Michelle Smith shares her picks for Pac-12 women's basketball's major individual awards
On the day that the first tip goes up on the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas to start the postseason, it is also the start of awards season. Sharing my picks for the Pac-12’s major individual awards, knowing that this was a year when arguments could have been made for multiple players, even on the same team, which brings us to…
Player of the Year: Haley Jones, Stanford. It wasn’t easy to choose between Jones, Cameron Brink (the Cardinal’s leading scorer) and even Lexie Hull (the hustle and heart of this team). The best player on the best team in the conference changes from game-to-game, which is part of the Cardinal’s strength as a team. But Jones has been the engine for Stanford this season, the player who sets the pace, distributes the ball, and hits the big shot in the clutch. Her numbers aren’t eye-popping — she ranks 11th in scoring (12.5), second in rebounding (7.9) and fifth in assists (3.6) — but to only look at the numbers is missing the point. Jones is the centerpiece of what Stanford does and when Stanford is at its best, Jones is at the center of all of the action.
Coach of the Year: Kamie Ethridge, Washington State. Outside of perhaps Pullman, who would have said they saw a top 3 finish coming for the Cougars, who have collected more conference wins this season than any in program history? Even with the supremely talented Leger-Walker sisters, the Cougars struggled in the non-conference to nab a signature win, and an 80-33 loss to Oregon during the Pac-12 season could have sent them reeling. But it didn’t. Washington State won five of their last six games to close the season, earned a first-round bye for the first time in the conference tournament and have likely solidified their spot in the NCAA field for the second year in a row.
Defensive Player of the Year: Cameron Brink, Stanford. Brink’s ability to change the trajectory of a game by changing the trajectory of an opponent’s shot is well-established. Brink ranks 18th nationally in blocked shots per game (2.37) and has collected 64 blocked shots this season. The sophomore star also leads the Pac-12 in rebounding (8.2 per game).
Most Improved: Jordyn Jenkins, USC. It’s difficult to deny that Jenkins has blossomed greatly this season to become the Trojans’ go-to offensive player. The sophomore has more than doubled her scoring output from last season and is averaging 17.9 points and 7.3 rebounds in Pac-12 play with 16 straight games scoring in double figures. And she ranks third in the Pac-12 in shooting percentage at 53.0.
Freshman of the Year: Gianna Kneepkens, Utah. It’s so difficult here not to point at the league’s leading scorer in Jayda Curry at Cal for this award. But it’s been a difficult season for the Bears, and on the other hand, Kneepkens has contributed greatly to a very strong season for the Utes’ who may just be on their way to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011. Kneepkens was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Week five times this season. She has led Utah in scoring nine times this season with 17 games in double figures. She has averaged 11.7 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game this season.
Sixth Player of the Year: Rayah Marshall, USC. The Trojan freshman, who started just three games this season, has settled in to become of the conference’s most promising young talents. Marshall has averaged 11.0 points and 7.6 rebounds a game. And she has gotten better as the season has gone along, scoring in double figures in her last 11 games, and averaging 13.7 points a game over that stretch.