NCAA Women: West and Wallace pick up MVPs

A quite spectacular week for the Australians in women’s college basketball has seen two players pick up early season tournament MVP awards, with a further raft of players picking up all-tournament selections as several teams took the opportunity to pack an extra game into the weekend.

Utah State coach Jerry Finkbeiner said earlier this year that Eliza West would help make everyone forget about Funda Nakkasoglu following the latter's transfer to Florida. Whilst it would be highly premature to suggest that West has produced at the same level as Nakkasoglu, the freshman certainly showed flashes of brilliance and delivered one excellent performance in particular as Utah State became the first invited team to win Montana’s early season tournament since 1998/99.

West opened the weekend with a modest 6 point, 4 rebound outing in 20 minutes of action as Utah State dismantled Incarnate Word 79-46, but was simply brilliant against Montana in the title decider. The freshman point guard shot 8-14 from the field to collect 18 points and also dished out 3 assists to lead the Aggies to a 65-47 victory and snap Montana’s 31 game winning streak at their home tournament.

West was far from the only Aussie to fire in Montana. Rachel Brewster tallied 18 points against Incarnate Word before adding 7 in the win over the hosts, whilst Shannon Dufficy finished a rebound short of a double-double with 10 points and 9 boards against Incarnate Word, followed by a 14 rebound performance against Montana. Olivia West notched an impressive 14 points against Incarnate Word whilst also registering 7 points and 4 assists in the second game of the weekend. Dufficy and Brewster were also named to the all-tournament team, whilst Olivia West surely couldn’t have been far away with performances comparable to those of her fellow Australians.

Kristy Wallace has long been known as a player who may not fill up the stat sheet night after night, with her defense being her major weapon, but the junior put up some extraordinary numbers as Baylor ran out winners of the Gulf Coast Showcase. Wallace was awarded tournament MVP as the Queenslander dished and swished her way through the weekend. After starting the week with a modest 5 point, 2 assist effort in an 84-42 win over Kent State, Wallace exploded against DePaul. Again tallying just 5 points, Wallace dished out an astounding 15 assists and collected 8 rebounds as Baylor demolished the #18 ranked Blue Demons, 104-72. That brought an even tougher challenge in the form of #8 ranked Ohio State. Wallace was once again exemplary though, pouring in 15 points and registering another 8 assists in a more balanced but similarly effective performance in Baylor’s 85-68 victory which saw the Lady Bears take home the title. Among a raft of contenders, many of whom were Wallace’s teammates, the Australian secured the MVP award for a pair of elite performances.

Southern Methodist may not have been able to secure the trophy in the Omni Hotel Classic tournament hosted by Colorado, but Alicia Froling certainly made an impact, forcing her way into the all-tournament team. Coming up against fellow Australian Georgia Pineau and Boston College, Froling led the way for the Mustangs, shooting 9-15 for 24 points and collecting 6 rebounds in a 72-64 win. A win against the hosts would see Southern Methodist take home the silverware, but the undefeated Buffaloes were too good, running out 67-50 victors. Despite this, Froling notched her fifth double-double of the season, finishing with 11 points and 10 rebounds which saw the junior rightly recognised for her efforts across the weekend.

Megan McKay has forced her way into the starting lineup for Saint Mary’s, and this week made sure that it will be incredibly difficult to prise that starting spot away from her despite the Gaels falling to two losses in their own tournament. Although Saint Mary’s went down 83-78 to Boise State in their first game of the weekend, McKay delivered one of the most outstanding performances you could expect to see from a post player. The sophomore shot an incredible 11-14 from the field on her way to a career-high 25 points, and collected 12 rebounds, of which 8 were offensive boards.

The Gaels had a chance to win their second game of the week against Utah, but a last-second shot failed to find its mark and Utah walked away 63-62 winners. McKay was again outstanding for the home side, scoring 15 points and pulling down another 10 rebounds for her second double-double of the week and a spot in the all-tournament team. Fellow Australian Carly Turner provided excellent support, registering an 11 point, 7 rebound performance to bounce back from a modest outing against Boise State.

Down in Mexico, Stanford cruised in the Cancun Challenge and Alanna Smith earned her first starts for the Cardinal. With Kaylee Johnson injured, the sophomore moved into the starting five and immediately reaped the rewards. Earning several trips to the free throw line, Smith finished with 7 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 blocks in 21 minutes of play as Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer shared the minutes around in a 74-45 win over Northeastern. The Victorian improved on those numbers in an 87-39 demolition of Wichita State, shooting 4-7 on her way to 11 points and 8 rebounds. Smith had a far more modest outing in Stanford’s 78-69 win over Purdue, but the glimpses of outstanding play will no doubt give VanDerveer increased confidence in the sophomore’s ability to play a more meaningful part for Stanford this season.

Following two losses last week, Eastern Illinois were in danger of going on a long winless, streak but with some help from Grace Lennox, the Panthers secured two victories to move their record to 4-2. Lennox had a poor shooting night against Florida A&M, missing all 9 attempts from the field, but managed to connect on 6 of 8 from the charity stripe as the Panthers eased their way to a 66-50 victory.

Coming up against NCAA Division II side Illinois-Springfield, Eastern Illinois were expected to have a far less stressful evening, and Lennox in particular took advantage of the opportunity. The Tasmanian shot 8-10 from the field including 5-6 from three-point range, and finished with 26 points in addition to 4 assists as Eastern Illinois cruised to a 74-50 victory after opening up a 21-5 lead after the first quarter.

Washington State travelled to Las Vegas to play Nebraska and Maryland, splitting a pair of games. Against a Nebraska team decimated by transfers and graduations since last season, Louise Brown led the Cougars to a 79-65 victory. Brown set a new career-high for scoring, shooting 4-5 from beyond the arc on her way to 16 points, and also pulled down 7 rebounds in an impressive performance. Brown tallied another 9 points against Maryland, but despite Washington State’s impressive efforts, the #6 ranked Terrapins eased to a 79-69 win.

Claire Ioannidis started the week slowly but came to the fore when it mattered as North Florida escaped the weekend with a win after things initially looked bleak for the Ospreys. The senior was able to hit double figures against Xavier in the team’s opening game of the weekend, finishing with 10 points, but North Florida were soundly beaten, 83-46.

The team then played at the arena of crosstown rivals Jacksonville in a weekend tournament. Ioannidis once again snuck into double figures with 11 points, but North Florida would go down to South Alabama, 62-55. It was almost as if Ioannidis was saving her scoring for the final game of the weekend, as she tied the North Florida record of 7 three pointers in a game on her way to 28 points on 9-13 shooting in the Ospreys’ 77-74 win over Nicholls State.

Northern Illinois are the highest scoring team in the nation, and they have Courtney Woods to thank for a large part of that. The sophomore notched a career-high this week and couldn’t have found a better time in an unexpectedly close game against winless Chicago State. Woods shot 6-11 from beyond the arc on her way to 24 points in a 94-85 win, which would set the Huskies up for a big performance against Illinois State. In a comprehensive 108-66 win against their second in-state foe of the weekend, Woods shot 8-21 from the field to finish with 23 points in just 29 minutes of playing time, earning a rest for the majority of the final quarter after two outstanding scoring efforts.

One of the true leaders of the Buffalo side, Stephanie Reid stepped up when her team most needed it this week. Down by 4 after three-quarters against Duquesne, Reid scored 8 of her 15 points in the final quarter as Buffalo stormed home for a 71-69 win in a game that also saw Reid register 7 assists and fellow Australian Courtney Wilkins tally 9 points of her own. Reid also put together a solid performance in Buffalo’s less stressful 76-55 win over Sacred Heart, shooting 4-7 for 10 points and also contributing 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals as Buffalo cruised to victory after taking a 47-23 lead into halftime.

A pair of freshmen had their first outstanding performances of their college careers this week. Ella Hellessey was given an extended opportunity for TCU against Grambling State, and repaid coach Reagan Pebley’s confidence. Hellessey played 16 minutes, tallying 10 points and 8 rebounds in an 83-47 win for the Horned Frogs. Earlier in the week, Morgan Yaeger scored 10 points in 14 minutes for Oregon in an 88-55 dismantling of #24 Michigan State, a game that also saw fellow Australian Megan Trinder score 8 points and Jacinta Vandenberg haul in 7 rebounds.

Alex Sharp continued to establish herself at Wake Forest, producing for the Demon Deacons in a variety of ways. The freshman pulled down 11 rebounds in a comeback 59-52 win over Furman, but offered a much more well-rounded performance in the team’s second game of the week. Sharp tallied 10 points, shooting 4-9 from the field, and also collect 6 boards as Wake Forest extended a 35-32 halftime lead into a 78-68 win over Elon.