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NCAA Player of the Year: The cases for Aliyah Boston, Caitlin Clark

South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

I spend most of every Sunday sitting on the couch watching women’s college basketball, and this Sunday was no different. When I tuned in to watch South Carolina top Ole Miss, I thought to myself, “Aliyah Boston has to win National Player of the Year.” Then I changed the channel to watch Iowa defeat Michigan and thought, “Actually, Caitlin Clark has to win Player of the Year.”

That pretty much sums up my thought process on the POY race at this stage of the season. I watch one player and think she’s the clear favorite; I watch the other and change my mind.

But with the regular season nearly wrapped up, it’s time to officially choose between the two.

The case for Caitlin Clark

There’s only one way to watch Caitlin Clark play basketball: on the edge of your seat, mouth agape in absolute awe. To put it simply, she is the most exciting player in college basketball. Men’s or women’s, full stop.

There isn’t a shot Clark can’t make. Whether it’s a 3-pointer from the logo or an off-balance, through-contact finish in the lane, when Clark shoots, you’re surprised if she misses. If the POY race takes watchability into account, Clark’s case for the award is air tight.

Then there are her stats. The sophomore is leading the NCAA with 27.5 points per game and 8.3 assists per game. She also has the most triple-doubles of any player this season with five, and she hit 1,500 career points in just 56 games — the fastest a player has done that in men’s and women’s Division I history. Statistically speaking, it’s hard to argue against her.

So, we’ve got watchability and we’ve got stats. The next component to a POY resume is what the player does for her team. Iowa has talented players around Clark — the best being Monika Czinano in the post — but the rest of the roster is made up strictly of role players. Clark makes everything happen for the Hawkeyes, and without her, this team likely wouldn’t be ranked and, instead of winning the Big 10, likely would have found itself near the bottom of the conference.

That brings me to the final point of consideration in the POY race: team success. Points, assists, logo 3s and acrobatic finishes mean nothing if your team isn’t winning. And after a difficult start to the season, Iowa is doing just that. With five straight wins over Minnesota, No. 15 Maryland, No. 5 Indiana, Indiana again (this time ranked 10th) and No. 6 Michigan, Iowa not only secured a share of the Big 10 title, but also jumped from 21st in the country to 12th.

Iowa is thriving, and it’s all because of Caitlin Clark.

Iowa's Caitlin Clark (G Fiume/Getty Images)

The case for Aliyah Boston

Caitlin Clark is awe-inspiring because she’s doing things on the basketball court that no one else has, while Aliyah Boston is standing out for the opposite reasons. She’s doing exactly what players before her have done, what other players in the league are doing now and what plenty more will do in the future. The difference is she’s doing it better than anyone else.

It’s a hard feat to revamp rebounding and scoring in the paint, because it’s been a staple of basketball since the sport was invented. Yet, that’s exactly what Boston is proving this season.

The junior recently broke Sylvia Fowles’ SEC record for consecutive double-doubles, with 20, which also makes her one of just five women in DI history to reach that mark. Boston is setting records and playing at a consistently high level in every game, making her games must-see TV. In other words, Boston passes the watchability test.

Now, let’s chat stats. Boston is averaging 16.8 points per game and 11.9 rebounds while shooting 54.4 percent from the field. Her rebounding numbers are sixth best in the country, and while her 16.8 points a game don’t put her in the top 50, it’s certainly nothing to scoff at.

Boston is also playing with two other top players in the country, Destanni Henderson and Zia Cooke, who each average just under 12 points per game. Boston doesn’t have to score over 20 points a game because South Carolina has other weapons. She doesn’t hide on defense, either. The junior averages 2.7 blocks per game, and 8.2 of her rebounds per game come on the defensive end. So adding to Boston’s offensive impact is the fact she takes away tons of scoring chances for South Carolina’s opponents.

All of those points bring us to the final question: What would South Carolina look like without her? With two stars in Henderson and Cooke, and a slew of role players, the Gamecocks would probably be in the top 25, but they almost certainly wouldn’t be No. 1 nor the favorite to win the NCAA Tournament, as they are now. An unwritten rule when it comes to voting for awards like this is to pick the best player on the best team. In that category, Boston stands alone.

The verdict

Now that we’ve unpacked the analysis, it’s time to make a decision. I genuinely don’t think there is a wrong answer here. Both players are deserving, and both players have rock solid arguments for why they should take home the POY prize. It would be easy to say that I can’t choose between Clark and Boston and just leave it there, but that would be a cop-out.

In sports, the emphasis is always on winning, and South Carolina has done that more than any other team. The Gamecocks are 27-1 and have been ranked No. 1 in the country all season long. Neither of those things would have happened without Aliyah Boston, and that gives her the edge.

Poll talk

I like the AP Poll this week from Nos. 1-9. But when it comes to Michigan, Maryland and Iowa taking up Nos. 10-12, I think Iowa deserves to jump into the 10th spot. The Hawkeyes have already moved up nine spots, but they beat Michigan in their last meeting. Sure, the teams split their games on the season, but the most recent games lead me to believe that Iowa is the better team at the moment.

Then, I’m pulling BYU all the way up to 14th. The Cougars have been consistent all season, something teams above them can’t say. And sure, the WCC isn’t as strong of a conference, but going 15-1 in any conference is impressive.

Finally, it’s time to get Princeton into the rankings. The Tigers are another consistent team, now 12-0 in the Ivy League conference, and they haven’t lost since playing Texas on Dec. 22. Let’s give them a little credit.

JWS’ Top 25 in Week 17

  1. South Carolina (27-1)
  2. Stanford (25-3)
  3. NC State (26-3)
  4. Louisville (25-3)
  5. Baylor (24-5)
  6. LSU (25-4)
  7. UConn (22-5)
  8. Iowa State (24-5)
  9. Texas (21-6)
  10. Iowa (20-7)
  11. Michigan (22-5)
  12. Maryland (21-7)
  13. Ohio State (22-5)
  14. BYU (25-2)
  15. Arizona (20-6)
  16. Indiana (19-7)
  17. Tennessee (22-7)
  18. North Carolina (23-5)
  19. Oklahoma (22-6)
  20. Florida Gulf Coast (26-2)
  21. Notre Dame (21-7)
  22. Virginia Tech (21-8)
  23. Florida (20-9)
  24. Georgia Tech (20-9)
  25. Princeton (20-4)

Eden Laase is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. She previously ran her own high school sports website in Michigan after covering college hockey and interning at Sports Illustrated. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

Serena Williams is ‘super interested’ in owning a WNBA team

Serena Williams speaks on stage during keynote conversation at 2019 conference in San Jose, California
The tennis icon is all in on women's sports — and the WNBA is right on her heels. (Photo by Marla Aufmuth/WireImage via Getty Images)

Could Serena Williams co-own a WNBA team in the near future? 

Speaking with CNN on Monday, Williams expressed her interest in that potential — as well as the mounting enthusiasm for women’s sports around the world. 

"I think women’s sport is having a moment that it should have always had," Williams said. "I feel like tennis has had its moment. It’s international, and it’s huge, and it’s always gonna be there.

"Now it’s time to lift up other sports — women’s soccer, women’s basketball — there’s so many other sports that women do so great, let’s put it on that platform. Women’s basketball is getting there, and it’s arrived."

When asked if she had any interest in adding a WNBA team to her roster of ownership stakes, the tennis great welcomed the idea. "I absolutely would be," Williams said. "With the right market, I would definitely be super interested in that."

"There is no risk — women’s sport is exciting," Williams added, citing the 2024 NCAA women's tournament's record-breaking viewership as evidence. "People are realizing that it is exciting to watch, so it's an overly safe bet."

Williams may not need to wait long to act on that bet. On Monday, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said that she is "pretty confident" the league will expand to 16 teams — up from its current 12 — by 2028. 

The goal, she said, is to reach 14 by 2026. Oakland's Golden State is already on track to launch the league's 13th team in 2025. The move will mark the WNBA's first new franchise since the Atlanta Dream debuted in 2008.

"It's complex because you need the arena and practice facility and player housing and all the things," Engelbert said at a press conference before Monday's WNBA draft. "You need committed long-term ownership groups, and so the nice thing is we're getting a lot of calls."

Engelbert went on to name a few of the cities behind those calls, saying that the league continues to engage in discussions with Philadelphia, Toronto, Portland, Denver, and Nashville, as well as South Florida.

"These can either take a very long time to negotiate or it can happen pretty quickly if you find the right ownership group with the right arena situation," Engelbert added.

The Commissioner's 16 team goal is not only good news for WNBA fans, it's great news for current and future WNBA players. At 12 teams with just 12 roster spots each, the league is held to a total of 144 players for any given season. An abundance of fresh talent coming up through the NCAA ranks has put pressure on the organization to make room for more worthy competitors, and four additional teams might be just the ticket.

Hellen Obiri claims back-to-back Boston Marathon wins

Hellen Obiri, winner of the women's division of the Boston Marathon, poses with the Boston Marathon trophy
Hellen Obiri, winner of the 2024 Boston Marathon's women's division, poses with her trophy. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Kenyan runner Hellen Obiri won the 128th Boston Marathon on Monday, becoming the first woman to claim back-to-back titles since 2005.

She clocked a total time of 2 hours, 27 minutes, and 37 seconds in a women's division that race organizers described as "historically fast."

"Defending the title was not easy," Obiri said. "Since Boston started, it's only six women [that have repeated]. If you want to be one of them, you have to work extra hard. And I'm so happy because I'm now one of them — I'm now in the history books."

A two-time Olympic silver medalist and two-time 5000m world champion, Obiri is a clear favorite in this summer’s Paris Olympics.

“Last year I was pretty familiar to the marathon, but this year my training was perfect — we trusted everything we were doing,” Obiri said. “When we won last year, of course I was saying I’m going to win this one. Winning is like love. It’s something precious to me.”

Though, she wasn’t without a challenge. Fellow Kenyan Sharon Lokedi finished a mere eight seconds behind Obiri. Edna Kiplagat, who won the 2017 Boston Marathon, completed the podium sweep for Kenya with a third place finish.

Emma Bates, the race's top American finisher, came in 12th.

Obiri wasn't alone in making Boston Marathon history this year. The repeat champ walked away with $150,000 in total prize money allocated from a purse that topped $1 million for the first time ever. 

College rivals Angel Reese, Kamilla Cardoso drafted to the Chicago Sky

Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso competing at the NCAA SEC Conference Tournament Championship
Once rivals, Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso are now teammates. (Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports)

The Chicago Sky made a splash in Monday night’s WNBA draft, taking Kamilla Cardoso and Angel Reese in the first round. 

South Carolina’s Cardoso, who was the 2024 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, went third to the Sky. The day before, the team had swapped picks with the Minnesota Lynx to land the No. 7 pick as well, which they used on Reese, the 2023 Final Four MOP.

Now, the two will team up in Chicago after battling each other in both college and high school

"She’s a great player, and I’m a great player. Nobody's going to get no rebounds on us," Cardoso joked afterwards, while Reese expressed excitement about playing under new Sky head coach Teresa Weatherspoon.

"Being able to be a Black woman and as a head coach, and everything she's done at the NBA level, I just knew everything they were bringing to the table," Reese said of the Sky. "Player development is something that I was looking for and they looked for in me. I'm super excited for this move."

Former NBA star and Chicago Sky co-owner Dwayne Wade welcomed the pair to Chicago.

“The foundation is set,” he wrote.

The Sky have entered re-building mode after winning a WNBA title in 2021. This offseason, they traded franchise cornerstone Kahleah Copper to the Phoenix Mercury for a package that included the No. 3 picked used on Cardoso.

Now, Cardoso and Reese will be looking to jump-start the team's return to contention.

Watch: Iowa star Kate Martin’s draft moment goes viral

Kate Martin poses with Cathy Engelbert after being drafted by the Las Vegas Aces during the 2024 WNBA Draft in New York
2nd-round pick Kate Martin poses with Cathy Engelbert Commissioner of the WNBA at the 2024 draft. (Photo by Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Iowa captain Kate Martin was in the audience during Monday night’s draft when she was selected 18th overall by the Las Vegas Aces. 

The moment quickly went viral, as Martin was in the crowd to support superstar teammate Caitlin Clark going No. 1 overall, and was not one of the 14 players invited to the draft.

"To be honest, I don't think I'd have the type of career if I don't have a teammate like Kate," Clark said about Martin leading up to the 2024 national championship game. "She's been one that has had my back. She holds me accountable. I hold her accountable. But I think at the same time, me and Kate are wired so similarly that we get each other on a different level."

Martin being drafted marks the first time that Iowa has had two players selected in the same WNBA draft since 1998.

“She's one of the best leaders I've been around," Clark said. "She wants the best for her teammates. She's one of the most selfless people."

Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said Monday that she is “so proud” of her player, “because her dreams came true.”

"She has been such a big part of our program over the last six years,” she said. “Her efforts did not go unnoticed by her peers. I wish Kate all the success with this next step.”

Martin said afterward that she’s “excited for the opportunity” and to showcase her “really good” work ethic. Helping Iowa to back-to-back NCAA title games, Martin finished her college career with 1,299 points, 756 rebounds and 473 assists.

“There are a lot of emotions right now,” Martin said in an interview on ESPN. “I’m really happy to be here. I was here to support Caitlin, but I was hoping to hear my name called. All I wanted was an opportunity and I got it. I’m really excited.”

While Martin was watching from the crowd, her family was watching from back home.

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