NCAA Women: Taylah Simmons and Jade Johnson face off, drop 30 each

A week that saw some eye-popping performances was topped off perfectly with the news that Alanna Smith and Tiana Mangakahia both remain in contention for Player of the Year awards, with the pair each among the most recent Naismith Award and Wooden Award watchlists. Meanwhile, Mangakahia was also named to the Top 10 for the Nancy Lieberman Award, given to the best point guard in women’s college basketball. The pair once again showed out on court this week, with Smith tallying 17 points and 7 rebounds in Stanford’s 61-44 win over Oregon State and Mangakahia dishing 12 assists in Syracuse’s 96-69 victory over a Boston College side missing Aussie sharpshooter Taylor Ortlepp through injury. However, the best action was found in the New York boroughs of Staten Island and Brooklyn as Taylah Simmons and Jade Johnson dominated proceedings.

Having dominated Long Island-Brooklyn at home last week, Taylah Simmons crossed the bridge into Brooklyn and did the same on the on the road as Wagner edged to a second win over the Blackbirds in the space of a week, eking out a 66-62 victory. Simmons followed up last week’s 27-point, 15-rebound effort with another double-double as Long Island-Brooklyn once again had no answers for the sophomore. Simmons poured in 22 points on 9 of 19 shooting and also collected an even 10 rebounds, playing all 40 minutes in helping the Seahawks get back to. 500 in conference play at 5-5.

Less than two miles away, St. Francis Brooklyn’s Aussie duo continued to shine as the Terriers picked up a 73-61 victory over Fairleigh Dickinson. Amy O’Neill came close to another triple-double, finishing with 10 points, 11 assists, and 7 rebounds in another solid outing. Meanwhile, Jade Johnson refused to let a tough 1 of 6 day from beyond the arc prevent her from affecting the outcome, connecting on 3 of 3 from closer range to finish with 11 points and 2 assists as the Terriers eased to victory.

St. Francis and Wagner then faced each other in an absolute barnburner on Staten Island. A three-pointer from Johnson put the Terriers up 62-47 midway through the third as St. Francis pulled away after a tight first half. However, Wagner chipped away at the margin with Simmons a dominant force for the Seahawks. The sophomore tied the game at 73-73 with 7 minutes to play, but St. Francis regrouped and took a five-point lead into the final three minutes. With the game coming down to the wire, it would be Simmons who spectacularly tallied the final go-ahead basket in response to Johnson’s own lay-up only seconds earlier before a last-second free throw saw the final result read 87-85 in Wagner’s favour following 40 minutes of electric basketball. Incredibly, Johnson and Simmons ended with an even 30 points apiece, with Simmons also collecting 12 rebounds and dishing 5 assists in an utterly ruthless performance. O’Neill was once again outstanding, finishing with 9 points, 13 assists, 6 rebounds, and 5 steals in the Terriers’ heartbreaking loss.

Portland were up against it from the outset against Gonzaga, but Haylee Andrews put together an admirable performance in an otherwise dismal day for the Pilots. The freshman tallied a game-high 17 points, connecting on a perfect 7 of 7 from the free throw line alongside 5 of 10 from the field. Andrews also led Portland with 4 assists and collected 5 boards to tie the game-high for rebounds to offer at least one bright spot in a tough outing for the Pilots.

Courtney Wilkins struggled to make an impact in Buffalo’s 73-63 win over Toledo, tallying just 3 points, but quickly put that behind her to help the Bulls to victory over Kent State. It had been almost a month since Wilkins had put together a double-figure scoring effort, but a 4 of 7 shooting night from beyond the arc saw the senior tally 16 points as Buffalo secured the 75-66 victory to move to 8-2 in conference play, just half a game behind leaders Ohio.

Megan Johnson became the second Aussie in as many weeks to put Chicago State to the sword, following Seattle freshman Courtney Murphy in putting up outstanding numbers against the hapless Cougars. The junior tallied a season-high 19 points in UTRGV’s 71-55 victory, shooting 6 of 9 both from the field and at the line and also collecting 7 rebounds as the Vaqueros put together a 31-19 first half before rolling to victory in the second half. Although Johnson tallied just four points in her side’s 49-42 over Grand Canyon a few days later, the junior returned to form with a team-leading 14 points as well as 6 rebounds in a 64-56 victory over Cal State Bakersfield as the Vaqueros moved to 7-3 in conference play.

Georgia Dale and Cal Baptist also faced Chicago State this week, with the sophomore tallying 14 points and 5 rebounds in a 93-64 victory, shooting 6 of 8 from the field in the process. Dale was then one of the heroes for the Lancers in their 95-92 double overtime victory over UMKC. Although she only tallied 10 points, two of those came via a game-tying lay-up with 15 seconds remaining in the first overtime period that gave her side the chance for victory. Dale then knocked down a pair of free throws late in the second overtime period that put Cal Baptist up 3, and although UMKC hit back to tie the game, the game-winning three came for Cal Baptist on their final possession as UMKC were unable to respond in the same vein in a frantic final few seconds.

The Aussies continue to lead the way for Saint Mary’s, with a win over once-ranked BYU a highlight of an outstanding week. The Gaels rallied from 7 down with a quarter to play to secure the 78-75 win, with Megan McKay and Carly Turner combining to put the team ahead before Jasmine Forcadilla iced the game at the line. Forcadilla finished the game 6 of 8 at the line to tally 13 points and 4 assists, whilst McKay added 19 points and 10 rebounds. Turner was highly impressive to register 16 points on 5 of 9 shooting alongside 6 rebounds, and freshman Sam Simons added 6 points and 6 rebounds in a rare starting appearance.

Simons reprised her starting role in an 80-49 demolition of San Diego, finishing a single dime shy of a double-double with 10 points and 9 assists. Forcadilla continued her recent solid scoring form to add 19 points alongside 5 assists and 3 steals, whilst Turner added 4 points. McKay was once again unstoppable in the paint, registering 16 points and 7 rebounds to well and truly shake off the previous week’s tough outing in the loss to Gonzaga.

In a game between Utah State and Fresno State that featured seven Aussies, it was Bulldogs sophomore Bree Delaney that shone brightest in her side’s 64-53 victory. The Sydneysider finished with a team-high 15 points, including a perfect 5 of 5 at the charity stripe, whilst it was a rare tough day for the Aggies’ Australian quintet, with Shannon Dufficy and Rachel Brewster tallying 7 points apiece. Delaney followed up with another 8 points against UNLV as Fresno State put together a miraculous 25-6 final term to turn a one-point lead after three-quarters into a 73-55 victory. Fellow Aussie Genna Ogier was also solid for the Bulldogs, adding 10 points and 8 rebounds as well as 4 assists as Fresno State moved to 15-7 overall as well as 8-3 in conference play.

Despite Santa Clara falling into a 4-game losing streak, Tia Hay continues to be a multi-dimensional offensive threat for the Broncos. The junior registered 17 points and 8 assists in the Broncos’ 69-60 loss to Loyola Marymount before taking on Pepperdine later in the week. Santa Clara went into the final term up 60-49 but Pepperdine hit back to tie the game late. Hay made a late lay-up as part of a 13-point, 6-assist outing, but a turnover allowed Pepperdine the chance at a game-winner, which was converted with six seconds to play to deliver the Broncos a 76-74 defeat. Sophomore Monique Andriuolo chipped in 8 points for the victorious Waves, shooting 3 of 4 from the field in the process.

Funda Nakkasoglu continues to put up solid scoring numbers for Florida, and this week saw the Gators snap a five-game losing streak in a thriller against Alabama. Nakkasoglu tallied 20 points, with her fourth and final three-pointer putting Florida up 55-51 with two minutes to play. The Gators wouldn’t make another shot until the final 15 seconds of the game, but that was all they needed to break a 55-55 tie and escape with a 57-55 victory. Nakkasoglu followed up with another 12 points against Georgia later in the week, but the Gators were never really in the contest in falling to a heavy 93-58 defeat.

Double-figure scoring efforts are few and far between for Hawaii’s Amy Atwell, but when they do come by, the sophomore makes sure they are big ones. Having tallied 25 points in 16 minutes against Cal State Fullerton earlier in the season, Atwell poured in 19 points in the same time span as Hawaii snuck home in a 70-68 win over UC Irvine. Tasmanian Courtney Middap also tallied 11 points and sank a pair of free throws late in the piece to give the team just enough of a buffer to escape with a win and stay above .500 in conference action.

14 points from Grace Lennox wasn’t enough to get Eastern Illinois in a 60-51 overtime loss to Murray State, but the Panthers hit back against Austin Peay to grab their first win in 3 games, with both Lennox and Grace McRae at the forefront of the 67-57 victory. McRae shot an efficient 7 of 11 from the field to tally 16 points alongside 8 rebounds, whilst Lennox added another 11 points and 4 assists as the senior starts to look more like the player we saw prior to last year’s season-ending injury.