Top 12 players to watch at the Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament
In the afterglow of a fantastic Pac-12 regular season, a season in which the league showcased not only its top teams, but its deep, deep bench of individual talent, the upcoming Pac-12 Tournament provide a remarkable opportunity for fans see some of the nation’s best women’s basketball players on the same court over the same weekend.
This tournament is considered wide-open largely because so many teams have so much game-changing talent on their rosters. Let’s take a look at 12 Players to Watch during the Pac-12 Tournament. Some of them will be very familiar names, some a little bit less so. But all are worthy of attention.
Kristine Anigwe, Cal. The Bears’ sophomore post and the 2016 National Freshman of the Year has 14 double doubles this season. Anigwe has scored in double digits in 59 of her 61 collegiate games and all but one game this season. Her talent in the paint means that she has been the focus of opposing defenses the entire season and she has struggled of late on the boards, failing to notch a double-double in 10 of the last 11 games for the Bears. But with NCAA hopes on the line, Cal will be looking to this talented young player to take them into the brackets with a long Pac-12 tournament run.
Monique Billings, UCLA. The Bruins senior forward just saw her 31-game double-digit scoring streak end in the regular-season finale against Arizona State. But Billings has had an outstanding final season. She is averaging 17.1 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. She is closing in on UCLA’s single-season rebounding and blocks records and her athleticism is unmatched in the Pac-12.
Sophie Brunner, ASU. Brunner, a senior who has been a key factor in Arizona’s State’s successes in the last four years, is coming to the end of her career and wants a strong finish for her Arizona State team in this tournament after the Sun Devils finished a disappointing fifth. Brunner is averaging 13.6 per game and had one of the best highlights of the season last week when she heaved a cross-court 3-pointer against USC.
Jordin Canada, UCLA. The do-it-all Bruins guard has lived up to high expectations. She ranks third in the Pac-12 in in scoring (17.5 ppg), scored in double-digits in all but two games this season, with 11 games of at least 20 points. She leads the Pac-12 in assists at 6.7 per game. Canada is the Bruins pacesetter at both ends of the floor. Her speed in transition makes the offense go and she is among the league’s toughest defensive matchups.
Ruthy Hebard, Oregon. A leading contender for Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, the Ducks center from Alaska has been a huge part of Oregon’s youth movement. Hebard leads the Pac-12 in field-goal percentage, shooting better than 63 percent from the field. She ranks in the Top 10 in the Pac-12 in five categories.
Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon. The Ducks freshman guard will make her postseason debut after a stellar freshman season that included has included a school-record four triple-doubles. The Pac-12 record is six triple-doubles by Stanford’s Nicole Powell, who happens to be an assistant coach on Oregon’s staff. The Northern California native averaged 13.9 points and 6.8 rebounds a game this season and hit 55 3-pointers. She also ranked third in the Pac-12 in assists at 5.65 per game, proving she’s just as capable of finding her teammates to score.
Kennedy Leonard, Colorado. The No. 4 scorer in the Pac-12 (17.1 ppg), Leonard’s sophomore season has turned her into one of the conference’s top young players. Leonard ranks second in the Pac-12 in assists (5.72 apg) and steals (2.38 pg).
Erica McCall, Stanford. The Cardinal’s senior post is their leading scorer and rebounder and the team’s emotional center. McCall has only failed to score in double figures in three games so far this season, although they have come in three of Stanford’s last four games. McCall, who has 11 double-doubles on the year, had a great postseason run for Stanford last year, propelling them to an Elite Eight appearance. Bank on this senior to ramp up her game now that the calendar has turned to March.
Minyon Moore, USC. The freshman guard has turned out a great debut season, making an immediate impact on the Women of Troy, particularly on the offensive end, where she has quickly become of USC’s most dangerous threats. Moore is averaging 11.8 points per game, and is among the conference leaders in assists and steals. Moore’s biggest game of the season was a 32-point effort against Washington State, the best single-game scoring effort by a USC player since 2014.
Chantel Osahor, Washington. Osahor has matched Plum’s extraordinary season with one of her own. Osahor leads the NCAA with 26 double-doubles. She is the NCAA rebounding leader at 14.9 per game. She set the Pac-12 single-game record for rebounds this season with 30 in a game against Washington State. It was a little less than a week ago that Osahor put up 24 points and 20 rebounds against Colorado. What else needs be said?
Kelsey Plum, Washington. Plum owns the NCAA all-time scoring record as of her 57-point record-setting performance on Saturday. This accomplishment has made her a national story and Plum is making a great case to be the national player of the year. The Huskies will be hosting in the first- and second-rounds of the NCAA Tournament on their home floor, but this tournament represents the last chance for many Pac-12 fans to see this extraordinary player live and in person.
Sydney Wiese, Oregon State. The Beavers’ senior point guard, the Pac-12 career leader in 3-point shooting, is so many things to the three-time Pac-12 regular-season champions. She is a floor-leader, a tone-setter, and the player that Oregon State looks to for calm, poise and a clutch basket. She averages 15.4 points, and is among the most versatile guards in the country. If the Beavers are in need of a score, Wiese is going to be the player with the ball in her hands.
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.