NCAA Women: Wallace leads Baylor to an eighth straight Big 12 crown

As conference regular season action reaches its climax, there are plenty of Australians clinching championships or setting themselves up for a shot in the final couple of weeks. Kristy Wallace picked up her fourth Big 12 championship in as many years, whilst players like Stephanie Reid, Geraldine McCorkell and Jasmine Trimboli put themselves in position for a run at a regular season title and the top seed in their respective conference tournaments.

Baylor marched to an eighth consecutive Big 12 regular season championship, with Kristy Wallace leading the charge, averaging over 20 points for the week. The Bears demolished Oklahoma State 87-45 with the senior contributing in a number of ways. In 31 minutes of playing time, Wallace connected on 8 of 15 from the field to tally 18 points, whilst also collecting 8 rebounds and dishing out 6 assists, whilst her trademark defense was on show in a combined team effort that saw Baylor limit their opponents to single figures in two quarters.

Kansas were the Bears’ next opponents, and their 88-51 victory was just as comprehensive, and also gave them a chance to clinch the Big 12 regular season crown on rival Texas’ home floor. Wallace dropped 26 points, including 5 of 7 from beyond the arc, only being denied a certain career-high when given a much-deserved break in the fourth quarter with the game sewn up. The Queenslander also tallied 6 rebounds and 4 assists, and also managed to come up with two blocks in her 28 minutes on court.

Whilst the previous two games were almost processions, facing Texas on their home court would be a far different proposition. A win for Baylor would secure the conference title, whilst a win for Texas would bring them within one game of the Bears with just two games to play. Baylor led for most of the game, but it was certainly a close-run thing until the visitors put together a run late in the third quarter. Fuelled by six quick points from Wallace, Baylor extended a 56-53 lead to 68-59 by the end of the term, before pushing the margin to 15 points early in the fourth. Texas were able to trim the margin to single figures at times, but were just unable to stop Baylor’s powerful offence on enough occasions as the Bears rolled to a 93-87 win. Powered by mid-range jumpers and well-executed drives to the basket, Wallace poured in 23 points without a single three pointer, connecting on 10 of 19 field goal attempts, whilst adding 7 assists and pulling down 6 rebounds to round out a simply scintillating week of basketball on both a personal and team level.

Tiana Mangakahia maintained her double-double season average with a match-winning performance as Syracuse upset Duke in a game that saw two of the premier point guards in the country face off as the Queenslander took on fellow Lieberman Award nominee Lexie Brown. The Orange started the game well, taking a 7 point lead into halftime. However, the Blue Devils erased that deficit in the third quarter, even taking the lead until a last-second basket tie the game at 52-52. Duke went on to take a 63-54 lead, but that’s when Mangakahia found the turbo button and dragged her team back into the game. In the last six minutes of the game, the sophomore contributed 7 points, 3 steals, 2 assists, and the game-winning three, putting Syracuse up 68-65 with 57 seconds to play. Duke bombed away from beyond the arc 4 times in the last 29 seconds, grabbing the offensive rebound on all but the last one, when who else but Mangakahia grabbed the defensive board with 4 seconds to play to run out the clock and secure the win in front of a raucous Syracuse crowd.

The double-double average would fall by the wayside in Syracuse's next game, against Pittsburgh, but regardless, Mangakahia's 14 points and 5 assists proved vital to the Orange in their 62-52 win, especially as 12 of those points came in the second half with the game hanging in the balance. Mangakahia however remains just 2 assists shy of regaining that double-double average, with 268 in 27 games to this point alongside 17.9 poitns per game.

Boston College faced the toughest pair of teams in the ACC this week in the form of Louisville and Notre Dame, and despite two heavy losses, without Georgia Pineau and Taylor Ortlepp’s efforts, things would have been much worse as the Australian sophomore duo stepped up in spite of the opposition.

The Eagles actually took an early lead against Louisville courtesy of Pineau’s outstanding efforts, leading 23-12 after a quarter. But the Louisville defence clamped down from then on, allowing just 29 points across the remainder of the contest to run out 87-52 winners. Despite the result, Pineau hit 7 of 13 from the field and also got to the line with regularity, connecting on 7 of 8 free throws to tally 22 points and 7 rebounds. Ortlepp had a tough night from beyond the arc, finishing 0 of 5 from deep, but was able to contribute 7 points, the team’s third-highest tally for the evening. Roles were reversed slightly for the pair against Notre Dame, with Ortlepp hitting shots with aplomb. Although Boston College fell to an 89-55 defeat against the perennial powerhouse, the South Australian rode 17 first half points to a career-high 24, hitting 6 of 11 three pointers in the process, a number that also represented a career-high. Pineau also chipped in with a substantial contribution, adding 9 points and 5 rebounds despite foul trouble.

Facing the only team with a better conference record than themselves, Stephanie Reid and Buffalo came up with the victory over Central Michigan to give themselves a chance at the best record in the Mid-American Conference. Reid flirted with a triple-double to help deliver a nail-biting 85-82 win, finishing with 20 points on 50% from the field and 8 of 12 from the line, as well as 9 rebounds and 8 assists, and although the Victorian missed a couple of free throws down the stretch which kept Central Michigan in the game late, it was her lay-up with 17 seconds to go that put Buffalo 81-77 up and forced their opponents to foul in the process.

Akron proved to be slightly less taxing on Buffalo as the Bulls edged ahead throughout the contest on their way to an 85-71 win, with Reid securing a double-double of 10 points and 10 assists, with 4 rebounds and 3 steals just for good measure. Katherine Ups also chipped in with 8 points and 5 rebounds as Buffalo secured top spot in the MAC East division. Reid was also rewarded with College Sports Madness' conference player of the week for her spectacular efforts.

UTRGV may have needed overtime to win both games this week, but they had Megan Johnson to thank for both getting them that far and getting them over the line. The sophomore seemingly spent most of her time at the charity stripe against Seattle, hitting 8 of 11 from the charity stripe on her way to a game-high 22 points. Those 22 points included the game-winning basket, which in a low-scoring overtime period, came with three minutes to play as a game that ended 65-65 in regulation finished 69-67 in UTRGV’s favour. Johnson managed to find her way to the line with regularity against Utah Valley as well, finishing with 9 points on 10 free throws as part of a 25 point night. However, the Novocastrian needed to bring slightly more than one basket in overtime, scoring 7 of her points in the extra five minutes to secure a 71-64 victory. Fellow Australian Ally Bates was given a rare extended run for Utah Valley, tallying 4 points and 2 rebounds in 24 minutes after several teammates found themselves in foul trouble caused, slightly ironically, by UTRGV’s own Australian. Like Reid in the MAC, Johnson also received conference player of the week honours from College Sports Madness for a pair of scintillating performances.

South Dakota keep rolling, with Jasmine Trimboli earning a conference player of the week award as the Coyotes extended their winning streak to an incredible 17 games. Trimboli was one of four players in double figures for South Dakota in their 72-50 win over Omaha, finishing with 10 points and 3 steals in just 20 minutes of action, and there was better to come. A 46 point second half helped deliver a 72-55 victory, with Trimboli at the heart of the team’s success. The South Australian top scored with 16 points on 6 of 9 shooting, and added 5 assists, 3 steals, and 2 assists whilst also finishing a perfect 4 of 4 from the charity stripe as the Coyotes head into next week’s conference regular season decider against South Dakota State on a high.

Alanna Smith had a slightly down week by her own lofty standards last week, but the junior was back with a vengeance as Stanford faced arch-rivals California twice in the space of three days. Despite some foul trouble in the opening game, Smith was able to contribute 8 points and 7 rebounds in just 18 minutes of action as Stanford held off the Golden Bears 74-69 on their home court at Maples Pavilion before heading north to Berkeley for the rematch. Smith was one of Stanford’s best performed players in the second game, dropping in 20 points and collecting 9 rebounds, as well as contributing six steals. However, California had the better start to each half, and took a 7 point lead into the final term. A three from Smith with 4:27 to play trimmed the Golden Bears’ lead to two, but the home side controlled things from then on. In fact, Smith scored Stanford’s last 9 points, but California scored 16 in reply to secure a 78-66 victory and split the season series.

A tough season looked set to get worse for Florida, but Funda Nakkasoglu ensured the bad news would come to an end courtesy of some outstanding play. At one point, it looked as if the Gators would somehow conjure an upset on the road at nationally ranked Texas A&M, but despite Nakkasoglu’s 24 points and 5 assists, including 5 of 9 from beyond the arc, the Aggies came over the top of the Gators in the final stages to secure an 85-80 victory. Returning to Gainesville for Senior Day against Vanderbilt, Nakkasoglu ensured that the Gators would not be denied, knocking down 7 of 13 three-pointers to again top score with 25 points, with Florida easing to a comfortable 88-71 win over their fellow SEC strugglers, moving above the Commodores in the process.

The short trip across the state line to Montana proved to be no obstacle for Geraldine McCorkell, who was one of Idaho’s stars as the Vandals returned home with a pair of wins to keep the pressure on Big Sky conference leaders Northern Colorado. After a tight start to proceedings against Montana State, Idaho rolled through the middle portion of the game to open up a sizeable lead on the way to a 95-77 win, with McCorkell finishing a well-rounded performance with 10 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists. The Victorian was simply dominant as Idaho opened the game with a 20-5 first quarter before securing a 67-56 win, hitting 7 of 12 from the field to chalk up 20 points, as well as pull down 7 rebounds to help keep the Vandals just half a game out of first place in the Big Sky with four games remaining in the regular season.

Fresh off a surprising win over rivals Gonzaga last week, Megan McKay and Saint Mary’s came into the week with confidence, and it showed in a pair of victories that kept the Gaels in second place in the WCC. McKay’s scoring wasn’t at her usual level against San Francisco as the Western Australian chalked up just six points, but managed to pull down 10 rebounds in just 23 minutes of playing time as the Gaels opened up a 16 point lead midway through the third quarter before securing a 72-64 win. This game was also one of the rare times that fellow Australian Jasmine Forcadilla outscored McKay, with the point guard tallying 9 points and 3 assists. McKay was back to her ruthless best against Portland though. Connecting 7 of 13 from the field, the junior secured an 18 point, 12 rebound double-double in a 77-49 demolition on Senior Day, whilst Forcadilla dished out 6 assists in just 22 minutes of action.

Double-doubles have been a regular occurrence for Alex Sharp this season, and the sophomore picked up her sixth of the campaign this week. Taking on Virginia Tech in a battle of teams hovering just below the middle of the ACC standings, Sharp tallied an important 14 points on 50% shooting whilst pulling down a team-high 11 rebounds as a 24-9 second quarter helped deliver Wake Forest a surprisingly comfortable 73-56 performance. Sharp also tallied 5 assists in the win, playing 38 minutes in the process. Although the Demon Deacons weren’t able to secure a second win for the week against North Carolina State, going down 74-61 to the nationally ranked Wolfpack, Sharp was able to contribute 7 points and 9 rebounds for another solid all-round effort.

St. Francis may have only played one game this week, but the Australian trio, led by Jade Johnson, made it count in a 64-54 win over LIU-Brooklyn. Johnson hit 4 of 7 from deep on her way to 23 points and 4 rebounds, whilst Amy O’Neill chipped in at both ends, finishing with 10 points, 5 assists, and 7 rebounds, all of which came at the defensive end. However, the chief menace on the glass was Alex Delaney, who collected a career-high 12 rebounds alongside 6 points and 6 assists as St. Francis returned to the .500 mark in conference play.