With all five power conference tournaments going down this week, plenty of the Aussie big names were out there showcasing their talents as their teams attempted to reach the NCAA Tournament.
Alex Sharp, Tiana Mangakahia, and Alanna Smith were amongst the outstanding performers, whilst Jess Gajewski and Jasmine Trimboli picked up conference awards prior to the commencement of their own conference tournaments. However, it was once again Courtney Woods dropping massive scores that was the highlight of the week, with the junior delivered her fourth scoring effort of over 35 points this season.
Northern Illinois’ season may have come to an end this week, but not before Courtney Woods obliterated one more opponent with another high-powered scoring performance that sees the junior now sitting on the precipice of the top 10 scorers in the nation.
Woods was on fire from everywhere against Toledo, hitting 5 of 10 from beyond the arc and 11 of 14 from the free throw line on her way to a 38 point outing in the Huskies’ 89-79 win. Amazingly, this was only her third-highest tally of the season, just a point behind her two 39 point outings earlier in the season. The Queenslander also tallied 5 rebounds and 4 assists to round out an outstanding night. Things didn’t go quite as smoothly against Western Michigan later in the week, with Northern Illinois falling to an 85-66 loss despite 15 points and 8 assists from Woods. This set the Huskies up with a match-up against Eastern Michigan in their MAC Tournament opener.
Once again, Woods poured in the points, tallying 24 as well as 11 rebounds to collect a double-double, but Eastern Michigan were superior down the stretch to secure an 84-77 victory and end the Huskies’ campaign. Unsurprisingly, but still highly impressively, Woods was named First Team All-MAC for a scintillating season in which she established herself as one of the nation's premier scoring threats.
Wake Forest’s season came to a premature conclusion with a loss in the second round of the ACC Tournament, but Alex Sharp finished the campaign on a high with two outstanding efforts.
The Demon Deacons dominated Pittsburgh for 40 minutes in the first round, recording their largest margin of victory in an ACC Tournament game in the 72-38 dismantling of the Panthers. Sharp led her team with a career-high tying 19 points on an efficient 8 of 12 shooting night, whilst also collecting 8 rebounds in 27 minutes on court. Miami were always expected to prove more of a test in the second round, and despite a slow start to the game, Wake Forest hung in there for the entire contest, taking a 58-57 lead with 2:54 to play. But despite 17 points and 13 rebounds for Sharp, her eighth double-double of the season, it would be Miami who finished the stronger of the two teams. They dominated the final three minutes to secure a 68-60 victory and send Wake Forest out of the tournament, ending their season in the process.
Sharp also picked up an ACC All-Academic second team nomination for her efforts this season, with the award recognising the best performed players on court who also hold a grade point average in excess of 3.0 for both the semester and their career.
Syracuse also suffered an early exit in the ACC Tournament, despite another strong performance from Tiana Mangakahia. The Orange looked set for victory in their first round contest against Virginia Tech, leading 65-56 heading into the final term. But it was the Hokies who dominated the final ten minutes, breaking off a 29-5 fourth quarter to take a 85-70 win that may have been slightly surprising before the game, but was utterly mind-boggling given the events of the first three quarters. Nonetheless, Mangakahia dropped 17 points on 6 of 13 shooting and dished out 9 assists in her final game before the NCAA Tournament, where Syracuse are at this point predicted by ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme to be a 10 seed.
It took double overtime against Cal State Bakersfield, but Jess Gajewski and Grand Canyon secured the third seed in the WAC Tournament in their first year of NCAA postseason eligibility, setting themselves up for a run at the conference’s automatic bid to the big dance.
Gajewski finished with 16 points on 5 of 9 shooting from the field, but it was her perfect night at the line that proved vital to her team’s chances. With her team down two with four seconds remaining in the first overtime period, Gajewski earned a trip to the line and nailed both free throws to send the game to a second overtime, where the Lopes would edge home, 77-76. Following an outstanding senior season to this point, Gajewski received an All-WAC Second Team nomination, just reward for her performances, but her mind will surely be focused on Thursday’s match-up with Utah Valley in the conference tournament, with Grand Canyon looking for revenge for an 84-64 loss just two games ago.
In a tight Big Sky conference, Idaho needed two wins to assure themselves of the second seed in the conference tournament, and Geraldine McCorkell helped deliver just that. Taking on lowly Northern Arizona, McCorkell notched a double-double as the Vandals held off the pesky Lumberjacks, hitting a perfect 10 from 10 at the charity stripe on her way to 17 points and 11 rebounds in the 93-83 win. The Vandals went on to face bottom team Southern Utah, who proved to be just as intent on providing nuisance value as Northern Arizona were, with Idaho unable to establish a significant lead until the fourth quarter. Once again, McCorkell enjoyed a solid outing at the line, hitting 5 of 6 free throws to finish with 12 points and 6 rebounds as the Vandals rounded out a 13-5 conference regular season with a 65-57 win.
Idaho will now face fellow Australian Rebekah Hatchard and Montana State in the second round of the conference tournament after Hatchard dropped a team-high 18 points in the Bobcats’ first round win over North Dakota. Having formed a formidable one-two punch with local star Mikayla Ferenz, it was little surprise to see the pair rewarded with all-conference selections, with McCorkell picking up an All-Conference Second Team selection.
Alex Delaney is the only member of the Saint Francis roster to have played in an NCAA Tournament, and a successful end to her final regular season campaign ensured that the Terriers are in a good position to secure the auto-bid, taking the #3 seed in the NEC Tournament. However, things got off to a shaky start this week against Central Connecticut State, where despite 13 points from Delaney and an 11 point, 10 assist double-double from Amy O’Neill, the Terriers fell to an 83-77 overtime loss. Things looked destined to turn even worse in the vital final game against Bryant as the Bulldogs led by 15 early in the second quarter. However, 20 points from Jade Johnson and another 13 from Delaney, as well as 7 points, 7 assists, and 5 steals from O’Neill saw the Terriers rally, securing a 66-60 victory and earning a first-round encounter against local rivals LIU Brooklyn.
Stanford had been all but written off by some sections of the media before Pac-12 play, but Alanna Smith and her team were able to secure the #2 seed in the toughest conference in women’s college basketball, setting them up with a second round game against the upset-minded USC after receiving the first round bye.
Smith was one of four Stanford players in double figures, finishing with 14 points and 4 rebounds as Stanford struggled to put the Trojans away before eventually securing a 69-59 win. Fortunately, the Cardinal came out firing against Arizona State in the semi-finals, taking a 13-3 lead after a quarter before rolling to a 58-46 victory, with the margin at 26 midway through the fourth before Tara VanDerveer emptied the bench. Smith again finished in double figures, tallying 13 points on 5 of 11 shooting.
Smith would then top score for Stanford in the championship game against top-seeded Oregon, but it would be the Aussies on the other side - Anneli Maley and Morgan Yaeger - who finished the game celebrating as local star Sabrina Ionescu dropped a career-high 36 points to lead her side to a 77-57 victory. However, Smith still found success on a personal level, being named to the 15 player all-conference team, with the Pac-12 selecting one squad rather than three separate teams.
Jasmine Trimboli picked up a trio of awards in a dream return season for South Dakota following last season’s injury issues. The South Australian picked up both the Sixth Woman of the Year and the Defensive Player of the Year awards as well as being named to the All-Conference second team following South Dakota’s undefeated conference regular season campaign.
Unfortunately, despite reaching the conference tournament championship, the Coyotes fell 65-50 to arch-rivals South Dakota State in the decider, with ESPN's Creme now expecting them to miss the NCAA Tournament. However, the Coyotes will surely now enter the WNIT, an event in which Nicole Seekamp led the team to the title in her senior year in 2016, with Trimboli also featuring in that victory.
Finally, the NCAA Division II Women’s Tournament bracket was released this week, with 12 Australians earning a shot at winning the title.
Hawaii Pacific feature four of those Australians, led by seniors Jessi Reeves and Breanna Mackenzie alongside Alysha Marcucci and Jessica Harley. New South Wales pair Riley Evans and Kristen Vrcelj will face off in the first round as Seattle Pacific take on UC San Diego, with the winner to face Hawaii Pacific if they are to get past Montana State-Billings in their opener.
Meanwhile, Metro State and their own Sky Blue pairing of senior Georgia Ohrdorf and freshman Losalini Katia will face local foes Colorado State-Pueblo in the first round, albeit on a neutral site in Lubbock, Texas. St. Thomas Aquinas and their Aussie pair of Emily Preston and Georgia Smith have earned a four-seed, whilst Maja Jurlina and Eckerd University have been slotted into a five seed.
Finally, former champions and home to Australians such as former WNBL player Kate Seebohm and SEABL player Emma Mahady, California University of Pennsylvania and their sole Australian, Emily Suckling, have earned a six seed and will play in-state rivals Indiana University of Pennsylvania in their opener. Fortunately, all of the Australians have escaped the section of the draw featuring the dominant Ashland team, a side whom it would not be unfair to term ‘the UConn of Division II’ for their performances recently, with their current winning streak increasing the all-time record with every additional W they tally, which now sits at 68 games.