Pac-12 Feature: Women's basketball freshmen make an impact

There is no shortage of experienced, talented veteran players in the Pac-12 and those stars have already made their presence felt in the first week of conference play. Players like Kelsey Plum (Washington) and Sydney Wiese (Oregon State) have set new Pac-12 records in nearly four stellar years on the floor. Teams such as Stanford and Arizona State rely heavily on senior starters in key roles.

But programs across the conference are also relying on the skills and poise of a large pool of freshmen, young women making their marks in their debut as college basketball players, setting the stage for a continued bright future in the nation’s top conference.

The breadth of the talent is evidenced by the fact that five different players have earned Freshman of the Week honors so far this season.

The next generation of stars are having an impact right now. Let’s take a look at some of these players.

Minyon Moore, USC. Moore has become a staple in the USC lineup since she arrived in the fall. Moore is among the Pac-12 leaders in a handful of categories, including a conference-leading 5.58 assists per game. Moore is shooting 75 percent from the free-throw line and has already notched a 15-assist game against Sacramento State, the second highest single-game total in program history. She was USC’s first 20-point scorer of the season, and also scored 23 points against Long Beach State.

Nadia Fingall, Stanford. Fingall is establishing herself as a post presence for the Cardinal, primarily off the bench. With the injury to Kaylee Johnson, Fingall has become a starter and is averaging 7.1 points and 3.6 rebounds a game. Fingall finished Sunday’s win over Arizona with 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the floor to raise her field-goal percentage to 65.2 percent.

Aarion McDonald, Washington. McDonald, a guard from Northern California, has found her place in the potent Huskies offense. She is averaging 10.1 points per game and has collected 17 steals. McDonald has made four starts this season, her first coming against Cal State Northridge on Dec. 7 where she put up a career-high 23 points on 9-of-11 shooting. Later that same week against Boise State, she finished with 21 points.

Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon. One of the top recruits in the country – the MVP of the 2016 McDonald’s All-American Game, Ionescu got off to a great start for the Ducks. Though she has missed the past few games with a thumb injury, she is averaging 13.1 points per game. She has already had two 20-plus point game this season against Texas-San Antonio and Clemson, and a pair of triple-doubles. Ionescu is the only freshman in the conference to be named Freshman of the Week twice this season so far.

Chanelle Molina, Washington State. The Cougars’ freshman guard from Hawai’i, is an immediate impact player for WSU. Molina, who has started every game so far, is averaging 11.1 points per game and leads the team in assists with 51. Molina scored 20 points for the first time on Sunday against Oregon, marking her ninth straight game in double-digit scoring. She also pulled down a career-best six rebounds.

Ruthy Hebard, Oregon. Hebard, the 6-4 post from Fairbanks, Alaska, is among the national leaders in field-goal percentage, shooting better than 73 percent from the floor. Hebard is the Ducks leading scorer and rebounder at 14.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. She has put up four 20-point plus games this season, including 25 points in 27 minutes against Washington last Friday.

Reili Richardson, Arizona State. Richardson has taken a leadership role on the floor for the Sun Devils as part of a young backcourt. Richardson, who has made five starts, is averaging 4.0 assists per game and shooting 76.5 percent from the free throw line, while also averaging 8.8 points per game. In Sunday’s double-overtime win over Cal, Richardson played 41 minutes and finished with 10 points, six assists and three steals in the second overtime period.

Lucia Alonso, Arizona. The Spanish guard has made 13 starts this season for the Wildcats and is averaging 7.2 points per game. Alonso has been a member of the Spanish youth national teams and helped to lead Spain to a silver medal at the U18 European Championships. Alonso scored 12 points against Stanford on Sunday.

Mikayla Pivec, Oregon State. The shooting guard has started the last five games for the Beavers averaging 10.8 points a game in those starts. She’s ranked among OSU’s top four in rebounds (62), assists (30) and Steals (11). Pivec came to Corvallis as the highest-ranted signee in program history, rated as the No. 24 player in the nation.

Kat Tudor, Oregon State. The Beavers wing player, a member of the highest rated freshman class in program history, hit 371 3-pointers in her high school career. Tudor is averaging 7.8 points per game and has dropped 32 3-pointers this season, ranking among the national leaders, shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc. Tudor had a strong opening weekend in Pac-12 play, scoring a combined 20 points against Washington State and Washington.

Michelle Smith is a contributing writer for pac-12.com. She has covered pro and college sports for espnW, the San Francisco Chronicle and AOL Fanhouse.

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