UConn's Breanna Stewart and Notre Dame's Jewel Loyd may be the present, but South Carolina's Aja Wilson and Notre Dame's Brianna Turner lived up to their lofty high-school rankings (the #1 and #2 ranked players in the 2014 class) and demonstrated that they are the future.
After watching Wilson and Turner play like the two best players on the court for much of Sunday's national semifinal, would anyone complain about a rematch in next year's national semifinal or championship game?
Following in Stewart's footsteps as uber-talented, lanky, athletic, skilled do-everything forwards, Wilson and Turner carried their teams for parts of the national semifinal between Notre Dame and South Carolina when their more heralded, veteran leaders struggled.
With Madison Cable face-guarding South Carolina's leading scorer Tiffany Mitchell, who finished with 11 points, and Mitchell frustrating Loyd, who finished with 22 points on 24 shots, Wilson and Turner demonstrated the skills that earned them their lofty expectations entering the season. Wilson finished with 20 points and 9 rebounds in only 24 minutes, while Turner finished with 17 points and 8 rebounds, but the numbers fail to capture their brilliance or influence on the game.
On back-to-back plays in the first half, Wilson rebounded a miss and slalomed down court with the dribble, avoiding smaller defenders and finishing at the rim. Not to be outdone, on the subsequent possession, Turner out-jumped a defender, caught a pass in the air, and, while being knocked to the ground, finished a layup.
The scariest thing about the two plays is that they did not seem extraordinary; the more that they played, the more that these plays were expected; they may not have been their most amazing plays of the night. Asked about Turner, Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw said, "Yeah, she has amazing talent."
Notre Dame's matchup against UConn in the championship game features the season's two best players, but the semifinal Sunday night with South Carolina provided a glimpse of the future. Wilson and Turner have size, speed, athleticism, and skill.
As they gain experience and understanding under their terrific coaches, they have the potential to explode over the next three years. There is a reason they were ranked as the #1 and #2 players in their senior class: They possess all the size and skill that a coach could want in a young player.
As that skill is refined, and they add strength in their college years, their potential is limited only by their work ethic and imagination.