Junior class making waves in college
They're a year away from graduation, but the junior class is already going to make some WNBA general managers downright giddy come draft time. Continuing from last week's countdown theme of the best players to watch in the country, here's a look at the top five juniors in the nation and some players you need to know about to stay informed.
5. A'dia Mathies, Kentucky. Mathies' play has been a large part of the Wildcats unbeaten start to the season. She is averaging 16.8 points per game and can play at both ends of the floor in Kentucky's demanding defense. She ranks seventh in the nation in steals at 3.7 per game.
4. Sugar Rodgers, Georgetown. Since the moment she showed up at her first practice, Rodgers has been the heartbeat of the Hoyas program, directing its ascent to the national elite. This is a team with seven seniors. But Rodgers is the leader, not just on the stat sheet.
3. Skylar Diggins, Notre Dame. The Irish point guard can score, she can dish, she can run one of the best teams in the country. She's a winner. She is still hoping to prove that she can win the biggest game of the season.
2. Elena Delle Donne, Delaware. Delle Donne has one year of eligibility left in basketball after this one, so we will consider her a junior, though there remains a chance at the country's best all-around player (and NCAA scoring leader) could decide to start her professional career after the end of this season.
1. Well, this one is a little obvious, isn't it? Baylor's Brittney Griner wins hands down. There have been precious few players in the women's game with her physical attributes -- the height, the length and the athleticism. But her game is maturing as well, becoming more well-rounded and more dangerous. This may be the year she's rewarded with a title.
Five for this week's marquee
Whitney Hand, Oklahoma. The Sooners hadn't lost three straight games since March 2008. Hand made sure it wasn't four in a row. The junior scored 17 points and pulled down 10 rebounds in Oklahoma's 72-50 win over Wisconsin-Milwaukee. It has been a tough start to the season for Sherri Coale's team. The Sooners have lost two experienced players, Lyndsey Cloman and Jasmine Hartman, to season-ending injuries and have just one senior and two juniors active. Then came three straight losses to Vanderbilt, Ohio State and Fresno State.
Glory Johnson, Tennessee. The senior forward put up 16 points in the Lady Vols' win over DePaul in the Maggie Dixon Classic in New York and then paid tribute to the people who are supporting her coach and her team this season.
"When you see that it gives us energy and motivates our team. We're playing for coach and everyone with this disease," Johnson said.
Johnson's effort made up for the absence of freshman point guard Ariel Massengale, who will miss several weeks with an injured finger.
Elizabeth Williams, Duke. She's another highly touted freshman coming up big for a highly ranked team. Williams, the Blue Devils center, put up a season-high 22 points and pulled down five rebounds in a 93-35 rout of South Carolina-Upstate. Let's just say, it was the kind of matchup that builds a young players' confidence.
Georgetown. The 17th-ranked Hoyas have reeled off eight straight victories since a 1-2 start to the season and Rodgers is leading the way. Rodgers averaged 23 points a game last week in wins over Pitt and George Washington.
Kentucky. The Wildcats forced a school-record 49 turnovers on Sunday in a 101-43 win over Arkansas Pine Bluff. That game was a nice break for Kentucky, playing a difficult stretch that has included wins over Louisville and Duke and continues on Sunday against Notre Dame.
Five names you should know (but probably don't)
Christine Flores, Missouri. The senior forward recorded the first triple-double of her career with 25 points, 14 rebounds and 10 blocks in a win over Eastern Illinois. It was the first triple-double in the Big 12 this season and the first at Missouri since 1995. She closed the week with a career-high 29 points against North Dakota. Flores ranks eighth nationally in scoring this week.
Eugeneia McPherson, St. John's. The junior guard was at her best against the best last week. She finished with a game-high 23 points against top-ranked Baylor and then posted 18 points against DePaul.
Patricia Bright, Oregon State. The junior forward barely missed her own triple-double against Pepperdine, a 63-52 victory that pushed the Beavers record to 7-1. The team that went 9-21 last season under first-year head coach Scott Rueck has found a bright spot.
Bria Goss, Kentucky. The freshman guard from Indianapolis scored 19 points in the upset win over Duke and another 19 points against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Jordan Hooper, Nebraska. Hooper might be the Huskers' next big star. The sophomore forward scored 32 points -- a high in the Big Ten this season -- in a double-overtime win over Northern Arizona. She also had eight rebounds and four steals in that game.