NCAA Women: Olivia West makes the most of her chance

As always, the opening weekend of college basketball was incredibly hectic, with a number of Australians at the forefront for their teams, even if results may not always have gone their way. Eliza West registered a career high, whilst Olivia West became the first Utah State player since fellow Australian, and now Florida guard Funda Nakkasoglu, to drop 30 points in a single game.

Saint Mary’s junior Megan McKay was slated to have a tough week, firstly facing off against one of the top post players in the nation in Kristine Anigwe against California before coming up against a Washington State roster featuring five players standing 6’3 or taller, including fellow Australian Louise Brown. However, McKay came through the week with flying colours to earn the West Coast Conference Player of the Week award for two outstanding performances.

Despite falling 87-80 in a game that was far closer than the margin suggests, McKay was a force on the offensive end for the Gaels, finishing with aplomb around the basket to shoot 7-11 from the field on her way to 17 points despite being limited to 18 minutes due to early foul trouble. There would be no such issues for McKay as Saint Mary’s secured an 81-75 victory. Shooting 10-13, the Western Australian tallied 22 points and hauled in 11 rebounds; comparatively, no Washington State player finished with more than five boards, although Brown finished with 14 points and 5 rebounds. Point guard Jasmine Forcadilla also had a solid week in her first starts for the Gaels, tallying 12 points, 7 assists, and 5 rebounds in the loss to Cal before registering another 9 points and 5 assists in the win over Washington State.

Georgia Pineau came into the 2017/18 season as the leading scorer among returning players at Boston College, and early signs suggest that the sophomore will once again be among the leaders for the Eagles. Boston College dismantled Bryant in their opener, with 15 points on 66% shooting and 8 rebounds from Pineau the performance of the night in the 65-42 victory. Ivy League school Dartmouth proved to be a much tougher proposition for the Eagles. Despite another 12 points and 8 rebounds from Pineau, as well as 11 points from fellow Australian sophomore Taylor Ortlepp, Boston College went into the final quarter down by 21, meaning even a lights-out 27-17 final quarter wasn’t enough as Dartmouth secured the 68-57 victory.

The season may have started poorly for Grand Canyon with two losses this week, but senior Jess Gajewski has little to complain about on a personal level after two solid offensive outings, without which the Antelopes’ two losses could have been two drubbings instead.

On the back of 14 first half points from Gajewski, Grand Canyon took a lead into halftime of their season opener against Rice, but gave up 35 third quarter points in an almost-perplexing ten minutes of basketball. That third quarter saw Grand Canyon’s 15 point halftime lead become an 8 point deficit, and even though Gajewski finished with 21 points on 8 of 15 shooting, with only four players getting on the score sheet, Rice were able to handle Grand Canyon down the stretch, delivering the Antelopes a 69-59 loss. Things only got tougher in the second game of the week, as nationally ranked Duke came to town. Grand Canyon hung with Duke for large stretches, with Gajewski tallying 15 points along the way, but in the end the Blue Devils’ class shone through for a 74-61 win.

Ashley Taia was outstanding for Indiana State in their season opener against Saint Louis, but unfortunately there is only so much that one or two players can do, and despite the senior’s best efforts, the Sycamores fell in a nailbiter. In a game where neither team led by more than 7 at any stage, Taia’s efficiency ensured Indiana State kept pace with their opponents. The Queenslander shot 6 of 9 from the field, including 3 of 4 from beyond the arc. Combined with a solid 7 of 8 free throws, Taia finished with 22 points, but the Sycamores fell 60-59 after allowing Saint Louis to jump out to a six point lead with a minute to play.

The only member of Utah State’s Australian quartet not to start a game last season, Olivia West got her opportunity in the Aggies’ opener as all four Aussies took to the court for the start of the game against UC Irvine. Despite fouling out late in the contest, West was accurate from both close range and beyond the arc, hitting 5 of her 7 three point attempts and 10 of 16 from the field on her way to 32 points. Despite support in the form of a 12 point, 12 rebound double-double from Shannon Dufficy and 13 points from Rachel Brewster, the Aggies couldn’t quite get over the line, going down 87-84 as UC Irvine put together a 35 point fourth quarter to come back from 7 points down with a quarter to play.

Utah State managed to put that game behind them to secure their first win of the season a couple of days later, defeating Dixie State 92-72. On this occasion, it was Eliza West who starred, dishing out five assists alongside a career-high 19 points on an efficient 9-13 shooting night. Dufficy once again secured a double-double, with 10 points and 10 rebounds, whilst Olivia West chipped in 12 points and Brewster added 10 in an outstanding evening for the Australians.

Stephanie Reid was one of the leaders in assists in the nation last season, and there looks to be little change as the senior racked up the dimes in Buffalo’s season opener. As well as shooting 5-10 from the field to finish with 16 points, Reid tallied 11 assists as the Bulls used a 29-19 second quarter to handle Delaware comfortably, running out 87-73 winners. Fellow Australian Courtney Wilkins also tallied 16 points on 6-12 from the field in 23 minutes of action. Numbers were down across the board in the Bulls’ second game of the week, as a 76-41 demolition of Maryland-Eastern Shore saw no player play more than Reid’s 21 minutes, but that was enough for the Victorian to tally another five assists.

Tiana Mangakahia may have been off the radar slightly for the last two seasons as the former Under 19 national team representative spent her time playing in junior college, but her performance in her debut for Syracuse showed that the Queenslander will no doubt quickly return to the spotlight. Despite scoring just six points in the Orange’s 95-68 win over Morgan State, Mangakahia found teammates in the right places time and again, finishing with 10 assists in a successful debut effort.

There were also several solid performances from a number of freshman, each of whom appear to be warming to their new surroundings quickly. Chloe Bibby opened her Mississippi State career with 13 points on 5 of 8 shooting as last season’s national runners-up opened their campaign with a 68-53 win over Virginia. Moving to the west coast, Chantel Horvat tallied 12 points on debut as UCLA demolished San Jose State 129-69, breaking a school record for points in a game in the process. Horvat followed up her debut effort with another 10 points as UCLA again dished out punishment, defeating Presbyterian 76-40.

Staying in California, the Fresno State pairing of Bree Delaney and Genna Ogier each gave solid accounts of themselves as Fresno State comfortably handled Eastern Washington, 81-56. Ogier started for the Bulldogs and finished with 11 points and 4 rebounds in 20 minutes of action, whilst Delaney came off the bench to be one of Fresno State’s best, shooting 5 of 7 on her way to 15 points in 22 minutes, also tallying 5 assists in the process.