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Top 7 candidates for college basketball’s Player of the Year

Aliyah Boston and No. 1 South Carolina got the better of Cameron Brink and No. 2 Stanford in November. (Darren Yamashita/USA TODAY Sports)

The John R. Wooden Award watch list, recognizing the top candidates for the most outstanding player in college basketball, is down to 25 players. Several teams have two candidates on the 2022-23 midseason list released last week, and players like Aliyah Boston and Catlin Clark have appeared on it multiple times. Others are seeing their name in contention for the award for the first time.

The list is chock full of talent, but some players stand out as better than the rest. Just Women’s Sports has narrowed the list down to the top seven, in no particular order.

Aliyah Boston, senior, South Carolina

Boston will be the player all others are compared to as the reigning National Player of the Year, and she sets a high standard. The senior forward is the best player on the No. 1 team in the country, and she’s just as good on offense as she is on defense. She impacts every aspect of the game for the undefeated Gamecocks, whether it’s scoring, blocking shots or rebounding. Even when she isn’t showing up in the stat sheet, Boston is helping South Carolina. The thing that will hurt her POY chances is actually the part of her game that shows just how talented and smart Boston is, as coach Dawn Staley referenced last week: Her numbers are down from last season.

During her POY and DPOY campaign in 2021-22, Boston averaged 16.8 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. This year, she’s contributing 11.5 points and 9.3 rebounds per contest. A lot of that comes down to the way teams are defending the forward. She’s been double- and triple-teamed every time she touches the ball, and often stopped from catching it entirely with defenders packing the paint. Instead of forcing the issue, Boston has continued to let the game come to her and deferred to her teammates when defenses throw multiple defenders at her. Boston knows she doesn’t need to put up the same numbers as she did last season for South Carolina to win games, and she is sacrificing her personal stats for the greater good of the team.

Cameron Brink, junior, Stanford

When Brink is on the floor, she’s arguably the most talented player in the country. The junior can score inside, pull defenders outside by hitting 3-pointers and block shots, all of which infuse the Cardinal lineup with energy. At 6-foot-5, her skill set makes her a mismatch for any opponent. The problem with Brink is one she has admitted on several occasions: foul trouble. Brink doesn’t have any speed other than 100 percent, and that costs her and Stanford at times. She commits 3.8 fouls per 40 minutes on average, which is why she plays only 21.5 minutes per game. Fellow Stanford stars Hannah Jump and Haley Jones, in comparison, average 29 and 28 minutes per game, respectively.

In her limited action, Brink contributes 13.9 points, 9.4 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game. Now, imagine those numbers if she stayed on the court for an extra five minutes per contest. If Brink can stay disciplined in the second half of the season and guide her team to wins over top Pac-12 opponents like UCLA, Oregon, Utah and Arizona, then her case for POY becomes much stronger.

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A constant for UConn in a trying season, Aaliyah Edwards is now dealing with an injury of her own. (Matt Krohn/USA TODAY Sports)

Aaliyah Edwards, junior, UConn

When the season started, it was Edwards’ UConn teammate, Azzi Fudd, who was a top candidate for Player of the Year. But as UConn has battled injury after injury — including one that’s sidelined Fudd since early December — Edwards was the constant calming force for the Huskies. Paige Bueckers went out before the season started, and freshman Ice Brady followed soon after. Then Dorka Juhász broke her thumb, Nika Mühl sustained a concussion and Caroline Ducharme battled neck stiffness. Through it all, Edwards continued to perform at a high level. Despite injuring her ankle last week against Xavier, Edwards is averaging 16.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists, all while shooting an efficient 63.4 percent from the field.

It’s safe to say that without Edwards’ contributions, the Huskies wouldn’t be 13-2. That only adds to her case for the POY award, which recognizes a player who brings irreplaceable value to their team. On the flip side, as a big, Edwards will be compared against Boston, who has similar but more polished skills. And when Fudd comes back, the guard will demand much of the national attention and likely eclipse Edwards as UConn’s top player in many peoples’ eyes. All that being said, Edwards deserves serious consideration because of the way she’s anchored her squad in the midst of chaos.

Caitlin Clark, junior, Iowa

Last season, Clark and Boston were locked in a two-way battle for POY. This year, there are other players with strong cases as well, but Clark remains one of the top options. The junior guard averages 27.2 points per game (third in the country), 7.4 rebounds and 6.7 assists (ninth in the country). Every team Iowa plays has to center its entire defensive game plan around Clark because she’s such a dynamic scorer. The junior has a plethora of moves, sees the court well and can shoot from long, long range. What she does on the court hasn’t been seen in the college game before, and that certainly gives her bonus points in the POY race.

Clark lost out to Boston last season because the South Carolina forward had a defensive edge. Clark isn’t a weak defender by any means; it just isn’t one of her strengths. Plus, with the heavy offensive load she carries, the Hawkeyes would rather she didn’t expend too much energy on defense. She still contributes in multiple ways: Clark leads her team in assists and has already set the record for the most triple-doubles in the Big Ten, among men or women, with seven in her career.

Aneesah Morrow, sophomore, DePaul

There is no denying Aneesah Morrow’s talent, which is why she remains one of the top candidates for the award. The sophomore averages a double-double with 26.1 points and 12.1 rebounds per game, which is fourth and sixth in the country, respectively. She’s also had multiple 40-plus-point games this season and has finished with fewer than 20 points in just three of her 16 games played. Morrow is consistently dominant, no matter the opponent, but the issue with her POY campaign comes down to the team she plays for.

DePaul is unranked after suffering losses to Marquette, Creighton, Louisville, Towson, Cleveland and Northern Illinois. The Blue Demons did upset Maryland in November behind Morrow’s 22 points and 10 rebounds, but the team as a whole needs to step up if Morrow has a shot at the award. DePaul must enter the top 25, at least, for her to become a legitimate contender.

Angel Reese, sophomore, LSU

The more I see from Angel Reese, the more I like her for this award. The forward’s numbers are incredible, with 24.2 points per game (sixth in the country), and an NCAA-leading 15.6 rebounds per contest. And while she’s done it against a lot of weak competition — LSU has had to answer to its conference schedule — Reese has two big things working in her favor. The first is that, even against lesser competition, she never has an off-game. Reese has had a double-double in all 15 of LSU’s games this season.

The second is that, in the few games LSU has been tested, Reese has answered, playing the same way she does against lesser opponents. She had 25 points and 20 rebounds against Oregon State on Dec. 18, and 19 and 16 against Arkansas a week later. LSU’s best competition is still to come, when the Tigers take on No. 1 South Carolina in February. Reese has a chance to cement herself as one of the league’s top players if she performs at a high level against the Gamecocks. If LSU keeps winning and establishing legitimacy in the top-25 poll, Reese becomes more and more attractive as a POY candidate.

Alissa Pili, junior, Utah

Despite being the best player on an undefeated, top-10 team, Pili manages to stay under the radar. It’s time the forward received national attention. In her first season with Utah after transferring from USC, Pili has taken the team to another level, with the 14-1 Utes ranked No. 8 in the AP Poll. Thanks to its high-powered offense, Utah is ranked fourth in the country with 87.3 points per game. In a sea of scorers, Pili still manages to stand out. The 6-2 forward leads her team in both points (19.3) and rebounds (5.9), while shooting 62.8 percent from the field.

Pili’s high shooting percentage becomes even more impressive when you look at the multitude of shots she takes. Though Pili is a strong big with a traditional build, her game has dimension. She can score down low or stretch the floor, where she shoots 40.6 percent from beyond the arc. Pili’s challenge in the POY race is lack of attention. Though Utah plays in a strong conference and is a top ranked team, the Utes don’t have the name recognition of teams like UConn and Stanford. Pili will have a chance to prove herself on the national stage however, with difficult Pac-12 matchups against Arizona, Stanford, Oregon and UCLA on their schedule.

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

Canada edges out U.S. Hockey in World Championship win

UTICA, NEW YORK - APRIL 14: Team Canada raises the Championship Trophy after winning The Gold by defeating The United States in OT during the 2024 IIHF Women's World Championship Gold Medal game at Adirondack Bank Center on April 14, 2024 in Utica, New York. (Photo by Troy Parla/Getty Images)

Canada got its revenge on Sunday, winning the 2024 IIHF Women’s World Championship and taking down the U.S. in a 6-5 overtime classic.

Marie-Philip Poulin, a longtime star for Canada, got her first two goals of the tournament, while Danielle Serdachny had the game-winner. 

"I hate to say you're not trying to rely on it, expect it, but I know I've grown to expect it," Canada coach Troy Ryan said of Philip-Poulin. "Tonight was just a whole other level. I could see in her eyes every time we called her name that she was ready to go. It's just special."

The win came after Canada lost 1-0 to the U.S. in the group stage of the tournament. On Sunday, the two teams met for the 22nd time in 23 tournaments in the gold medal game – and the action between the two teams delivered. 

Among those scoring for the U.S. were Megan Keller, Alex Carpenter, Hilary Knight, Laila Edwards and Caroline Harvey. Julia Gosling, Emily Clark and Erin Ambrose had the other three goals for Canada, giving them their 13th World title after falling to the U.S. in last year’s title game in Toronto. 

This year’s game was held in New York – giving Americans payback on their own soil in the second-highest scoring final between the two teams. The U.S. won a world championship 7-5 in 2015. 

"Oh man, that feels good to win it on U.S. soil," Canada goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens said after the game. "We owed it to them and owed it to ourselves to win that one."

Canada also denied Knight a record 10th World Championship win, although she did become the most decorated player in women’s world championship history with 14 medals. After the game, Poulin gave Knight a hug on the ice. 

"We just said 'that was unbelievable,'" Poulin said.

U.S. coach John Wroblewski echoed the sentiment that it was an outstanding game after being asked about ending the game on a power-play after leaving too many players on the ice. 

"Instead of talking about the isolated events of tonight's game, I think that normally that's an interesting storyline,” he said. “But I think the entity of an amazing 6-5 game is an amazing hockey game that took place."

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.

One former player 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+.

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