Among the featured reel games and hard-to-believe stats, Aliyah Boston, Caitlin Clark and paige buckers became familiar not just to female college basketball fans, but to many who had only a temporary interest in the sport.
But this year’s NCAA Division I women’s basketball tournament will feature dozens of other players on the national stage ready to make the most of their moment – players who put in impressive numbers and played remarkable games all season, just for themselves. a significantly smaller share of the spotlight.
Here are 10 players who have a chance to convince fans of this year’s tournament. They range from All-Americans and possibly first-round WNBA draft picks to mid-major newcomers looking to savor a March victory.
NaLyssa Smith has a good chance of being the top pick in this year’s WNBA draft. But that’s not because he’s just 6 feet 4 inches, the size and strength of professional post players. A Baylor strikerSmith currently has the tact and skill to play with the best.
He moves on the court with the ease and speed of someone much smaller – and as an added bonus, he’s coached by Nicki Collen, who came to Baylor after three seasons leading the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream this season.
At the tournament, Smith, who Won a national championship with Baylor In its freshman year, it will work to get the Bears to at least the last 16, if not the Final Four. He’s got the support, but without a doubt Baylor’s most important piece is finishing in the top 10 for points and rebounds in Division I as he continues to develop his gaudy statistical streaks. Smith set a new career high of 20 rebounds against Iowa State on February 28; He broke a career-high 35 points in the next game. Fans not only have the chance to see Smith reach the top at the right time, but also to check out a potential future professional star.
The scariest thing about Stanford isn’t that the defending champion is the champion – it’s the underclass that the championship team’s most prolific players: Haley Jones, the young and Cameron Brinksophomore
What makes Brink an asset in the Cardinal’s well-balanced offense is his efficiency: He had the third-highest number of field goal attempts on the team, but was the team’s top scorer. His dominance around the basket has made him an integral part of Stanford’s championship run.
At last year’s NCAA tournament, Brink averaged four blocks per game, six of which were in the Final Four, when Stanford beat South Carolina. These teams seem to be on a collision course this year as well, and Brink is the Cardinal’s only potential answer to South Carolina’s Boston, which will likely be the national player of the year.
Brink’s ambitious defense will be crucial if Stanford are to repeat as champions. His ability to set up screens and distract defenders from his team’s snipers while staying out of the foul trouble he fought in his first year will also be important. It’s a long to-do list, but Brink has shown he has the ability to check all those boxes.
Destanni Henderson, South Carolina
Managing the field is not an easy task for the team, which has been number 1 in the country all season. Before epic Henderson He’s most likely heading to the WNBA this summer (some predictions suggest he’ll be a first-round pick), possibly wanting to be rewarded with a trip to the national championship game for all his work.
Gamecocks will definitely need it to get there. Henderson is a true quarterback, playing games that help make the team’s leader, Boston, even more unstoppable. The team’s best offense is shaped around these two: Boston pulls the defenders into the basket and then makes an easy 3-point pass to Henderson in the corner, or Boston grabs a rebound and passes Henderson on the pass for an unbeatable hit. floor.
Henderson’s quickness makes him the perfect counterpoint to both South Carolina’s spark and Boston and the stoic postgame. In those rare moments when the South Carolina offense collapses, Henderson can often go to the basket to score or catch the ball and run to the other end for the layup before the defender knows what’s going on. When South Carolina beat Stanford in a redemptive victory in December, Henderson made seven steals—a key to victory he may try to repeat at this year’s tournament.
Nearly 60 percent of Iowa’s offense comes from two players: Clark, whose brutal shooting brought him into the national limelight and Monika Czinanoa veteran post player whose credibility provided Hawkeyes with a rock solid foundation.
When Clark has a free night (which means he scores less than 20 points for him), Czinano keeps the team steady and moves away from the basket to keep the offense alive. his shot percentage among the best in the countrythanks to his foot and quick release: If he’s in an Iowa rhythm, Clark can pass him and Czinano has the ball in the basket before the opponents have a chance to react.
Czinano led the team to score when they won Iowa’s fourth Big Ten tournament title last weekend, further proving how important both he and Clark are to their teams. “I just think we have really good chemistry,” Clark said. told reporters at the beginning of the year.
Kierstan Bell, Florida Gulf Coast
Kierstan Bell is a matchmaking nightmare. At 6 feet 1 inch, he’s a crucial few inches taller than most other shooting guards—the inch he uses to his advantage to shoot opponents from anywhere on the court.
Eagles get a higher percentage of their offense from behind the arc More than any other team in Division Iand Bell is definitely on that front. about 10 attempts per game. But where Bell really shines is when he shakes up anyone who tries to stop him from reaching the pot. Its size and strength, combined with incredible quickness, allow it to pass and jump by almost anyone; He averages 23.1 points per game. A meniscus injury in January threatened his WNBA draft stake and his chance to show off in the tournament, but he quickly bounced back with double-digit scores after missing just a month.
Bell shines in the big moments. He had 25 points in the first round of last year’s NCAA tournament, where the Florida Gulf Coast failed to beat Michigan, and 32 points and 10 rebounds earlier this season as his team scored a surprise victory over the now-number 9 Louisiana State.
Elissa Cunane, State of North Carolina
6ft-5 center Elissa Cunane has a résumé that’s as impressive as anyone in college basketball: three consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference championships, two consecutive conference tournament Most Valuable Player Awards, and a host of other individual awards. However, Wolfpack failed to capitalize on his talent in the NCAA tournament and have not made it past the last 16 since 1998. Last year, Cunane’s good but not good enough performances in San Antonio contributed to this. The sad loss of the top-numbered State of North Carolina to the fourth-numbered Indiana.
As a result, he enters this tournament with something to prove to both NC State fans and the WNBA teams that are considering him for the upcoming draft. Wolfpack’s strength is their balance, and Cunane wasn’t forced to fill his stats. However, he has the ability to dominate the basket and shoot critical 3-pointers, while also leading his team in rebounding. With NC State expected to be #1 seeded once again, going to the Final Four will be less of a disappointment and it’s up to Cunane to get them there.
Rhyne Howard, Kentucky
There’s very little that 6ft-2 guard Rhyne Howard does badly, including rewriting the Kentucky record books. It is in the top 10 in almost every statistical category available and has the second highest score in program history, including men and women. Yet beyond Kentucky and women’s college basketball fans, Howard has remained relatively unknown despite her prolific play and multiple national awards or likely a top five spot in this year’s WNBA draft.
That started to change last week when a change appeared in Howard, who led Kentucky to their first Southeast Conference tournament title since 1982. The seventh-place team beat the top spot, becoming the second-lowest place to win that title. three seeds along the way.
While Howard didn’t deliver an exciting title-winning hit for Kentucky, he was a force from start to finish, scoring 88 points in four games for the third-highest overall score in tournament history. Now he must take that pompous game to the next level, including the LSU win, where he made six of his eight three-pointers.
Starr Jacobs, University of Texas, Arlington
Tournament audiences may only get one opportunity to see young red-shirted forward Starr Jacobs, but he’ll likely make the most of it. A junior college transfer, Jacobs made a show in his first year in Division I, was named Sun Belt player of the year and led the Lady Mavs to a sad victory with 28 for their first Sun Belt Conference title. points, 11 rebounds and 3 steals.
He has already transformed his team by becoming the first player in UTA history to average 20 points per game during the entire regular season, while shooting almost exclusively from within the broadcast. Now armed with an automatic NCAA tournament bid, Jacobs and the Lady Mavs have a slim opportunity to complete the forward’s unexpected journey to the fore by earning the program’s first tournament win.
Taylor Robertson, Oklahoma
Taylor Robertson is the sniper behind one of Division I’s best charges. He not only leads the nation in his 3-pointers with an average of 3.67 per game; She’s vying for a place in the history books as one of the best 3-point shooters in women’s college basketball science. Robertson, a veteran guard, is the only player in NCAA history to fire more than 45 percent of his 3-pointers and average more than eight 3-pointers per game.
In short, the women are shooting at an unprecedented rate despite the 3-point line going backwards. just over a foot (same as boys now) Oklahoma is in the middle of his career. If the Sooners are to make the most of their highest NCAA tournament seeding in over a decade, they’ll need him to warm up. In the only national tournament game of the Sooners’ career so far, Robertson hit six 3-pointers; This season, he has scored nine points in a game.
Freshman guard Olivia Miles, one of the best recruits when she signed up early to Notre Dame last year, has already hit a triple-double and is among the Division I assists leaders with 7.2 per game pre-tournament. Miles plays with extraordinary ease and reads defenses so quickly that he does his best to help Notre Dame move with near-professional efficiency.
He could score 30 points, get 13 rebounds or get 14 assists in any given game – but his ability to fill in the gaps, support his teammates in the most helpful way has helped Fighting Irish. exceed expectations this season.
This will be his first game in the NCAA tournament, and if the Irish fans get what they want, it will be the start of a storied postseason career for the young guard – a career that could bring Notre Dame back into the national championship conversation.