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Michelle Smith: Top young talent in Pac-12 women's basketball

Nov 24, 2021
John McGillen/USC Athletics

The replenishment of Pac-12 talent after the departure of a celebrated and successful 2021 senior class is fully underway, particularly as teams across the conference challenge themselves with some big games at Thanksgiving week tournaments.

Ten of the top 50 players and 18 of the top 100 in the recruiting class of 2021 chose Pac-12 schools. Each team has young impact players on their roster, some of them already making their presence felt in the box score and the win-loss record.

Let’s introduce you to 10 of the youngsters who are already making a great first impression.

Izzy Anstey, UCLA: Anstey, a 6-foot-4 forward from Melbourne, was unavailable to come to Westwood last season, stuck in her home country of Australia because of international travel restrictions due to COVID. Both she and Bruins coach Cori Close are happy to have her on the floor. She is averaging 6.3 rebounds in the early part of the season and will bolster UCLA’s depth inside as she gets adjusted to the collegiate game.

Taylor Bigby, Oregon: The 6-foot-1 guard from Las Vegas and the No. 29 recruit in the 2021 class has a foot injury that has kept her out of all but the season opener against Idaho State. But with injury issues in the backcourt, she is a player that could return to make an immediate impact and provide backcourt depth.

Jayda Curry, California: Curry, the guard from Corona, Calif., has gotten her collegiate career off to a blistering start with three 20-point performances in her first three games. Named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week in each of the first two weeks of the season, Curry is the nation's leading freshman scorer, averaging 22.0 points and 4.8 rebounds a game and giving the Bears some offensive punch that they did not have last season.

Brooke Demetre, Stanford: The No. 11 recruit in the nation in the Class of 2021, a 6-foot-2 wing from Mater Dei High in Southern California, will need to find her playing time in an experienced lineup, and is averaging 6.7 points a game in three appearances off the bench.

Jenna Johnson, Utah: Johnson, a 6-foot-2 forward from Minnesota, has played a big role in the Utes’ 4-0 start, averaging 14.5 points and 5.3 rebounds a game, including a pair of 20-point games against Xavier and St. Mary’s. Utes’ coach Lynne Roberts said that Johnson is quickly turning into a “reliable and consistent” scorer for her team.

Rayah Marshall, USC: The 6-foot-4 wing from Lynwood, Calif. is playing significant minutes off the bench for the Trojans, giving Lindsay Gottlieb immediate impact and versatility on the floor. She has scored in double figures in three of her first four games and is averaging an impressive 12.0 points and 8.5 rebounds a game in the early going. Her four-block performance against Western Michigan shows she will be a threat all over the floor.

Aaronette Vonleh, Arizona: The 6-foot-3 post from West Linn, Ore. is averaging 10.0 points and 5.7 rebounds a game in an average of 14.0 minutes a game so far for the Wildcats. Vonleah, the No. 9 post in the 2021 recruiting class, was named the 2020-21 Gatorade Oregon Player of the Year.

Talia von Oelhoffen, Oregon State: von Oelhoffen, the guard from Pasco, Wash. who began her collegiate career early after coming to Corvallis last January, is already a large part of the Beavers’ offensive and defensive plans. She is leading Oregon State in scoring through three games at 15.3 points a game, to go along with a team-best 2.3 steals.

Kindyll Wetta, Colorado: The 5-foot-9 guard from Colorado who came in ranked as the No. 16 point guard in the nation, will bring backcourt depth to the Buffaloes. She has played in five games so far, including a seven-point, six-rebound effort against Air Force on Nov. 14 and a 12-point performance against Texas Southern on Nov. 23.

Alexis Whitfield, Washington: The 6-foot-2 redshirt freshman forward from West Hills, Calif. is already making her presence felt, including her first double-digit game against Louisville on Saturday, with 10 points on 5-of-9 shooting in 15 minutes on the floor. Whitfield played in 12 games in Seattle last season before missing the remainder of the year with an injury.