Pac-10 Weekly Review & Honors: Walker, Williams Help UCLA Tie USC for Second

University of Southern California sophomore guard Briana Gilbreath has been doing a little bit of everything to help her team win this season. This past weekend, she averaged 4.5 blocks per game. Unfortunately, a loss to the University of Oregon leaves her team in a tie for second with UCLA. (Photo by Craig Bennett/112575 Media)

Swish Appeal's Pac-10 player awards for the weekend ending 1/31/10 (all based on David Sparks' MVP metric)

MVP: Markel Walker, UCLA, (46.43 MVP)

The Pac-10 and I agree on the top player for this week in Markel Walker, so I'll let them speak first:

UCLA's Markel Named Pac-10 Women's Basketball Player of the Week - PAC-10 OFFICIAL ATHLETIC SITE
Markel Walker (Philadelphia, Pa.) had a big week, averaging 16.5 points and 12.0 rebounds per game, posting double-doubles in the weekend series against the Oregon schools, helping the Bruins move into a tie for second place in the Pac-10 standings. She went 12-for-21 from the floor (57.1 percent) and was 9-for-10 from the charity stripe, also averaging 5.5 assists and 2.5 steals per game. Walker had 17 points, a career-high tying 14 rebounds and a career-best eight assists in UCLA's 104-80 win over Oregon. She added four steals while committing just one turnover in 25 minutes of action. In the 70-44 win over Oregon State, she led all players with 16 points and had 10 rebounds, six on the offensive end. With her two double-doubles this weekend, Walker leads the team with six double-doubles on the year, the most by a Bruin since Noelle Quinn had 10 in 2005-06.

For further perspective on how dominant she has been on the boards, against Oregon, she had an offensive rebounding rate of 28.71. Against OSU, she had an offensive rebounding rate of 47.43%. This means that against OSU, if UCLA missed a shot while Walker was on the court, she was likely to get it half the time. The fact that they shot 53.13% from the field makes her rebounding effort even more demoralizing.

But her impact last weekend didn't end with rebounding -- against Oregon she had 8 assists and 1 turnover and an assist rate of 35.52%. Even if all of those assists were on kickouts to shooters from the post, those are very, very impressive passing numbers.

UCLA coach Nikki Caldwell has said that transfer forward Jasmine Dixon's mentality might be good for younger players like Walker. if the team wants to hold off USC for second place, Walker's play -- though not necessarilyat this level -- will be critical to making sure they have a second (or first?) option to complement Dixon.

Newcomer of the Week: Mariah Williams (22.06 MVP, 11.5 ppg, 3 apg, 2 spg)

So obviously, this could be Walker's award, but she was so dominant she went and took MVP. It could also have been Jasmine Dixon's award. But...she is pretty much newcomer of the year for the Pac-10...so she can afford to give one week to a teammate.

UCLA is a team starting three newcomers in conference play and although Dixon and Walker are the headliners right now, Williams' performance this weekend is critical because her play as a freshman point guard might make the difference for the team down the stretch in securing second place and a possible NCAA tournament berth.

UCLA WBBall lays down a beating on Oregon, 104-80 - Bruins Nation
Mariah Williams easily had her best game as a Bruin. I never quite understood why she replaced Darxia Morris in the starting line up, as Darxia played more minutes, and is probably the most clutch jump shooter on the team in critical situations. While Darxia easily had her poorest game of the season (2 fouls in the first kept her on the bench for much of the 1st half, and finished with only 4 points), Mariah showed for the first time that she can contribute a solid part of the scoring as well. Whether Darxia or Mariah starts, it gives the team extra depth that is very key.

So perhaps it doesn't matter who starts for this team, but the fact that they continue to have players emerging and playing big roles bodes well for the team heading into the second half of the season.

MVP: Briana Gilbreath, USC, 1-1 (45.84 MVP, 15.5 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 4.5 bpg, 54.16% fg%, 4 apg)

The USC media guide says that Gilbreath has her sights set on the WNBA and there's no better way to demonstrate one's worthiness than by finding new ways to lead the team every week.

When she's not leading the team with her scoring, as she did against Washington State University, she's leading the team in steals, as she did against the University of Washington. When she's not putting up double-doubles, as she did against the University of Oregon with 18 points and 12 rebounds, she's leading the team in blocks, as she did against Oregon State University last weekend with 5 blocks.

Right now, it's perhaps her ability to block shots that most strong demonstrates her athletic ability as a guard:

USC Women Bring It To The Bay, Visit Cal And No. 2 Stanford - University of Southern California Official Athletic Site
BRI'S TOP BLOCKS Briana Gilbreath served up a career-high six blocks in USC's win over Long Beach State and has continued to deliver stuffs on defense. She had nine blocks in two games last weekend, pushing the sophomore to the No. 1 slot on the Pac-10 charts on the year entering the week with her current average of 1.9 blocks per game. That's also good enough to rank Gilbreath 52nd in the nation in blocks.

It's quite remarkable for a guard to be leading a major conference in blocked shots, especially when considering that GIlbreath does so while picking up so few fouls (against OSU and UO, she had 9 blocks, 2 steals, and 6 fouls). She is a player who is quietly becoming a major impact player on defense by picking her spots rather than recklessly going after every single opportunity. The fact that she can do that while on any given night leading her team in any one of 5 categories makes her a very, very valuable player.

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