March Madness is in full swing, and this weekend the Sweet Sixteen will be reduced to eight.
By this time next week we’ll be down to the Final Four and heading off to Indianapolis.
Certain players have been discussed again and again as difference makers in the tourney: Baylor's Brittney Griner, Connecticut's Maya Moore and Gonzaga's Courtney Vandersloot, for example. There are so many more players that are crucial to the success of their teams’ drive to make it to this point, and their hopes for continued success. As the stories of the weekend unfold, we will see many different players rise to the occasion.
Here are four of those players; four that will be called upon to make a difference this weekend and in the rest of the tournament. Get to know each a little bit better before you watch them with some interesting commentary from them on a variety of topics relating to their seasons and their individual and team success.
JASMINE THOMAS, Guard, Duke University
The senior leader of the Blue Devils is a finalist for the State Farm All-American team, and is bringing to a close an incredible college career. Thomas has averaged around 15 ppg this year, and was also an all-conference defender in the ACC. On a team that has struggled offensively, Thomas is the only player to average in double figures. Still, Duke sits at 31-3 this year, and as they take on a veteran DePaul team in Philly this weekend, Thomas is going to have to keep the pressure defensively on DePaul's three point shooters while leading the Devils' offensively.
JEANETTE POHLEN, Guard, Stanford University
Three of the twelve finalists for the Wade Trophy are from Stanford, but with no disrespect to Kayla Pedersen & Nneka Ogwumike, it's Jeanette Pohlen that figures to have the most impact on this weekend's games, especially Saturday's matchup with guard heavy North Carolina. Pohlen has really stepped up her game this year, and has gone from strictly a complimentary role player on last year's team to an integral part of Stanford's success this year. She leads the team in minutes at over 33 per game, and is second in scoring at almost 15 ppg. Pohlen is by far the biggest three point threat on the team, and on a team that likes to go into their posts for offense, she is crucial to their success. She will need to control tempo, and keep Stanford from getting into a track meet with North Carolina. People talk about Stanford's lack of foot speed at the guard position, but Pohlen is deceptively fast, and it will most likely be a factor this weekend.
ANGIE BJORKLUND, Guard, University of Tennessee
A true three-point threat, Angie Bjorklund is the senior leader on a young Lady Vols team. She has been through success and disappointment with the Lady Vols, and she knows that this year's team has the most talent of any in the last few years. Despite fighting injuries during the season, Bjorklund came up big in the SEC tourney, making 7 3-pointers in helping defeat Kentucky in the finals. She has been willing to take a backseat offensively to the increasingly versatile games of Shekinna Stricklen and Glory Johnson, and the addition of freshman Meighan Simmons. Still, even though she missed 6 games, Bjorklund led the team in three-point shots made, and hit a very impressive 46% from beyond the line. She is second on the team in minutes per game, and she will be counted on vs. Ohio State to make shots and open up the middle so the Lady Vols posts can try to operate on Jantel Lavender.
MELISSA JONES, Forward, Baylor University
One of the more amazing stories of the NCAA tournament is Melissa Jones playing with her tinted glasses on while playing through vision in only one eye. But there is no doubt that her role as the glue of the Lady Bears, the player that makes the big plays and is the bridge between the unbelievable talents of Brittney Griner and Odyssey Sims is still thriving, and is crucial to the continued success of the team. Against West Virginia she had 13 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists. This weekend against a Green Bay team many know nothing about, she will have to do it again. It takes a special type of player to be willing to subjugate their game as her college career has progressed, but Jones has been phenomenal at it. She has also been crucial in the seamless transition from last year's team to this year's, which added three new starters in Sims, Destiny Williams, and Brooklyn Pope. A potential fourth matchup with Texas A&M is on the horizon, and Jones will have to be ready to do it all once again.
Don't forget to check out Swish Appeal's full Sweet 16 Preview and Predictions here, and enjoy the games!