Michelle Smith Feature: Pac-12 women's basketball freshmen make big impact
Another year marks another infusion of talented young players into the Pac-12. The Conference’s position as the top women’s basketball conference in the nation over the past three years has drawn top prospects to the league, and these first-year players are making big impacts around the league as the Conference schedule comes into focus.
Let’s take a look at the top freshmen performers in the Pac-12 so far this season, players who will be in the running for the conference Freshman of the Year award and who will be hoping to push their teams toward a postseason berth in the next few months.
Annika Jank, Colorado. The 6-foot-3 forward from Edina, Minnesota has been named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week three times already this season and for the second week in a row. Jank, a two-sport star in volleyball and basketball in high school, is averaging 14.9 points and 8.3 rebounds a game in leading the Buffaloes to an 8-2 record, including a big win over Miami. Jank, who has racked up four double-doubles already this season, put up 26 points last week against Dartmouth, the highest scoring game by a Colorado freshman in 17 years. Colorado coach J.R. Payne calls her one of the hardest-working players she’s ever coached. No Colorado freshman has averaged more than 8.0 rebounds a game since Sabrina Scott in 1999-2000.
Satou Sabally, Oregon. The Ducks’ 6-foot-4 freshman forward from Germany is averaging 12.9 points and is shooting better than 76 percent from the free-throw line, putting her among the Pac-12 leaders. In her first-collegiate start on December 4, she scored 22 points against Weber State. In her second start, she scored 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting against NCAA runner-up Mississippi State. Sabally has a lot of international experience, and was the No. 1 international recruit in the country when she chose Oregon. Early in the season, she said her biggest challenge was adjusting to the physicality of the collegiate game in the States. But Sabally is finding her footing quickly.
Kianna Smith, California. The Bears’ 6-foot freshman guard from Moreno Valley, California, a McDonald’s All-American as a high school star, is finding her groove just in time for the start of Pac-12 play. Heading into Cal’s non-conference finale at Kentucky, Smith has scored in double figures in consecutive games, including a 12-point, five-assist effort against BYU. Smith’s most impressive contributions have been in distributing the ball. She collected 12 assists against Manhattan in late November, the most assists in a game by any Cal player in the last two years, and has dished out at least five assists in her last seven games.
Kiana Williams, Stanford. With starting guard Brittany McPhee out of the lineup since the first weekend of the season with a foot injury, Williams, a 5-foot-8 guard from San Antonio, has made the most of her opportunity to play. Williams is the Cardinal’s second-leading scorer among active players, averaging 7.5 points a game. But Williams came up big of late, averaging 15 points a game over the past four contests and has hit 17 3-pointers over that same span. As the Cardinal have dealt with injuries, Williams has led the freshmen into more prominent roles on the floor for Tara VanDerveer’s team.
Marlee Kyles, Arizona. As the Wildcats work to rebuild their program into a Pac-12 contender, the center of that effort is the 5-foot-7 scoring guard from Elgin, Illinois. Kyles was a scoring star in high school, the first boys or girls player in the history of her high school to collect 2,000 career points. She also owned the single-game scoring record with 50 points. And she has become a scoring threat at the college level as well. Kyles, Arizona’s second-leading scorer, ranks among the Pac-12 scoring leaders at 10.7 points per game and has scored in double figures five times this season. Kyles’ best game of the season so far was a 19-point effort against Long Beach State on November 28.
Kierra Collier, Washington. The 5-foot-6 guard from Kansas City – an athletic, left-handed scorer who chose Washington over Kansas and Kansas State as a prep standout - ranks fourth on the team at 8.6 points per game, adding 20 assists and 18 steals. Collier, who has made four starts, has four games in double figures this season, helping the rebuilding Huskies to a 5-5 record.