Michelle Smith Feature: Spotlight on Pac-12 women's basketball's super seniors
Every team in the Pac-12 is celebrating seniors over these final weeks of the regular season, marking the end of the careers of players who have given their all over the past few years.
The top teams in the standings all have their share of young stars, players who have already shown their ability to impact the game. But it is those senior anchors who bring their experience, leadership and poise to the floor every day.
We are celebrating our own Senior Day, honoring the careers of the top seniors in the Pac-12 heading into the final weekend of the regular season.
Marie Gulich, Oregon State. The Beavers' senior center bided her time earlier in her career, playing behind star Ruth Hamblin for two years before it was her to turn shine. And shine she has. Gulich ranks second in the Pac-12 in rebounding (9.1 rpg), 6th in scoring (16.7 ppg) and No. 1 in blocks. The 23-year-old German, who is a beloved player by the fans in Corvallis, will finish her career with the Beavers with three Pac-12 titles and having played in at least one NCAA Women's Final Four. Gulich won the Pac-12 Player of the Week honors this week for the first time in her career.
Jordin Canada, UCLA. The Pac-12’s newly minted all-time assists leaders has been headed for legendary status since she began her career as a highly touted recruit and into a starting role as a freshman. Canada has had an outstanding final collegiate season, ranking 9th in the Pac-12 in scoring (16.0 ppg), 2nd in assists (6.7 apg), 3rd in free-throw percentage and first in steals. She has been the Bruins’ unquestioned leader on the floor and off, a tone-setter for the entire program.
Monique Billings, UCLA. Billings joins Canada as one of the most accomplished players in program history after four years as a key part of the UCLA program. The lithe, athletic forward sets the standard for one of the country’s best rebounding teams. She is currently the Pac-12’s leading rebounding (9.7 rpg) and ranks 11th in scoring at 14.8 ppg. Billings has failed to score in double figures only four times this season. She had 26 points and 10 rebounds against Oregon on Monday night.
Brittany McPhee, Stanford. McPhee missed nine games early in the season with a foot injury and it was abundantly clear how much the young Cardinal missed its leader. McPhee has averaged 18.2 points a game in the 19 games she’s played this season and has had 8 games in which she scored at least 20 points. McPhee busted out a career-best 33 points two weeks ago – including 19 points in a row - in Stanford’s biggest conference win on the road against Oregon.
Lexi Bando, Oregon. The only senior starter on the floor for the Ducks this season, Bando has been a glue player as this young team has made its national ascent. Bando has averaged 10.0 points a game, is shooting .444 from beyond the 3-point arc and is averaging 2.4 made 3-pointers per game. Bando’s perimeter shooting can change a game for the Ducks.
Emily Potter, Utah. The Utes’ fifth-year senior post, who holds the top two single-season blocks records in school history, has been the center of Utah’s success and the rejuvenation of the program under head coach Lynne Roberts. Potter is averaging 11.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and is shooting .724 from the free-throw line. The 6-foot-6 Winnipeg native also ranks third in the conference in blocked shots at 1.9 per game.
Kristen Simon, USC. USC, under new head coach Mark Trakh, has been one of the “surprises” of the Pac-12 season, but the stellar play of center Kristen Simon surprises no one. Simon, who told Trakh when he arrived that she didn’t want to look at this season as a rebuilding year, has played like someone hungry to make the most of her final campaign. Simon ranks 4th in the Pac-12 in scoring at 17.7 points a game and 3rd in rebounding at 8.7 per game.
Mikayla Cowling, Cal. Cowling, who has started 116 games at Cal in her career, has been building throughout the season, doing a lot of everything for the Bears, averaging 4.4 assists and 1.7 steals per game, leading the team in minutes-played at 33 per game. Cowling, who is averaging 9.2 points a game for the season, has averaged 13 points a game over the last four games as the Bears make a surge toward the postseason.
JaLea Bennett, Arizona. It’s not been an easy season for the Wildcats, but the play of senior guard JaLea Bennett has been a bright spot. Bennett, who did not average more than 7.0 points a game through the first three years of her career, is averaging a team-leading 14.6 points per game this season. Bennett has led the Wildcats in scoring 15 times this season and has posted at least 20 points in six games this season, including a career-high 26 points on December 14 against New Mexico State.