Thursday, July 29, 2010

Top 10 Players of the 2010 Women's NCAA Tourney

From True/Slant on April 10, 2010:

Here are my Top 10 Favorite Performers of the 2010 NCAA Women’s Tournament.

10. Skylar Diggins, Notre Dame. First of all, this is a freshman who came into Notre Dame under a world of hype, but has proven to be up to the billing: The Skylar Diggins show comes to South Bend. She cruised as her team cruised past Cleveland State in the first round, then in the second round, versus Vermont, the Skylar Diggins show came to March Madness: 31 points, seven steals and six assists. Oklahoma’s defense took away much of what she wanted to do at the offensive end, but she helped keep the game close with steals and rebounds. Then she hit a three-pointer to send it to overtime. It was a spectacular debut at the big dance.

9. Jene Morris, San Diego State University. Prior to the tournament, I had seen a little under one-half of San Diego State Aztec basketball, so I really didn’t understand the full magnificence that is Jene Morris. Her performance in the tourney was enlightening, to say the least. She’s a wonderful defender – it’s required that all the Aztec players commit to defense — but it’s on the offensive end where she really shines. Some players have a knack for making the big play at the big moment. Certain players have a gift for doing something that stems the flow of momentum for the opposition. Morris is one of these players. Besides that, she’s got a killer three point shot, almost as beautiful as the sublime perfection of Maya Moore’s outside shot.

8. Alexis Rack, Mississippi State. This kid? Has hops. She flew up and down the court, hitting three-pointers and mid-range baskets. She distributed the ball and caused turnovers all over the floor. But in addition to speed and a sweet shot, she’s got stones. She’s tiny. They list her at 5′ 7″ – which is pretty short by D-I basketball standards these days — but I don’t know that she’s even that tall. Yet she continually drove to the hoop, wending her way through and around much bigger bodies to create lay-up opportunities. At their game versus Ohio State, the guys sitting next to me and behind me just kept muttering, “fearless.”

7. Amber Harris, Xavier. No team went through a crazier, wilder ride than the Xavier Muskateers, and perhaps no player had a bigger single impact that Harris. She showed both power and nuance, patience and urgency. In the final seconds of their game versus Vanderbuilt, she drove the lane for the winning lay-up. Then she lead Xavier past the Zags, before taking mighty Stanford to their absolute limits. When she came down with an offensive rebound with the score tied and just 18 seconds remaining, it should have been the nail in Stanford’s coffin. Should have, could have, but wasn’t. Still Amber Harris put on a show.

6. Brittney Griner, Baylor. I have to admit, there was a part of me that wanted to dismiss Griner, to think of her as merely a freak show — all height and luck and genetics. Then came the punch and I started to strongly dislike the kid. Granted, she is a very incomplete player. She doesn’t move much or all that well. She doesn’t have a great shot yet or even a killer instinct on the offensive end. And she could be a much better rebounder. All of those flaws showed up when she played against Tina Charles, but then, Charles has made everybody look bad this year. And yet, despite those flaws, Griner was more than just a freakshow of bones and sinew. Her shot blocking ability is something to behold and it’s impact cannot be overstated. She didn’t merely block shots, she swatted them down as though she were human anti-aircraft artillery, as player after player tried to get around her, by her or through her. Inevitably, the Griner swat came, sending the ball ignominiously to the court. Or onto the scorer’s table. Or into the seats. Every time she did that, her team fed off of her energy. The kid’s legit. I wouldn’t say she’s won me over. She’s got a long way to go still before she reaches that rarified air, so to speak, but she’s on her way.

5. Amanda Thompson, Oklahoma. I think what I like most about Thompson is the effort, which is not to say that she’s not a very talented player; she is that, of course. But I like that you can see her working on the court, digging down, reaching inside of herself to find that elusive something that will catapult her team to victory. Despite being surrounded by some really talented teammates – and that Oklahoma team is deep – it felt like Thompson did something when the Sooners were backed into a dangerous alley. She made steals and came down with rebounds. She hit inside shots and dished back outside. Last year, all anybody could talk about was how could coach Sherri Coale replace Courtney Paris. I wonder how she’s going to replace Thompson?

4. Nnemkadi Ogwumike, Stanford. I’m not even sure what to say about Ogwumike. In the Final Four game versus Oklahoma she staked her team to a large lead to watch it slip away. With just 16 seconds left, after a Danielle Robinson lay-up, Stanford’s lead frittered down to just three, so she took things into her own hands. Some how, she found her way to a clear space and, with a great pass from Kayla Pederson, she hit the lay up to put away the Sooners for good. She can do everything, evidenced by the fact that she put up a double-double in every game of the tourney except one (versus Iowa: 23 pts.; nine rebounds.) She can play inside. She can play outside. She can sky to come down with a rebound. She can speed up the pace for her team or she can settle it down. When she and Appel were able to work together on the court, Stanford was like a fast-repeat machine gun.

3. Jayne Appel, Stanford. I’ve written plenty about Appel over the years. About her drive and leadership; about her hands and her vision. But one of the things I really like about watching Appel is that she is one of those rare players possessed of both equanimity and guts. It’s hard to strike that balance. Having played an entire season on a gimped up ankle, Appel limped through the NCAA tournament and still she managed to elevate her team. Then, fighting for the ball in the paint in the championship game versus UConn, she rolled that ankle again. She could barely walk off the court. But still, the trainers taped her back up so she could play her guts out. The ankle, though, was a problem. It prevented her from getting any lift to shoot. Apparently, it’s not just me: Everybody loves Jayne. Even my buddy the DieHard UConn fan texted to say that she felt for Appel, on the bench, unable to play in the waning moments. There’s a reason everybody loves Jayne: she always fights to the end and never loses her dignity. So, despite the disappointment of coming so close and having to watch it slip away, I’d remind Ms. Appel that she really did have a wonderful career. But I probably don’t have to remind her. You know, equanimity and all.

2. Tina Charles, UConn. It’s hard to say anything about Charles that hasn’t already been said. She eclipsed all other post players in the tourney, which is some heady praise, considering that we also the swan song of Appel, the opening act of Griner, and the breakthrough of Amber Harris. She is a beast in the paint and I mean that in the best way possible. I don’t think anybody is stronger than Charles. At least I haven’t seen anybody who is. Even more than Griner, Charles changes the shot selection for the opposition. She did it all second half in the championship and that, as much as anything else, was the reason UConn pulled out the win.

1. Maya Moore, UConn. She possesses the best, most reliable jump shot in women’s basketball, maybe in all college basketball, and her shot is certainly one of the most aesthetically pleasing I’ve seen at any level. Period. It’s no surprise that Moore tops this list. She is great. I knew that. I also knew that she could stake her team to a huge lead. What I didn’t know, I mean really know deep in my bones, was if Moore could lead her team from behind, if she could bounce back from the worst half of basketball I’ve ever seen her play. Her shots clanked off the back of the rim, off the front of the rim, banged harmlessly off the backboard and sometimes missed the target altogether. She turned the ball over and dribbled off her own foot. It was ugly. And it was a gut check. In the first five minutes of the second half, Moore put up a jumper, kissed it off the glass and then it touched nothing but net. She not only got on a roll, she forced herself ont that roll and scored 15 of her 23 points in the second half. Gut. Checked.

Just missed the cut: Vivian Frieson, Gonzaga; Jasmine Thomas, Duke; Joy Cheek, Duke; Jeanette Pohlen, Stanford; Kalana Greene, UConn; Chanel Mokango, Mississippi State; Alysha Clark, Middle Tennessee; Nyeshia Stevenson, Oklahoma; Alysha Harvin, Florida State; Victoria Dunlap, Kentucky; Kelly Faris, UConn; Kayla Pederson, Stanford; and Ta’Shia Phillips, Xavier.

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