Skip to main content

Michelle Smith Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Feature: Awards Outlook

Jan 26, 2021
Mike Mattina / Arizona Athletics
At the halfway point of this remarkable Pac-12 season, it’s good time to assess the players and coaches who are having the biggest impact on the race for a title. Let’s take a look at the major awards.
Player of the Year, presented by Nextiva
Michaela Onyenwere, UCLA - Onyenwere’s gutty, relentless play on Friday night led UCLA to a win over Stanford that the Bruins’ clearly considered a statement game, a statement on their designs to compete for a national championship. The win lifted UCLA to the No. 5 ranking in this week’s AP poll, the highest ranking for the Bruins since 2017, and they have their senior forward to thank for a lot of it. Against the Cardinal, she tallied her 31st career double-double with a “quiet 16 points and 10 rebounds." But the All-American candidate is averaging 18.0 points and 9.2 rebounds a game for a team that might have more momentum at the moment than any other team in the conference.
Aari McDonald, Arizona - The Player of the Year favorite coming into the season, McDonald has propelled the Wildcats into a tie for first-place in the Pac-12 standings with Stanford, to a consistently high spot in the national rankings - Arizona is currently ranked No. 10 - and she is closing her career as she started it, as one of the conference’s top scoring guards. McDonald, a fifth-year senior expected to be a high pick in the 2021 WNBA Draft, ranks second in the Pac-12 in scoring at 18.8 points a game, and ranks second in assists at 4.6 per game. She has put up at least 20 points in three of Arizona’s past four games.
Haley Jones, Stanford - Jones’ value for the Cardinal is in the do-everything nature of her game. The 6-foot-1 sophomore from Santa Cruz is showing her versatility, averaging 15.2 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game in less than 29 minutes on the floor. Jones’ 18 points and 11 rebounds against USC on Sunday was the kind of performance that Stanford needed after two straight losses and the kind they will need more of if the Cardinal plan to make a run at the program’s first national title since 1992.
Freshman of the Year, presented by Nextiva
Charlisse Leger-Walker, Washington State - Leger-Walker might be the best freshman in the country, not just the Pac-12. She is leading the conference in scoring with 20.3 points-per-game and has been named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week five times already this season. Her play has elevated Washington State into contention for an NCAA Tournament berth and her scoring alongside sister Krystal makes them a very scary combination.

Cameron Brink, Stanford - Length, athleticism, a great sense around the rim, Brink is a star in the making for the Cardinal and her play in the post has become integral to Stanford’s success this season. In less than 16 minutes a game on the floor, Brink is averaging 9.8 points, 6.7 rebounds with 26 blocked shots, ranking her second in the Pac-12. She is shooting 64.1 percent from the floor and her 127 points through 13 games is second-most by a Stanford freshman since 2010. Brink’s impact off the bench is clear for Stanford. As a young player, her biggest challenge is staying out of foul trouble and staying on the floor because when she’s on the floor, Stanford benefits.
Emily Bessoir, UCLA - The 6-foot-4 freshman from Germany has given the Bruins some very valuable minutes, in fact critical minutes for a team that is playing short-handed. Bessoir has posted double figures in four games so far this season, two of those coming against the Cardinal, including a key 11-point, nine-rebound effort in the Bruins’ win last weekend.
Defensive Player of the Year, presented by Nextiva
Aari McDonald, Arizona - The defending Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year is as disruptive as she ever was. She is a lockdown perimeter defender, has collected 33 steals in 13 games and is pulling down 4.5 defensive rebounds a game from the guard spot.
Mya Hollingshed, Colorado - The Buffaloes’ senior is near the top of the Pac-12 in nearly every defensive category, leading in defensive rebounds (6.8 rpg), sixth in blocks (1.5 bpg).
Charisma Osborne, UCLA - The Bruins sophomore guard makes life miserable for her opponents on the perimeter with her strength and quickness. She has collected 17 steals and seven blocked shots this season. 
Coach of the Year
Kamie Ethridge, Washington State - The Cougars’ head coach, in her third season, has found a secret sauce in the Leger-Walker sisters and has pushed the program to make a big move in the standings. Heading into this week’s back-to-back with Stanford in Pullman, the Cougars are 8-4 overall and 6-4 in the Pac-12 with impressive wins over Oregon State (twice) and Arizona. The Cougars are strong 3-point shooters and tenacious defenders and one of the toughest outs in the conference, with all four of their losses coming within single-digits.
Cori Close, UCLA - The Bruins’ focus is a reflection of Close’s, who has navigated through her team’s injuries and roster issues - including the legal fight keeping Australians Gemma Potter and Izzy Antsey from joining the roster - with a sense of perspective and reflection on the end goal of having team success. UCLA has played with just eight players for much of the season, but Close has kept them sharp and competing at an elite level.
Tara VanDerveer, Stanford - The fact that nobody may have more talent or depth in the league than the Cardinal, but nobody has had to match Stanford’s journey this season either. The Cardinal have played just one game on their home floor this season. They have been on the road for nearly two straight months, staying in hotels, traveling constantly and knowing they aren’t able to return to campus without having to quarantine because of county public health orders. That Stanford has maintained such a high level of play under these circumstances is impressive, and a reflection of VanDerveer’s calm, cool demeanor.