10 players to watch in NCAA women's tournament not named Paige Bueckers

Cassandra Negley
·Writer
·11 min read

Connecticut freshman Paige Bueckers is the player on everyone's radar this March and for good reason. She continues to reach rarified air by sweeping the Big East conference player of the year, freshman of the year and tournament most outstanding player honors. It's only her first season and she's already joining Maya Moore in the record books.

But Bueckers isn't the only one dazzling fans as the NCAA women's basketball tournament begins this month. Here are 10 players — and one special honorable mention — to watch from title favorites like Stanford and South Carolina to upset-minded ones like Arizona and Michigan.

NCAA tournament records that could be broken

This group of talent could potentially break tournament records. A quick rundown of the big single-game marks, via NCAA:

Points: 50. Drake's Lorri Bauman (1982)

3-pointers: 9. UConn's Kia Nurse (2017) and Purdue's Courtney Moses ('12)

Rebounds: 27. Texas A&M's Anriel Howard ('16)

Steals: 14. Old Dominion's Ticha Penicheiro ('98)

Blocked shots: 14. Baylor's Brittney Griner ('10)

Assists: 18. Rutgers' Tasha Pointer ('01)

Dana Evans, Louisville

Dana Evans is lethal in the clutch and Louisville relies on her because of it. Her rise through the Cardinals program has been one of hard work from Freshman of the Year to Sixth Woman of the Year as a sophomore and two-time ACC Player of the Year in 2020 and '21. She is on the short list for the Naismith trophy and will be a first-round draft pick in May.

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The 5-foot-6 guard leads the ACC in points (21.0 ppg) and free throw percentage (.938). She's third in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.1) while playing the most games of any player on the list. And in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter this season she's shooting 56%, per ESPN Stats and Information.

Evans is quick and a key part of Louisville's top defense. If the Cardinals are in a tight one late, you'll want to flip on the game to see Evans' heroics.

Kiana Williams, Stanford

Kiana Williams is getting hot at the right time and looked unstoppable in Stanford's dominant Pac-12 championship victory against UCLA. She had 26 points and hit 6 of 7 attempts from behind the arc. It is a championship game record for made 3-pointers.

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She was 5-for-7 from 3 in the semifinal with 20 points, six rebounds and six assists to win tournament MVP.

"March is time for winning. And big players make big plays," Williams said in the post-game availability session. "My teammates have confidence in me, my coaches have confidence in me, so I have to have confidence in myself. They were finding me in my spots and I was just knocking them down."

The 5-foot-8 senior guard averages 14.3 points per game on 42.0% shooting. She also noted in the post-game call that the Cardinal don't have one player an opponent can key on, which is objectively what makes the team so difficult in this tournament.

Caitlin Clark, Iowa

Bueckers isn't the only sensational freshman in this class. Iowa's Caitlin Clark has made an equally compelling case for Freshman of the Year honors in a difficult Big Ten conference.

Clark averages a Division I-best 27.4 points per game and has scored at least 30 points in 11 of 23 contests. It's the most by a freshman since 2000.

That mark includes a five-game streak in February that included Big Ten opponents currently ranked in No. 22 Ohio State, No. 9 Indiana and No. 7 Maryland. Her 30-plus point outputs are some of her most efficient shooting efforts. She's 48.7% on the year and 42.1% from 3-point range. She averages 6.0 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game.

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Iowa is projected as a middle seed so the Hawkeyes' title hopes are a long shot, but Clark should turn some extra heads for the coming years.

Aliyah Boston, South Carolina

Aliyah Boston continues to be one of the most exciting players to watch on the college level. The sophomore will be on triple-double watch — and that's with blocks, not assists — in the early rounds. She is already the only South Carolina player with multiple triple-doubles and that group includes reigning WNBA MVP A'ja Wilson.

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The Gamecocks offense runs through the sophomore forward with some big-time contributions from the back court of Destanni Henderson and Zia Cooke. She averages a double-double of 13.2 points and 11.7 rebounds for the SEC's highest-scoring squad along with 2.8 blocks per game.

South Carolina is a title favorite and showed its might in the SEC championship game by feeding through Boston, who had 27 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks. She was an efficient 8-for-12 overall and 10-for-12 from the free throw line en route to the tournament MVP honors.

Charli Collier, Texas

Charli Collier put up 17 double-doubles in 25 games this season, ranking second in Division I. The 6-foot-5 center/forward has scored in the double digits in all but two games and is averaging 12.2 rebounds per game, top-10 in the nation.

The junior is an offensive threat, putting up a career-high 44 earlier this season, and she's improved her defense.

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Collier said she will declare for the 2021 WNBA draft and is projected to go No. 1. She is draft-eligible because she turns 22 the calendar year of the draft.

Rhyne Howard, Kentucky

Rhyne Howard is already a two-time SEC Player of the Year and she's only a sophomore. It puts her in elite company with South Carolina grads Tiffany Mitchell and A'ja Wilson as the only players to win two POY titles before their senior years.

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Howard is the only Power Five player to average more than 20 points per game (20.7) and 7.3 rebounds per game with at least 50 total steals and 75 assists. She leads the Wildcats with 49 3-pointers and is already one of the top-10 scoring Wildcats in program history.

NaLyssa Smith, Baylor

NaLyssa Smith, who grew up in the tournament's host city of San Antonio, was awarded Big 12 Player of the Year honors for leading Baylor to another conference title. The 6-foot-3 power forward shot 54.1% overall this year, ranking second in the conference, and put up six games shooting at least 75%.

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Smith leads the Bears in both points (18.0 ppg) and rebounding (9.3 rpg) and proved crucial in the 2019 national championship game. She took over for Lauren Cox, who injured her knee in the third quarter, and scored 14 points on 7-for-9 shooting with six rebounds.

Aari McDonald, Arizona

Aari McDonald, the Pac-12 player and co-defensive player of the year, has grown as a leader in her senior season and is surrounded by a more talented group than she's had before. She elected to remain with the Wildcats last spring and chase a title run rather than enter the WNBA draft. They were heading to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 15 years until it was canceled.

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She's been a consistent player all three seasons after transferring from Washington and has reached double-digit figures in all 85 games as a Wildcat. The 5-foot-6 senior guard averages a conference-best 19.3 points along with 5.1 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.7 steals per game.

McDonald is a key part of the Wildcats' defensive pressure that allows opponents on average 56.0 points per game and keeps them to shooting 36.7% from the floor.

Natasha Mack, Oklahoma State

Another potential No. 1 draft pick, Natasha Mack's 6-foot-4 frame, 6-11 wingspan and stellar sense of timing make her one of the best shot-blockers in the tournament. She averages a nation-best 4.04 blocks per game and holds the school record in blocks over only two seasons. Mack averages 17.6 points and 12.3 rebounds, ranking top-10 in the nation.

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The senior forward took a path less traveled. After committing to Houston out of high school she opted to take a year off and worked at a poultry plant. An assistant coach at Angelina College, a JUCO near her hometown of Lufkin, Texas, offered her a way back into basketball and she played both years there. She was the NJCAA Division I Player of the Year in 2018-19.

Chelsea Dungee, Arkansas

Chelsea Dungee earned her national "watch me" moment on the largest of stages when she became the first player since 2000 to score 37 against UConn. She was 13-of-21 and hit four of five 3-point shots to lead an upset against the team that has since taken the No. 1 spot in the rankings.

The redshirt senior put up her season highs against some of the best teams in the nation in UConn, Tennessee, Georgia and Texas A&M.

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Dungee is averaging career-highs in points per game (22.2), field goal percentage (42.7%) and 3-point percentage (38.2%). She scored in double figures in all 26 games and reached at least 20 points in 17 games, a considerable feat for SEC competition.

Naz Hillmon, Michigan

If LeBron James is a fan, you should be, too. Naz Hillmon gained the NBA superstar's attention in January when she dropped a school-record 50 points against Top 25-ranked Big Ten rival Ohio State.

It wasn't a one-off. The 6-foot-2 forward put up 35 points and 22 rebounds two weeks prior against Nebraska and is averaging 25.1 points per game, fourth-most in the nation and second from a major program.

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Her 64.5% shooting clip is second-best in Division I and she controls the boards for the Wolverines with 11.3 per game. The team relies heavily on her and she's always in position for a big outing.

Tiana Mangakahia, Syracuse

Mangakahia, 25, will play her final games as a collegiate player in the tournament after a trying few years and is an honorable mention for the top 10. The Australian national team Olympic hopeful beat breast cancer last year while sitting out the season. She is still one of the best point guards in the game and led the nation in assists with 7.5 per game. She's averaging 11.6 points per game.

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Mangakahia did not play in the ACC tournament after suffering a lower-body injury in the regular season finale. It was out of precaution, coach Quentin Hillsman told syracuse.com, and she will be available for the tournament. Mangakahia is a WNBA draft prospect who might not make a deep run in her final tournament appearance, but it will be a meaningful one for the Orange.

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