Michelle Smith WBB Feature: Making the Case for Pac-12 Player of the Week

What’s a voter to do?

The weekly ballot for the Pac-12 Player of the Week award popped into the email inbox on Sunday night, as it always does. Opening that email, however, was a singular experience on this third week of January in 2019.

The numbers were eye-popping. The impacts were maximum. The comparison was thought-provoking. The selection of just one name, an exercise in weighing milestones against degrees of difficulty against consistency against winning … next to impossible.

This is no way to crown a superhero.

In an extraordinary year where five Pac-12 players are averaging at least 20 points a game, where the Pac-12 has a player ranked among the top 3 nationally in scoring, rebounding, total assists, assists per game, assist-to-turnover ratio, double-doubles, field-goal percentage, field-goal attempts, field-goals made, 3-point field-goal percentage and triple doubles, the number of honor-worthy performances are in full bloom.

Here’s a look at the top contenders for this week’s Pac-12 Player of the Week Award:

Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon. The Ducks star point guard led Oregon to a weekend sweep of the Arizona schools, putting up a season-high 31 points in a win over No. 19 Arizona State on Friday and then followed up on Sunday with her 16th triple-double of the season (adding to her NCAA record) in a win over Arizona, with 21 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists.

Kianna Ibis, Arizona State. The Sun Devils senior forward continues to up her game. Ibis scored a season-high 28 points along with a season-high 13 rebounds in Arizona’s State’s breakthrough win over Oregon State in Corvallis, continuing a strong run of late. Ibis scored 22 points Friday in the loss to fifth-ranked Oregon. Ibis has scored at least 20 points in four of ASU’s last five games.

Alanna Smith, Stanford. Smith, the Cardinal senior forward, helped Tara VanDerveer celebrate her 900th victory at Stanford by scoring a career-high 34 points over Washington State on Sunday, adding in 15 rebounds, one off a career high. In shooting 13-of-17 from the floor with four 3-pointers against WSU, Smith’s notched her third 30-point performance of the season. Friday against Washington, Smith collected 27 points and 13 rebounds. For the weekend, she shot 71.4 percent from the floor (7-of-11 from the 3-point arc). Smith is the only player in the country shooting better than 50 percent from the floor and the 3-point arc.

Kristine Anigwe, California. Anigwe, the only player in the country to pull off a double-double in every game she’s played this season (an overall streak of 18 in a row), opened the weekend with a 29-point, 23-rebound performance against Washington State. The rebounding total was the most by any Pac-12 player in the past two seasons. Sunday against Washington, Anigwe put up 30 points and 18 rebounds against the Huskies, the first time in four years that any Pac-12 player has gone for 30 and 18 in the same game.

The rest of the nomination list included: UCLA’s Michaela Onyenwere (22 points vs. USC); USC’s Aliyah Mazyck (26 points vs. UCLA); Arizona’s Aari McDonald (20 points each vs. Oregon State and Oregon); Oregon State’s Mikayla Pivec (16.5 ppg average vs. Arizona and Arizona State, including game-tying 3-pointer vs. ASU); Colorado’s Alexis Robinson (24 points vs. Utah); Utah’s Megan Huff (17 points vs. Colorado) – all performances worthy of merit in a “normal” week.

How did it turn out?

Cal’s Anigwe ultimately ended up with the Player of the Week honors for the third time this season. It was a close vote and four players – Anigwe, Smith, Ionescu and Ibis all received votes from the 28-member panel.

Did Anigwe deserve it? Yes. Did Smith and Ionescu and Ibis deserve it? Yes.

What matters more than who wins an award in a given week? How this treasure trove of talent in the Pac-12 is elevating the league, and elevating the teams that have to compete in it.

No one said it better than Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said it on Twitter on Sunday night.

“The talent in this league is unreal. There will be three players this week who will not be Pac-12 Player of the Week who could legitimately be the National Player of the Week.”

We are reaching the point of the season where All-Americans are made.

Ionescu would seem to be a lock to repeat as an All-American. Anigwe’s status as the nation’s top-rebounder and double-double producer is going to make her a strong candidate, particularly if the Bears rally late in the season.

Smith has having a remarkable season propelling one of the nation’s top-10 teams at Stanford.

Ibis’ emergence as a dominant scorer for the Sun Devils raises both her profile and the profile of the program.

It all makes perfect sense to Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne.

“Obviously, the talent level is high because the level of play in the Pac-12 is so high. This is the best conference in the country,” said Turner Thorne. “There are a bunch of (WNBA) draft picks in this league and they are showing it.”

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. For previous Michelle Smith features on pac-12.com, visit the archives page.

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