The biggest stars under the brightest lights.
Friday evening, two women’s basketball teams will punch their tickets to Sunday’s national championship game. As Baylor, Notre Dame, Oregon, and UConn prepare for Friday’s national semifinals, I scoured Her Hoop Stats to find out which player in this year’s Final Four is best in a number of statistical categories. Call the result a viewer’s guide of players to watch, from starters to potential X-factors off the bench.
Arike Ogunbowale, Notre Dame
Ogunbowale leads the Final Four field in scoring with 21.5 points per game. She has scored above her average in three of her team’s four NCAA Tournament games, including 34 points against Texas A&M in the Sweet Sixteen. Ogunbowale was last year’s hero, sinking two buzzer-beaters in the Final Four, but if she gets hot this weekend, Notre Dame might not need any dramatics to defend its title.
More from NCAA
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, April 6: Stanford defeats Arizona in a tightly contested matchup to win the national title
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, March 30: UConn and Baylor deliver a classic battle of storied programs
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, March 26: Louisville and Texas A&M survive and advance
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, March 23: Highlights from the first round of the NCAA Tournament
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, March 16: Tournament bracket released
Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon
As the NCAA’s career leader in triple-doubles, Ionescu is used to stuffing the stats sheet. She leads all Final Four players in minutes per game (35.7) and assists per game (8.1); the latter ranks third among all Division I players. Ionescu registers an assist on nearly 40% of Oregon’s offensive possessions when she’s on the court, and her 3.22 assist-to-turnover ratio also leads the Final Four field, just ahead of teammate Maite Cazorla (3.06) and UConn’s Crystal Dangerfield (3.00). Look for Ionescu to play all 40 minutes (or more?!) on Friday and make several eye-popping passes.
Ruthy Hebard, Oregon
Hebard will surely be one of Ionescu’s top targets, as the junior makes 66.9% of her shots and scores 1.35 points per scoring attempt. Both of those numbers are tops among Final Four participants and put her among the top six players in Division I.
Interestingly, every Final Four team has one uber-efficient player: Hebard (6th), Brianna Turner of Notre Dame (14th), Napheesa Collier of UConn (23rd), and Kalani Brown of Baylor (26th) all rank in the top 30 nationally in points per scoring attempt. However, no other Baylor or UConn player ranks among the top 100 nationally, while two other Notre Dame players and four other Oregon players do. Will Baylor and UConn be able to slow down such efficient offenses?
Erin Boley, Oregon
Boley’s presence in the Final Four provides an interesting wrinkle: the Notre Dame transfer could face her old team for a national title if both teams win on Friday. Boley’s production is a big reason to think the Ducks could get that opportunity: she leads the Final Four field and ranks among the top 60 players nationally in 3-point shooting at 43.3%. Including Boley, Oregon actually has four of the Final Four’s 10 most accurate 3-point shooters. Surprisingly, Notre Dame has the fewest of the four teams, with just one player (Marina Mabrey, 41.0%) in the top 10.
Queen Egbo, Baylor
Egbo is a freshman reserve for the Lady Bears whom I fully expect to have a breakout season next year. This season, she has averaged just 10.1 minutes per game, but she leads the Final Four field in rebounding rate and block rate. She gets 21.6% of available rebounds and blocks 10.4% of shot attempts when she’s on the floor, both of which rank among the top 25 players in all of Division I. Egbo’s block rate is just ahead of that of another promising freshman reserve, UConn’s Olivia Nelson-Ododa (10.3%).
Crystal Dangerfield, UConn
The UConn point guard is the best free-throw shooter left in the field and the 11th-best in the nation, sinking 92.4% of her attempts from the charity stripe. She also commits fouls at one of the lowest rates of any player in the field (2.3%), so UConn coach Geno Auriemma can almost always count on her to close out tight games from the free throw line. If Notre Dame is down in the fourth quarter and needs to foul, they should try to foul one of UConn’s post players instead; Collier (69.7%) and Nelson-Ododa (54.3%) are the weakest free throw shooters of UConn’s top six players.
Taylor Chavez, Oregon
Chavez, a freshman guard averaging 18 minutes per game, came to Oregon with a reputation for being a shooter. This season, she is shooting better than 36 percent from 3-point range, making her a solid scoring option off the bench for the Ducks, but where she’s leading all Final Four players is actually on the defensive end. She steals the ball on 3.8% of possessions when she is on the court. That may not sound like much, but it actually ranks in the 93rd percentile of players nationally. A Chavez steal at the right time could be big for a Ducks team that excels on the offensive end but faces questions about its defense. Chavez did not practice Thursday, but Oregon coach Kelly Graves hopes to have her Friday night.
The ultimate X-factor: foul trouble
If the wrong player gets in foul trouble, it could be a disaster for her team. Of all of the Final Four players, the freshmen Nelson-Ododa and Egbo are the most foul prone. They each foul on over 8% of possessions when they’re on the court, which ranks them among the bottom 10% of players in Division I. (This is not a surprise, given that both are shot-blockers and young players, and they’ll likely improve significantly in future seasons.)
Among the starters, the most foul-prone player for each team is Satou Sabally of Oregon (5.0% foul rate), Kalani Brown of Baylor (4.8%), Megan Walker of UConn (4.1%), and Jess Shepard of Notre Dame (3.5%). Brown is Baylor’s leading scorer and probably the player on this list that can least afford to be in foul trouble, but all of these teams rely pretty heavily on their starters. Every starter in the Final Four has averaged at least 26 minutes per game this season, while only one reserve (Chavez) has averaged above 16.
(All stats are courtesy of Her Hoop Stats and represent games through April 2.)
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