Post players may be key to reaching women’s Final Four
NEW YORK (AP) — Reaching the women’s Final Four and winning a national championship may come down to play in the post.
Even as basketball has gone away from traditional position players, trending toward more versatile talents, there are plenty of dominant post players left in the NCAA Tournament. Teaira McCowan, Azura Stevens, A’ja Wilson or Kalani Brown could be a big reason why one of their teams cuts down the nets celebrating a national championship in Columbus, Ohio.
All four are finalists for the Lisa Leslie Award and have helped their teams reach the Sweet 16, which begins Friday. The quartet spent some time together this summer at the USA Basketball Under-23 camp, doing drills, competing in scrimmages and bonding.
“It was fun just going talent against talent — comparing their style of play with my style,” said the 6-foot-7 McCowan, who has been instrumental in Mississippi State’s success over the past few years. “Being taller players, you don’t go against size every night, so you have to figure out how you need to play and what you need to do in order to be successful.”
They carried over the camp experience to their play this season. Wilson, who helped South Carolina win a national championship last year, was named SEC player of the year for a record third time this month. Brown was the Big 12 Player of the Year for Baylor, and UConn’s Stevens earned MVP honors of the American Athletic Conference Tournament despite coming off the bench.
McCowan was a huge reason that the Bulldogs were able to end UConn’s 111-game winning streak last year in the Final Four and reach the title game. The Huskies simply had no answer for her size.
“She not only cleans up our mess on offense, but she’s also the aircraft carrier that protects the rim on defense,” Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said. “She may not block the shot, but she’ll alter it or somebody just may look up and say, ‘No, I’m not going in there.’”
UConn has its own rim protector now in the 6-foot-6 Stevens. She had to sit out last season after transferring from Duke.
“I try to bring a post presence, defensively, offensively,” she said. “I want to bring that altering, blocking shots, getting in passing lanes and rebounding as well.”
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey has a pair of talented post players in Brown, who is 6-foot-7, and Lauren Cox, who is 6-foot-4. The duo, referred to as “Double Trouble” by Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer, makes life difficult for opposing teams and coaches.
“They are incredible. Lauren Cox, Kalani, a monster inside, but Lauren is a monster inside, point guard mentality outside where she’s such a great passer, shoots the jumper so well. Incredibly difficult matchup,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico, whose team lost to the Lady Bears in the second round.
Mulkey is no stranger to having extraordinary post players. She coached Brittney Griner — the most dominant big in NCAA history — a few years back.
“What has happened, and you see it in the NBA, is you don’t have the big, big man hardly anymore,” she said. “Everybody wants to shoot the 3, everybody wants to spread the floor. We figured out all those motion offenses. That’s very good. But I guarantee you, if a Wilt Chamberlain walked through that door that could dominate the paint, it would change their approach. You have to change with the personnel that you have.”
While Wilson is expected to go first in the WNBA draft this year, McCowan, Stevens and Brown all have another year left in college. McCowan and Stevens are eligible to enter the draft this year, but both plan on returning for their final collegiate seasons, leaving WNBA coaches in need of a post player excited for next year’s draft.
“Next year you’ll have between five and seven post players in the first 15 picks, including maybe five of the first seven,” Washington Mystics coach and GM Mike Thibault said. “It’s going to make for a pretty deep draft at that position.”
AP Sports Writers David Brandt and Pat Eaton-Robb and AP Basketball Writer Stephen Hawkins contributed to this story.
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