Well, it's down to the final twelve. The Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) released its list of the finalists for the prestigious Wade Trophy earlier this week and, unsurprisingly, Alyssa Thomas made the cut. While she would be a worthy winner, it's certainly not a slam dunk. Let's take a look at Thomas and her most likely competition.
Here's an alphabetical list of the 12 players by surname: Stephanie Dolson, Bria Hartley, Jordan Hooper, Natasha Howard, Jewel Loyd, Maggie Lucas, Kayla McBride, Tiffany Mitchell, Chiney Ogwumike, Odyssey Sims, Breanna Stewart, Alyssa Thomas.
Since it's not my object to set forth an argument for all twelve players, I'll start the process by winnowing the list. You'll notice that Connecticut has three players on the list and Notre Dame has two so I'll cut two players from UConn and one from the Irish. While Dolson and Hartley are unquestionably important to the success of the defending National Champions there's also little question UConn's centerpiece is sophomore Breanna Stewart. As for Notre Dame, though I think Loyd is the best player on the team, she's only a sophomore, and the ACC coaches voted McBride the player of the year so this Jewel goes back in her case.
Other players who should be preparing their "it's an honor to be nominated" speeches are Florida State's Natasha Howard - optimally the third best player in the ACC - and Nebraska's Jordan Hooper. Though Hooper shared B1G Player of the Year Honors with Penn State's Maggie Lucas, (Hooper won the Coaches' vote and Lucas won the media poll) I think playing for the higher profile, more successful program gives Lucas a slight edge. In the end, I don't think Lucas, though she's had a great season and an outstanding career, is a contender either. As an aside for Terrapins fans, I should note the Maryland transfers who won B1G honors. Whitney Bays, who transferred to Purdue, was named the Sixth Player of the Year and Dara Taylor won the Defensive Player of the Year Award playing for the Nittany Lions.
In order to get to the "starting five" I have to eliminate one more player. I'm going to vote McBride off the team. Though she's another great player who's had a great career and, in this case, plays for one of the two undefeated teams entering the penultimate weekend of the season, I think the presence of Loyd on the list is the factor that knocks her from contention. Unlike the case with Connecticut, I think someone could make a strong argument that Loyd is the most important and talented player for the Fighting Irish so the split vote kills McBride's chances.
We're now down to Mitchell, Ogwumike, Sims, Stewart and Thomas. I'm not going to make a prediction but I will provide a bit of information and you, dear reader, (and I know there's at least one of you out there) can cast your own ballot.
The 5'9" sophomore guard for South Carolina is probably the breakout star of the season. After being named to the SEC All-Freshman team last season, Mitchell improved her scoring by two-thirds - jumping from 9.2 points per game to 15.6. She nearly tripled her assists, going from 43 to 116, while remaining nearly flat in her turnovers - with that number increasing only slightly from 82 to 94. More importantly, the SEC Player of the Year led the Gamecocks to the regular season championship and a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Think Alyssa Thomas has had a pretty good year averaging 18.6 points and 10.9 rebounds for Maryland? Well, for the 31-3 Stanford Cardinal, Ogwumike's comparables are 26.6 points and 12.1 rebounds. In her march to being named PAC-12 Player of the Year, the Cardinal senior has scored over 900 points for the season while making over 61 percent of her shots. And by the way, she averages nearly two blocked shots per game and coupled her conference's Defensive Player of the Year award with that Player of the Year.
Impressed by Ogwumike's scoring prowess? Well, meet Odyssey Sims of Baylor. Entering the Sweet Sixteen, the 5'8" Sims needs to score only four points to become the second women's player in NCAA history to score 1,000 in a season. She's a deadly shooter making 44.5 percent of her shots and over 40 percent from behind the arc. By the way, her 28.5 points per game is good for second in the NCAA. For the season, she also averages 4.6 assists; good for second best on the Bears. Another multi-dimensional player, she averages nearly two steals per game and, like Ogwumike, was named her conference's Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.
I should only need to write one sentence about Breanna Stewart and it's this: She's the best player on the best team in the country. Stewart, also her conference's Player of the Year, is a match-up nightmare for UConn's foes. The 6'4" sophomore wing shoots over 36 percent from three-point range, is second on the Huskies in rebounding at 8.3 per game, and has blocked over 100 shots on the year. Her 19.7 scoring average leads the Huskies and although she's fourth on the team in assists, she's dished out over 100 "dimes" on the season; averaging over three per game.
Maryland fans certainly need no introduction to the accomplishments of the Terrapins' superstar. Thomas' career numbers are simply phenomenal. Her all around skills are probably unmatched in women's college basketball. This season Thomas finished fifth in the ACC in scoring at 18.6, second in rebounding at 10.6, and fifth in assists averaging 4.3 per game (though in raw numbers her 137 assist lead the Terps). The assist number is particularly impressive for someone who plays a front court position and who is called upon to lead the team in rebounding. Thomas split the ACC Player of the Year award with McBride. Thomas won in the media poll while McBride took the coaches' poll.
Is Thomas' performance enough to vault her past the other outstanding players on this list? Will her career numbers influence the voting? Or, will the Terps' six losses - more than the teams of any of the others in my "starting five" - have a negative impact on the voting? Who would be your Wade Trophy winner?