be looking forward to facing – possibly not even defending national champions Notre Dame, against whom the Queenslander finished with 26 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists in their only meeting last season. As long as Mangakahia is on form, the sky is the limit for a Syracuse side that has already pushed a star-studded Oregon side to the limit on the road in a 75-73 loss early in the season.

Midseason Player of the Year: Alanna SMITH | Forward | Senior | Stanford

Alanna Smith doesn’t just sit atop the list of the top 10 Australians in women’s college basketball; the Opals forward may find herself in the top 10 of the WNBA draft following this season, having parlayed her outstanding World Cup performances into an electrifying first half of her final season at Stanford. Like Mangakahia, Smith has been named to watchlists for the Wooden Award, Naismith Award, and Wade Trophy, as well as the Katrina McClain Award for best power forward in the nation and the Senior CLASS Award, cementing her spot among the elite players in the college game. With an ESPN National Player of the Week award just prior to Christmas providing even more evidence as to the senior's current level.

Even the loss of front court partner Nadia Fingall hasn’t slowed Smith, who dominated on Stanford’s recent trip to face Arizona State and Arizona, picking up Pac-12 Player of the Week honours for the second time this season. The highlight was a 20-point, 14-rebound game against Arizona that also included a career-high 7 blocks. Such an impressive all-round performance represented a microcosm of Smith’s outstanding season to this point. As well as sitting fourth in the nation for three-point shooting at 48.8% - a meteoric rise from last season’s 30.2% mark - Smith also sits comfortably in the top 50 in the nation in no less than five other major statistical categories, including blocks per game, of which the senior is contributing 2.4, and points per game, with Smith pouring in 19.7 per contest alongside 7.6 rebounds.

Although Smith’s numbers are impressive, it is the manner with which the senior has developed into the undoubted leader of the Stanford side that is most impressive. On a Stanford team that lost Smith’s front court partner Kaylee Johnson and now-Perth Lynx star Brittany McPhee to graduation after the 2017/18 season, and with senior Marta Sniezek out through injury, Smith has helped to guide a relatively young Stanford side to a 14-1 record including a win over the same Baylor side that more recently knocked off then-#1 UConn. To be among the favourites in a stacked Pac-12 is no easy feat, but that is exactly where Stanford are placed this year, and with Smith in seemingly unstoppable form, a Final Four run is certainly there for the taking if Stanford are up to the task at hand.

Honorable Mentions

With upwards of 80 players on rosters this season, there was always going to be a long list of contenders for these awards. Among the freshmen, players such as Eve Braslis at Utah Valley and Portland's Haylee Andrews were the two other major contenders for midseason honours, with both players have quickly settling into starting roles for their respective teams and often being amongst the on-court leaders despite their lack of experience at the college level. However, several players, most notably Saint Mary's sharpshooter Sam Simons, are hitting form at the right time to make a charge for top first-year player by the time April rolls around.

With regards to the top 10, there were a number of players considered. Goodchild, Andrews and Braslis were certainly in the conversation, but those closest to breaking into the top 10 were possibly Boston College junior duo Taylor Ortlepp and Georgia Pineau. Santa Clara's junior college transfer Tia Hay and Portland State senior Courtney West weren't far away either, and both are certainly strong chances to continue their great form going forward. As players' true levels can sometimes be masked in non-conference action depending on their team's strength of schedule, conference play can often be where players truly show their wares, so don't be surprised if there are a number of differences between this list and the selections come the end of the season.