Good to know there is apparently no consensus on national player of the year even from UConn fans. So maybe it’s not as simple as I thought.
But, speaking of “simple” and awards, the Big 12’s award for top freshman was probably engraved for Baylor’s Brittney Griner before she played a game. And, leading all Big 12 rookies in scoring and rebounding this season, she will get it. However …
It is important to point out that Griner is far from the only freshman making an impact in the league. Let’s just look at this week’s games so far, for instance.
*-Monday: Sure, you wouldn’t notice much if you just looked at the line in the box score for Oklahoma’s Joanna McFarland against UConn. She played 15 minutes, and went 1 of 3 from the field for two points. She had one assist, one rebound and one block. Nothing notable, right?
Not exactly. Because here’s what the box score doesn’t show: the 6-foot-3 McFarland was busting her tail to do the best she could against Tina Charles, and she wasn’t playing scared. There’s good reason for her fearless attitude: She’s the third “J-Mac” from Derby, Kan., to play in the Big 12.
Her older siblings, Jessica (Kansas State) and Jackie (Colorado), preceded her in the league. Growing up, Joanna had to get used to going against her big sisters in games at home. And Jackie, an all-Big 12 first-team selection in 2007 and 2008, once told me that Joanna (the youngest of four; they also have a brother, Jacob) was the most competitive in their family.
I just liked the way Joanna approached the game, which was the same way the rest of the Sooners did. They played hard and didn’t back down. And you have to look at it this way: If you’ve faced Charles and Griner as a freshman, the way McFarland has, then you are way ahead on the growth curve.
*-TUESDAY: When Kansas lost Danielle McCray on Feb. 4, adding to the misery of having lost Angel Goodrich in January, who thought the Jayhawks’ ship was pretty much sunk? (I admit I did.)
Instead, KU has gone 2-2 in its four games since, and came close to winning both games it lost. The defeats were against Nebraska, which rallied late for a seven-point win, and against Texas, which triumphed in double overtime at KU.
And who has been leading this charge for the Jayhawks with McCray out? Two freshmen: post player Carolyn Davis and guard Monica Engelman. Davis, in particular, has been on such a tear in the past five games that it has rocketed her to the forefront of every Big 12 coach’s scouting report when it comes to KU.
I mean, it’s been really amazing. Starting with KU’s win at Missouri on Jan. 30 (before McCray got hurt), Davis has averaged 21.6 points and 10.6 rebounds in her last five games. In her last two, she has scored 29 and 28 points.
Tuesday in an important 79-72 win at Colorado – a road game I thought the Jayhawks easily could have lost after their heartbreak against Texas _ Davis was perfect shooting: 10 of 10 from the field, 8 of 8 from the foul line.
Engelman has averaged 16.8 points in her last four games.
“We had one hurting us on the outside and one on the inside,” Texas coach Gail Goestenkors said of Engelman and Davis. “When teams play on emotion – which I think Kansas is since they lost McCray – they’ve got kids who are hitting shots they hadn’t been hitting in the past.”
And we should also mention that Colorado’s top freshman, Chucky Jeffery, had 19 points, nine rebounds and five assists Tuesday.
*-WEDNESDAY: Nebraska is a team with six seniors, but freshman point guard Lindsey Moore has been critical for the Huskers, too. In their 60-50 win Iowa State on Wednesday, Moore led the way with 18 points.
Two freshmen also played big roles for the Cyclones: center Anna Prins had nine points and 10 rebounds, while wing player Jessica Schroll had 14 points and four assists. This was on a night when senior point guard Alison Lacey couldn’t play because of a concussion.
Oklahoma State is struggling, falling to Texas A&M for the Cowgirls’ fourth consecutive loss. Worse, the last three have come at home. And there’s something odd going on with senior Andrea Riley, who was zero of 10 from the field in the first half and was benched by coach Kurt Budke in the second half. Riley finished with just two points, ending her streak of double-figure scoring games at 82.
A bright spot for the Cowgirls was the play of freshman guard/forward Toni Young, who had 16 points and nine rebounds and was praised by Budke for her leadership.
Texas defeated Kansas State, and both teams have freshmen making an impact. Cokie Reed had 13 points and is providing the kind of post presence Goestenkors needs. Brittany Chambers led K-State with 11 points and has had to try to fill Shalee Lehning’s shoes for the Wildcats.
And, yes, Griner had another double-double, 19 and 10, as Baylor topped Texas Tech. Everyone expected a lot from her. But I’m not sure that anyone thought as many other Big 12 rookies would be playing as well as they have been.