Pac-12 Feature: Women's Basketball stars emerge from postseason spotlight
The Pac-12 Tournament was an important primer for those team moving on to NCAA and WNIT Tournaments and there were some players who clearly took advantage of opportunity to build momentum heading into postseason play.
Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon
No one raised her profile more nationally than Oregon freshman guard Sabrina Ionescu. Ionescu turned in a performance that clearly establishes her as the conference’s next superstar player, building on a remarkable regular season that has already earned her national honors and attention. She also put the Ducks in prime position to return to the NCAA brackets for the first time since 2005.
Named Thursday as espnW’s National Freshman of the Year, Ionescu showed in the first postseason tournament of her young career that she is ready for prime time, leading to Ducks to a huge upset win over Washington in the quarterfinals, and taking the Ducks to the semifinals for the first time since 2005, when she was just in elementary school.
Ionescu opened the tournament with a 22-point game over Arizona, and followed up with 18 points, six rebounds and six assists in Oregon’s win over the Huskies. She closed the Pac-12 Tournament with 14 points in the semifinal loss to Stanford.
Ionescu, the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, was on the long map before she arrived in Seattle. The Bay Area native, one of the most hotly recruited players in the country, lived up to the billing. She already has four triple-doubles in her career, two away from the NCAA record. Her total of four tied for third-most in NCAA history and the most ever for a freshman in Division I women’s basketball history. And she hit game-winning shots against Cal and Washington during the regular season, averaging 14.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game.
She ranks 11th in the Pac-12 in scoring, 11th in rebounding and fourth in assists. She also ranks among the top 10 in the conference in free-throw percentage (81.9), 3-point percentage (41.6), 3-points made (2.21), assist-to-turnover ratio (1.95), defensive rebounds (5.21 per game) and minutes played.
Asked what she would take from the Ducks’ promising Pac-12 Tournament run, Ionescu said, “It shows that we can hang in with every team,” Ionescu said. “We gave all the teams we played a game. I think it just shows what we're capable of and night-in and night-out, we're going to give it all we have, and I think we're excited for the rest of March.”
Alanna Smith, Stanford
Smith is the first international player in the history of Tara VanDerveer’s time at Stanford and Smith has turned out to be a great find. Smith, from Melbourne, Australia, has had a handful of breakout games this season, including a 27-point game against Cal and a 24 point game against Oregon earlier in the season.
In the Pac-12 championship game, Smith came off the bench to give the Cardinal offense a critical spark after a difficult start. She finished with a game-high 18 points on 6 of 14 shooting from the floor. She added four blocked shots and proved a difficult matchup because of her versatility both in the paint and out on the perimeter.
Smith said she has been focused on being more aggressive late in the season and it’s paying off. It will certainly help the Cardinal as it looks to embark on another long NCAA run. After winning the Pac-12 Tournament, Stanford expects a high seed in the NCAA field.
“For me, it's just having an aggressive mindset, and just slowing down and reading the defense,” Smith said. “That's something my coaches have been telling me and I've really been trying to take on board.”
VanDerveer likes what she sees from her sophomore forward. “It's been really exciting to see Alanna's improvement throughout the year,” the Hall of Fame coach said. “She has a lot of talent. She gives us a big body that can score on the perimeter, score on the block, runs the floor. She's had some super games for us, and she really stepped up big (Sunday night).”
Gabriella Hanson, Oregon State
Gaby Hanson has never had to prove her worth to the Beavers. They know their senior defensive stopper and leader is absolutely critical to the success they have experienced in winning three straight Pac-12 regular-season titles.
But in the final postseason of her career, Hanson proved to everyone just how valuable she is to the Beavers’ success.
In Saturday’s semifinal game against UCLA, Hanson went to the bench early in the second quarter with foul trouble, picking up an uncharacteristic second foul.
In the second half, Hanson returned to push the Beavers to a hard-fought win. Hanson scored 12 big points, including a pair of critical 3-pointers, to go with four rebounds and three assists. And she played lock-down defense on the perimeter, limiting the second-half production of Bruins star guard Jordin Canada.
“I think everybody saw her impact,” said Oregon State coach Scott Rueck. “If you wonder who Gaby Hanson is to our program you saw that. Jordin (Canada) doesn’t want to see Gaby. Kelsey Plum doesn’t want to see Gaby, nobody wants to see Gaby. She changes the game just by her presence and her impact defensively.”
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.