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College basketball preview: Award picks, predictions and surprises

Reigning national champion and Player of the Year Aliyah Boston is a frontrunner for the award again. (C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

The 2022-23 women’s college basketball season tips off Monday, taking us on a four-month journey that culminates with the best time of the year, March Madness.

Before the games begin, Just Women’s Sports’ basketball experts explain which teams and players they’ll have their eye on during an action-packed season. JWS’ Eden Laase, Lyndsey D’Arcangelo and Rachel Galligan make their picks for end-of-season award winners and predict breakout players, surprise teams and much more.

Freshman of the Year

Laase: Lauren Betts, Stanford

Betts will have her work cut out for her, given the depth and talent of Stanford’s frontcourt, but her talent is unmatched. Eventually, I envision the No. 1 recruit carving out an important role for the 2020 national champion Cardinal — likely off the bench. Betts is a skilled passer whose touch around the rim is that of a player far beyond her age. I expect Stanford to make a deep run this season, and Betts will be a big part of that.

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Kiki Rice is the No. 2 overall recruit and No. 1 point guard in the Class of 2022. (Courtesy of USA Basketball)

D’Arcangelo: Kiki Rice, UCLA

There are a handful of freshmen who have an opportunity to make an immediate impact on their teams, including Ayanna Patterson (UConn), Janiah Barker (Texas A&M) and Lauren Betts (Stanford). But I’m going with the No. 1-ranked point guard in the nation and 2022 Gatorade Player of the Year, Kiki Rice. UCLA went 18-13 last season, and Rice is the type of player who can come in and help turn the Bears’ program around with her shot-making skills, confidence and court vision.

Galligan: Maya Nnaji, Arizona

The 6-foot-4 freshman forward out of Hopkins, Minn. is Arizona’s highest-rated recruit in program history, at No. 9 in the Class of 2022. Nnaji’s length, athleticism and versatile skill set will give Adia Barnes a much-needed offensive and defensive asset for her system. I fully expect Nnaji to get thrown into the rotation early and often, and to have an impact on Arizona from the jump as a complement to fifth-year forward Cate Reese.

Defensive Player of the Year

Laase: Aliyah Boston, South Carolina

I see a lot of repeat awards in Boston’s future, starting with the DPOY. Beyond the obviously impressive numbers (8.4 defensive boards and 2.4 blocks per game last season), Boston anchors the South Carolina defense in a way that dictates everything around her. Having an elite rim protector and rebounder like Boston allows the entire defense to be more aggressive. Even if she’s not initiating a big defensive play, like a block, Boston is making steals and forcing opponents into poor possessions, simply because her teammates know if they make a mistake going for a steal, she will be there to back them up.

D’Arcangelo: Aliyah Boston

Boston and Stanford’s Cameron Brink are two of the strongest defensive players in women’s college basketball, and that’s not going to change this year. But Boston’s endless hustle on the boards and dominance in the paint continue to set her apart. She averaged 7.4 defensive rebounds, 2.4 blocks and 1.2 steals last season, while committing only 1.4 fouls per game. Boston’s impressive combination of body control, timing and rim protection is almost uncanny, and it’s scary to think she will only keep getting better in her senior season.

Galligan: Aliyah Boston

This is a no-brainer based on the defensive dominance we have seen from Boston during her career at South Carolina. Boston’s imposing size, rim protection and rebounding ability are unmatched. Last season, the Gamecocks allowed just 50.7 points per game, ranking third in the nation. They were also first in blocks per game and in the top five in defensive and offensive rebounds per game. Their ability to frustrate and suffocate opponents offensively starts with the presence of the three-time SEC Defensive Player of the Year.

Coach of the Year

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Kellie Harper led the Vols to the Sweet 16 last season, their best finish since 2016. (Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Laase: Kellie Harper, Tennessee

The Volunteers have improved every year with Harper at the helm. They advanced to the second round in 2021 and followed that up with a Sweet 16 run last season. But that squad was plagued by injuries, keeping top players like Rae Burrell and Jordan Horston out for extended periods. Joining Horston this season are key transfers Harper secured in the offseason, most notably Rickea Jackson from Mississippi State. The Vols start the year ranked fifth in the country, and they have the tools to make a deep tournament run.

D’Arcangelo: Vic Schaefer, Texas

In his first two years as head coach, Schaefer has led Texas to back-to-back Elite Eight appearances. Ranked third overall in the AP’s Top 25 preseason poll, the Longhorns have their sights set on the Final Four. I think Scheafer has enough talent on this roster to get there. With Rori Harmon on the cusp of a breakout season and Shaylee Gonzales coming over from BYU, Texas could have its best season since 2003.

Galligan: Kenny Brooks, Virginia Tech

Brooks has assembled a squad that’s projected to finish second in the ACC, with three players on the all-preseason list for the first time in program history. Veteran returners Elizabeth Kitley, Georgia Amoore, Cayla King and Kayana Traylor accounted for 67 percent of Virginia Tech’s scoring last season. With Ashley Owusu (Maryland transfer) and Taylor Soule (Boston College transfer) entering the mix this season, the Hokies have the firepower to make a deep NCAA Tournament run. Brooks has a longstanding reputation of development and could very well be in the conversation for Coach of the Year toward the end of the season.

Player of the Year

Laase: Aliyah Boston, South Carolina

I’m picking Boston on the same criteria as I did last season: the top player on a top team who is elite on both offense and defense. Nine times out of 10, I’ll choose the same player for DPOY and POY, simply because I put a lot of stock into defensive abilities. We’ve already gone over Boston’s defensive prowess, but her offense is equally impressive. She averaged 16.8 points and 12.5 rebounds a game last season while shooting 54 percent from the field. That level of efficiency is exemplary when you consider the kind of defensive matchups, double teams and contact she is facing night in and night out.

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Caitlin Clark has been a Player of the Year contender in each of her first two seasons. (G Fiume/Getty Images)

D’Arcangelo: Caitlin Clark, Iowa

A dynamic scorer with incredible court vision, Clark led the nation in both points (27) and assists (eight) per game in 2022. But having the ball in her hands the majority of the time hindered her ability to get open looks. With Central Michigan transfer Molly Davis in the Hawkeyes’ backcourt as an additional ball handler, Clark will be free to come off screens and even post up against smaller guards. She worked on her strength and conditioning in the offseason, raising her game to yet another level. In 2021, Paige Bueckers won the POY race. Last season, it was Aliyah Boston. This year, I think it’s Clark’s turn.

Galligan: Aliyah Boston

For me, it comes down to the most dominant player in the country on the most dominant team in the country. Boston’s greatness has been on full display over the course of her three years at South Carolina, and I believe this season will be her best yet for the preseason favorites.

All-American Team

Laase: Aliyah Boston, Caitlin Clark, Ashley Joens, Haley Jones, Elizabeth Kitley

D’Arcangelo: Aliyah Boston, Caitlin Clark, Haley Jones, Azzi Fudd, Elizabeth Kitley

Galligan: Aliyah Boston, Caitlin Clark, Haley Van Lith, Haley Jones, Elizabeth Kitley

Breakout player

Laase: Ashley Owusu, Virginia Tech / Destiny Adams, North Carolina

I’m picking two players this time around because I think they will break out in different ways.

Owusu isn’t your typical breakout player because she is a well-known and established talent, having averaged 14.3 points and 3.7 assists per game last season. But Maryland clearly wasn’t a good situation for the guard, whose numbers actually decreased from her sophomore to junior season. At Virginia Tech, she will play in tandem with Elizabeth Kitley and be able to run the offense while also serving as a top-scoring option. I expect a rebirth for Owusu.

Adams is completely different — and maybe a slightly niche — choice. Adams didn’t put up big numbers as a freshman last season, playing just 8.3 minutes per game, but the 6-3 forward has everything coaches look for in a player. Her build, aggression, versatility and athleticism will all come in handy for the Tar Heels this year. North Carolina made it to the Sweet 16 last year thanks to Alyssa Utsby and Deja Kelly, but increased production from Adams could push them even farther in 2022-23.

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Rori Harmon was the first freshman in Texas history to earn All-American honors with an honorable mention last season. (Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

D’Arcangelo: Rori Harmon, Texas

Harmon’s freshman season was already impressive, with the guard averaging 11 points, five assists and 2.4 steals for the Longhorns. But it was her performance in the Big 12 tournament that made people across the country start to pay attention. Harmon won the Big 12 tournament MVP after scoring 66 points in a three-game span and leading Texas to a championship. The Big 12 Freshman of the Year may only be 5-6, but she plays beyond her size and she’s primed for a breakout season.

Galligan: Elizabeth Kitley, Virginia Tech

I think this will be a breakout year for Kitley from a name-recognition standpoint. With the roster they have in place this season, the Hokies are primed for success, giving the reigning ACC Player of the Year an opportunity to emerge in the national spotlight. The 6-6 forward has developed into a top WNBA prospect after averaging 18.1 points and 9.8 rebounds per game and shooting 55 percent from the field last season. This is the season women’s basketball fans across the country really start to pay attention.

Surprise team

Laase: UNLV

The No. 13-seed Rebels gave No. 4-seed Arizona everything it could handle in the first round of the 2022 NCAA Tournament before falling 71-67. UNLV returns its top six scorers and a heap of athleticism this season. I expect them to win the Mountain West and earn a tournament bid. Due to an unimpressive non-conference slate, I don’t anticipate UNLV getting a ton of attention until the postseason. But when they get there, this team could make a deep tournament run.

D’Arcangelo: Syracuse

Syracuse head coach Felisha Legette-Jack has the potential to win Coach of the Year in her first season at the helm. The Orange are looking to rebound after a public coaching scandal, players transferring in droves and consecutive mediocre seasons. Legette-Jack brings stability and passion to her alma mater, both qualities the program needs. She also brought senior Dyaisha Fair — the fifth-leading scorer in the nation at 23.4 points per game — and last season’s MAC Freshman of the Year Georgia Wooley with her from Buffalo. Syracuse has the talent to hold its own in the ACC and make a splash late in the season.

Galligan: Penn State

Coach Carolyn Kieger has steadily improved Penn State’s win totals the last three seasons while changing the culture with players who fit her style. The team’s roster has versatility, length and depth at all five positions. The Nittany Lions will be led by senior Makenna Marisa, one of the top guards in the Big Ten with the potential to rise up the national ranks after averaging 22.2 points per game her junior year. East Carolina transfer Taniah Thompson should also make an immediate impact for Penn State as Kieger’s team takes the next step in its evolution.

Pick for NCAA champion

Laase: South Carolina

D’Arcangelo: South Carolina

Galligan: South Carolina

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

Lyndsey D’Arcangelo is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports, covering the WNBA and college basketball. She also contributes to The Athletic and is the co-author of “Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National Women’s Football League.” Follow Lyndsey on Twitter @darcangel21.

Rachel Galligan is a basketball analyst at Just Women’s Sports. A former professional basketball player and collegiate coach, she also contributes to Winsidr. Follow Rachel on Twitter @RachGall.

Argentina Women’s National Team Stars Quit Over Pay, Conditions Dispute

Julieta Cruz of Argentina controls the ball during the FIFA Women's World Cup
The team qualified for the 2023 Women's World Cup, but failed to make it through the group stage. (Ulrik Pedersen/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

Argentina women's national football team starting goalkeeper Laurina Oliveros, defender Julieta Cruz, and midfielder Lorena Benítez have officially left the team after a dispute over a lack of pay and conditions.

The news comes while the team is away at training camp during the FIFA international window. Argentina is scheduled to play two international friendlies at home against Costa Rica on May 31st and June 3rd — matches that Argentina's soccer association is refusing to pay its players for, according to Cruz and Benítez.

"We reached a point in which we are tired of the injustices, of not being valued, not being heard and, even worse, being humiliated," Cruz, a defender, wrote in an Instagram post published early this week. "We need improvements for Argentina's women's soccer national team, and I am not only talking about finances. I speak about training, having lunch, breakfast."

Argentina qualified for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, but failed to make it out of the group stage after losing to Italy and Sweden and drawing with South Africa. That stands in stark contrast to the men’s team, which won the 2022 FIFA World Cup behind star forward Lionel Messi. 

In her own Instagram post, Benítez alleged that players were provided only a ham and cheese sandwich and a banana as food during training camp, and that their families were being charged 5,000 pesos per ticket to see them compete against Costa Rica.

"And so millions of things we've been through, being FOOLED over and over again," Benítez added.

Goalkeeper Oliveros’s message was more concise than her teammates: "My wish for this year and the following? That generations to come may enjoy and be happy running behind the round, as perhaps at some point we were." 

Clark, Martin Square Off in First Pro WNBA Matchup

Kate Martin #20 of the Las Vegas Aces and Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever look on during the game
Things looked a little different Saturday night as the former Iowa teammates went head-to-head in Las Vegas. (Jeff Bottari/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Iowa teammates Caitlin Clark and Kate Martin shared the court once again on Saturday, this time as professionals.

It was Martin’s Aces that got the 99-80 win over Clark’s Fever in Las Vegas. The pair's former coaches Lisa Bluder, Jan Jensen, Jenni Fitzgerald, and Raina Harmon were all in attendance to watch their Hawkeyes — Clark, Martin, and former national player of the year Megan Gustafson — take the court.

"It’s super special. It’s cool for our program, cool for Lisa, for Coach Jan, for all of them," Clark said in a pregame press conference. "They’ve known me since I’ve been 13 years old and now I’m 22 getting to live out my dream and they’ve been a huge part of that and helping me get here and helping Megan and Kate to get here too. It’s a great moment for them and I’m sure they’re not complaining about a trip to Vegas."

As for her college teammate, Clark had nothing but good things to say ahead of the showdown. 

"I’m just really happy for her and everything Coach [Becky] Hammon says about her is so true," she said. "Every person that played at Iowa and was around her knows that to be true. She’s the ultimate teammate, ultimate person, ultimate leader."

In the end, Martin stole the show with 12 points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes, while Clark amassed eight points, seven assists, and five rebounds over 29 minutes of playing time. 

"It was weird," Martin admitted after the game. "I'm not going to lie — just looking out on the court and seeing her in a different jersey than me, it was obviously different. But it's really fun. We're both living out our dreams right now."

The Aces next meet the fever on July 2nd at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Barcelona Beat Lyon to Win Back-to-Back Champions League Titles

Barcelona's Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas celebrating after beating Lyon at the 2024 Champions League final
Ballon d'Or winners Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas helped Barcelona to a second-straight UWCL title on Saturday. (Ramsey Cardy - Sportsfile/UEFA via Getty Images)

Barcelona was crowned champion of the Champions League on Saturday with a 2-0 win over Lyon in Bilbao.

Alexia "La Reina" Putellas, who recently re-signed with Barcelona, came off the bench to score the team's second goal. Fellow Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmatí provided the team’s first. After the game, defender Lucy Bronze said Putellas was nicknamed "the queen" for a reason.

"Alexia is the captain of the team and she's the queen of Barcelona for a reason,"  defender Lucy Bronze told DAZN. "She's got the quality to do that in the last minute of the Champions League final when we were up against it at the end and it just sealed the win for us. It was amazing."

The victory marked Barcelona's first win over Lyon in a UWCL final, having previously gone up against the French side at both the 2019 and 2022 Champions League finals. It's also Barcelona's second Champions League title in a row.

"It's hard to win it once, but to do it back-to-back, Lyon showed how difficult it is and this team has finally done that," Bronze said. "I think we go down in history as one of the best teams in Europe."

This season, the team also secured a quadruple for the first time in club history, having already won Liga F, the Copa de la Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. The win ensures that coach Jonatan Giráldez — who has officially departed the team to join the NWSL's Washington Spirit — leaves Europe a champion.

"It was an incredible game. I am really happy, it's one of the best days of my life for sure," Giráldez told broadcaster DAZN after the game. "We did an amazing job. I am very proud of all of them."

Following the win, Putellas said her team "can't ask for anything else."

"Our objective was to win four out of four," the Spain international told reporters. "We have achieved everything we wanted. Every minute of sacrifice has been worth the effort — and I'd say that not after the game, but before, just entering in the stadium, with all the support we had here, it was worth it."

2024 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Aitana Bonmatí said that the crowd support made it "feel like Camp Nou."

"I am on cloud nine right now," she said. "It is an historic day which we will remember forever."

Sun’s Alyssa Thomas Ejected After Flagrant 2 on Sky Rookie Angel Reese

Angel Reese said there were "no hard feelings" stemming from Alyssa Thomas's flagrant foul. (Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Angel Reese might have gotten knocked down on Saturday, but she got right back up again. 

Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas was ejected from the Sun’s 86-82 win over Chicago following a flagrant foul 2 on Reese — the first of her career. While the two were battling for a rebound, Reese took a clothesline hold around the neck courtesy of Thomas before hitting the ground.

After the game, Reese told reporters that there were "no hard feelings" and she appreciated Thomas for playing her hard beneath the basket.

"I know she purposely probably didn’t do it towards me," Reese said. "But just being able to come out there and just be strong and stand on two feet, it was going to be a tough game and that’s what I’m built for. And my teammates had my back throughout the whole game. So I was prepared for it."

She also didn’t buy into the idea that it was a "Welcome to the WNBA" moment, but thanked Thomas "sending a message" because it helped her get back up and "keep pushing."

"It’s not just because I’m a rookie. I’m a player. I’m a basketball player. They don’t give a damn if I’m a rookie. I mean, I want them to come at me every day. I want them to come at everybody," she added. "I mean, they’re not supposed to be nice to me. I hope y’all know that. They’re not supposed to be nice to me or lay down because I’m Angel Reese or because I’m a rookie."

Reese finished the game with 13 points, five rebounds, and two assists over 33 minutes.

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