In our first edition of this year’s Senior Watch, we took a look at eight of the top prospects for the 2018 WNBA Draft before the college season tipped off. Now that we’re two weeks into the college season and most players have at least five games under their belt, we can see which players have made the best first impressions.
There’s no better player to start with than Ohio State guard Kelsey Mitchell, who last week set the NCAA record for career 3-pointers made. Mitchell currently leads the NCAA in scoring at 27.8 points per game, which is a five-point improvement from her junior season average. But its not just how many points she’s scored, but how she’s done it. Through eight games, Mitchell is shooting 50% from the field and 47.8% (36-77) from beyond the arc – both well above her career averages of 43.4 and 38.1, respectively.
With Allisha Gray and Kaela Davis having graduated from last year’s NCAA championship team at South Carolina to first round picks in the WNBA draft, the spotlight is shining brightly on senior forward A’ja Wilson. Through seven games, the athletic post has responded with averages of 23.9 points (6th in NCAA), 11.7 rebounds (13th in the NCAA) and 3.7 blocks (4th in NCAA) as the Gamecocks have opened the season at 6-1. Those are all major improvements from a year ago – scoring up six points per game, rebounding up by four per game and an extra block per game.
When it comes to evaluating UConn players, numbers never tell the full story. With a roster loaded with talent – this year’s team features six of the 50 players on the Naismith Watch list – there is a balance to their attack. The Huskies have six players averaging between 12.2 and 16.5 points per game as they continue to rack up wins night after night. Nurse does lead the Huskies in two key categories – minutes played (32.8) and 3-point percentage (58.6%, 7th in NCAA). In UConn’s win over Nevada on Tuesday, Nurse scored a game-high 27 points and shot a perfect 8-for-8 from beyond the arc.
UConn’s do-everything forward continues to stuff the stat sheet in the first six games of her senior season. She is averaging 12.2 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.2 steals while shooting a team-best 59.3 percent from the field. The defensive standout scored a season-high 18 points in UConn’s win over Nevada on Tuesday in a homecoming for the Sparks, Nevada native.
Canada opened the season with her second career triple-double as she finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds and 11 steals in UCLA’s win over San Jose State. The Bruins are 6-1 to open the season with a win over then third-ranked Baylor and their only loss coming to top-ranked UConn. In the win over Baylor, Canada shined with 20 points and 13 assists to lead the seventh-ranked Bruins to a 82-68 win.
The Bruins have a solid one-two punch with Canada in the backcourt and Monique Billings in the frontcourt. The 6-4 forward is averaging 15.7 points and 9.0 rebounds through seven games and has scored in double figures in all seven contests. Billings has the athleticism and versatility that will make her an asset to any WNBA team. She can run with an uptempo team and score in transition, but can also take care of business in the paint when things slow down.
There is so much of Victoria Vivians’ game to love, but one knock against her has been her shooting percentages. The leading scorer from last year’s Cinderella team that knocked off UConn in the Final Four, entered her senior season with career averages of 37.4 percent shooting from the field and 30.5 percent from beyond the arc. Through seven games of her senior campaign, she is averaging a career best 18.4 points and shooting career-high across the board – 51.1 percent from the field, 37.8 percent from three and 80.6 percent from the free throw line.
We close out this edition of the senior watch with our eighth player, who just happens to be the eighth-leading scorer in college basketball – Michigan guard Katelynn Flaherty. The 5-7 guard is averaging 23.7 points through the Wolverines’ first six games of the season to go with 4.7 assists and 2.7 rebounds. Flaherty struggled with her shot in Michigan’s loss to third-ranked Notre Dame on Wednesday, but did dish a season-high eight assists.