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NCAA basketball 2023 awards picks: Year of Caitlin Clark

(Joseph Cress/USA TODAY NETWORK)

March still has plenty of madness left for college basketball fans as the Sweet 16 tips off Friday, but as the season draws to a close, so too are the campaigns of the biggest stars in the game. There have been plenty of memorable performances this season, both by teams and individuals.

While the remaining 16 squads battle it out for the NCAA title, it’s time for individual awards. Here are my picks for Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, Freshman of the Year and the All-American Teams.

Player of the Year: Caitlin Clark, Iowa

It’s been the year of Caitlin Clark in women’s basketball. The Iowa star is averaging 26.8 points per game (third in the country), 8.6 assists per game (first in the country) and 7.3 rebounds per game. Stats aren’t everything, but Clark’s paint a compelling picture. This season, she’s led her team to a 28-6 record, a Big Ten tournament title and, so far, an appearance in the Sweet 16 (the Hawkeyes play Colorado on Friday afternoon for a spot in the Elite Eight).

Thanks to her logo 3-pointers, Clark is regarded as a prolific scorer. The junior certainly knows how to put the ball in the basket, but there is much more to her game. Her ability to read the floor, run the fastbreak and find teammates with precise passes is also what sets her apart.

The Hawkeyes are an excellent offensive team, scoring an NCAA-leading 87.4 points per game. Offensively, everything that happens for Iowa happens because of Caitlin Clark. And for that reason, she’s my Player of the Year.

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(Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports)

Coach of the Year: Lynne Roberts, Utah

In just one season, Roberts has elevated her team from a middle-of-the-pack Pac-12 squad (8-7 conference record, 21-12 overall in 2021-22), to one of the conference’s best contenders. The Utes finished the regular season with just four losses, including an undefeated record at home. They also reached their highest-ever AP ranking, rising to No. 3 at one point, and now find themselves in the Sweet 16 for just the third time in school history.

Roberts had a solid foundation last season, with players like Kennedy McQueen, Jenna Johnson, Gianna Keepkens and Issy Palmer all returning after a first-round victory in the 2022 NCAA Tournament. And while the Utes would have been good with that core, Roberts set out to make them great by securing Alissa Pili from USC in the transfer portal.

Roberts managed to integrate Pili into the lineup seamlessly and, with just one addition, changed the make-up of her entire team.

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(Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

Defensive Player of the Year: Aliyah Boston, South Carolina

The reigning DPOY gets the nod once again as she continues to dominate for undefeated South Carolina. Boston has her team positioned as the favorite to win the NCAA Tournament once more, and her defense is a big reason why.

She’s averaging 2.0 blocks and 6.3 defensive rebounds per game, but more importantly, offenses have to game plan around the South Carolina big. She changes the way teams attack the Gamecocks because they have to be wary of her in the paint. Boston also allows her teammates to be aggressive in their defensive matchups because, if they get beat, she’s there to clean up with a block, an altered shot or a rebound.

South Carolina allows the fewest points per game in the country at 50.6, a statistic made possible by their rim protector.

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(Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Freshman of the Year: Ta’Niya Latson

Unfortunately, Latson didn’t get to showcase her skills in the NCAA Tournament. An injury kept the guard on the bench during Florida State’s opening-round loss to Georgia, but she did enough during the regular season to secure the Freshman of the Year award.

Latson, a five-star recruit, more than lived up to the hype in her first season at Florida State. She helped her team to a 23-10 record after the Seminoles went 17-14 the season before. Her 21.9 points per game ranked 11th among all NCAA players, and she contributed 4.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. Latson recorded 34 points twice this season, 32 points twice and 31 points on three separate occasions.

The guard was also consistent with her scoring, finishing with fewer than 15 points only five times this season, and scoring in double figures in 29 of 31 games.

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Angel Reese broke Sylvia Fowles' LSU record with 20 consecutive double-doubles this season. (Andrew Nelles/USA TODAY NETWORK)

All-Americans

First Team

Caitlin Clark (Iowa), Aliyah Boston (South Carolina), Alissa Pili (Utah), Maddy Siegrist (Villanova), Angel Reese (LSU)

Second Team

Elizabeth Kitley (Virginia Tech), MaKenzie Holmes (Indiana), Diamond Miller (Maryland), Cameron Brink (Stanford), Olivia Miles (Notre Dame)

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

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

Other former players contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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