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NCAA Player of the Year: Aliyah Boston, Caitlin Clark go head-to-head

A month into the season, Caitlin Clark is Aliyah Boston’s main competition for the Player of the Year award. (Joseph Cress/USA TODAY NETWORK)

Sunday was a good day for basketball fans. It started with No. 3 UConn defeating No. 9 Iowa in a highly anticipated Phil Knight Legacy championship game, and it ended with No. 8 North Carolina overcoming a 17-point deficit to beat No. 5 Iowa State in the Phil Knight Invitational championship contest.

Throughout the day, top players like Azzi Fudd and Caitlin Clark put their talents on display. And though it’s early in the season, the Player of the Year race is on, with several stars adding to their already impressive resumes.

Aliyah Boston, South Carolina

The reigning National Player of the Year will be the one to beat in this year’s race, especially as South Carolina continues to make its case as the national title favorite. All other players will be compared against her, and rightly so. Boston plays on the best team in the country and propels her squad on both ends of the floor. She’s just as important defensively as she is offensively, which gives her an edge over more offensive-minded players.

Boston’s numbers are down so far this season, from 16.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and two assists per game to 11.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and 1.5 assists, but the Gamecocks are just six games into the season. I expect those averages to increase to double-double territory, with similar assist and block rates to last season. Her point average might stay slightly lower because of increased production from other players — the Gamecocks have six players averaging eight points or more per game, in contrast with last season, when they relied on three main scorers.

That level of internal parity could hurt Boston when it comes to POY voting, but it shouldn’t. It’s a mark of a good player to understand personnel and not push to score more points when it isn’t necessary. The senior also went down in her team’s win over Hampton on Sunday and returned to the bench in a boot. An injury could hurt her chances, but Staley told reporters after the game that team doctors didn’t think it was serious.

Caitlin Clark, Iowa

It was a two-player race for the award last season between Boston and Clark. So far this year, there are more candidates, but these two will remain the favorites unless someone else comes and blows them away.

Last year’s points and assist leader, Clark is once again stuffing the stat sheet. She’s averaging 27 points, 6.8 rebounds and seven assists per contest for Iowa. Unlike Boston, Clark is tasked with doing the bulk of her team’s scoring, with Monika Czinano complementing her down low. The junior continues to impress, even as Iowa searches for its identity.

The Hawkeyes were upset by Kansas State and lost to UConn on Sunday, but in that defeat, they played one of their best games of the season. Win or lose, Clark is going to show up. She finished with 25 points, seven rebounds and six assists in the 86-79 loss to the No. 3 Huskies, helping her case in the POY race.

The biggest criticism of Clark’s game last season, and one of the reason’s Boston was picked over her for POY, was defense. She’s never been asked to defend at a high level, but on Sunday Clark had two steals for layups that showed off strong defensive instincts. Defense is never going to be the focal point of her game, but more displays like that will provide another talking point in the Boston vs. Clark debate.

Azzi Fudd has led UConn to an undefeated start to the season in Paige Bueckers' absence. (David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports)

Azzi Fudd, UConn

Fudd’s sophomore campaign is off to a terrific start that includes two 32-point games in wins over top-10 teams. She’s averaging 26 points per game (sixth in the country), 2.8 assists and 2.5 steals while shooting 53.3 percent from the field. Fudd struggled with injuries in 2021-22, but now that she’s healthy, the sophomore has a good case building for POY. With Paige Bueckers out, she’s taken on the main scoring role for UConn and delivered in every contest so far, leading UConn to a 5-0 record and a No. 3 ranking.

Bueckers isn’t the only injury the Huskies have weathered this season. No. 5 freshman recruit Ice Brady is out for the season, Dorka Juhász is recovering from a broken thumb, Caroline Ducharme is dealing with neck stiffness, and UConn even had a scare before they beat NC State when assistant coach Chris Dailey fainted and was taken to the hospital. Through all the adversity, Fudd has remained poised and a constant on a team dealing with significant setbacks.

In the win over Iowa, Fudd showed a resilience that also gave her POY resume a boost. After scoring just two points in the first half, Fudd regrouped and dropped 22 points in the second. As she got hot, so did the Huskies, storming back from an 11-point deficit to secure the victory.

Cameron Brink, Stanford

At this point in the season, Boston, Clark and Fudd are the frontrunners for POY, but Brink isn’t far behind. The 6-foot-5 junior has the potential to be the best player in the country. Brink possesses both guard and post skills, which makes her a walking mismatch. She is averaging 11.9 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game, while shooting an extremely efficient 63.5 percent from the field. She’s also putting up those numbers in just 17 minutes per game, which is simultaneously impressive and her biggest issue.

Part of the reason her minutes are low is because it’s early in the season and Stanford hasn’t played competition that warrants extended time for their starters. The other reason is that Brink is foul prone. She was the best player on the floor in Stanford’s 76-71 overtime loss to South Carolina on Nov. 20, with 25 points, five rebounds and four blocks. But she sat on the bench for much of the first half and fouled out in the extra frame.

Brink brings a unique level of energy and passion to the court, which benefits the Cardinal most of the time. But she needs to learn to rein it in and stay out of foul trouble. If she does, Brink’s numbers will go up, Stanford will have a better shot at a national title, and she’ll also have a stronger case for POY.

Other notable candidates

DePaul’s Aneesah Morrow is putting up some of the best numbers in the country right now, with 28.5 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. Morrow averaged a double-double last season and is building on that in her sophomore campaign. There’s no denying her talent, but when it comes to a legitimate chance at the POY award, Morrow likely won’t be considered among the finalists because of the team she plays for. The Player of the Year is generally a top player (which Morrow is) on a top team (which DePaul is not, despite a win over No. 14 Maryland on Friday.) The Blue Demons are getting votes, but POY candidates typically come from teams in the top half of the top 25.

Iowa State’s Ashley Joens is another player who could make a case for herself this season. She’s averaging 22 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, but the fifth-year senior is both helped and hurt by the addition of Stephanie Soares. The 6-6 Soares gives the Cyclones a better chance to win more games and put themselves in contention for a title. For Joens, if there is debate as to whether she is the top player on her own team, winning POY becomes much more challenging.

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

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Dash winger Maria Sanchez confirms trade request a day shy of NWSL deadline

María Sanchez of Houston Dash during a NWSL game
In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the club worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

Seattle Storm debut state-of-the-art $64 million practice facility

Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm during warms up during practice on July 11, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Jewell Loyd, seen here practicing at Florida's IMG Academy, and her team are in for a major upgrade this season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The four-time league champion Seattle Storm unveiled their new practice facility on Thursday, with Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel dubbing Interbay's Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance the team’s "new home."

"It's just such a special space," Brummel told Fox 13 Seattle. "I think when the players get here, it's gonna be overwhelming."

The sprawling 50,000-square-foot, $64 million property is just the second designated practice facility to be designed and built expressly for a WNBA team, with the Storm further noting that 85% of all design and engineering team members involved in the project's construction were women and people of color. The finished product holds two professional indoor courts, two 3x3 outdoor courts, a state-of-the-art locker room, and players' lounge, plus designated areas for strength and conditioning, kitchen, dining, and nutrition, and recovery. 

"This facility reflects our commitment to providing our athletes an exceptional environment that supports their growth, health, and performance," said Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder in an official team release. "It’s built for women, by women, embodying our dedication to leading the way in professional women’s sports."

For their part, the team can't wait to make the faciilty their own.

"It's amazing," Storm guard Jewell Loyd told Fox 13. "Not having to drive everywhere around, knowing you have access anytime of the day to get into the gym, to workout." 

Head coach Noelle Quinn said she predicts the team is "never going to leave this building."

"Which is a good thing for me," she continued. "You talk about having an edge in performance. We want our athletes to not only perform on the court, but get whatever they need."

All of the Storm's staff and operations will now live under one roof, and the team also has plans to launch a youth basketball program operating out of the building.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

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