UConn’s Paige Bueckers (No. 1 Hoop Gurlz recruit) and Iowa’s Caitlin Clark (No. 4 recruit) overshadowed everyone else from the high school class of 2020 last year.
The other two recruits in the Top 4, No. 2 Angel Reese of the Maryland Terrapins and No. 3 Cameron Brink of the Stanford Cardinal, have gained more attention this year — both have been named to the John R. Wooden Award national ballot.
Stanford is the No. 1 seed in the Spokane region of the NCAA Tournament and will meet No. 4 seed Maryland in the Sweet Sixteen on Friday at 9:30 p.m. (ESPN). Brink and Reese will be matched up against each other as the starting 5s in their respective lineups. Stanford vs. Maryland is the only Sweet Sixteen matchup featuring at least one player from the Wooden ballot or Naismith semifinalist list on both teams. Stanford has two with reigning NCAA Tournament most outstanding player Haley Jones being the other.
Reese and Brink are very different players. Brink, at 6-foot-4, has an inch on Reese, is a more prolific shot-blocker and has more of a mid-range and 3-point game at the moment. Both have great inside touch. Brink has a better field goal percentage (55.8 percent to 50.1 percent), but Reese can make some pretty tricky shots in the post. Reese can handle the ball in transition and has more of an upside as a driver — she was known as a “big guard” and listed as a wing coming out of high school. Both of their drives come from around the free throw line, not behind the arc. Reese is second in the nation in offensive rebounds per game, far ahead of Brink (163rd).
Reese averages 17.5 points, 10.7 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game. Brink averages 13.2 points, 8.5 points and 2.4 blocks.
Brink will need her shot-blocking to be on point and she’ll need to try to limit Reese’s offensive boards and second chance points. Reese is a capable defender herself. She will hope to shut down Brink and will do some perimeter defending as well. Both are their team’s leading scorer so it will be important to get them touches in the post. However, look for both to kick it to the perimeter at times as both teams have a plethora of other weapons who need to get involved.
As mentioned, Reese was known as a “big guard” and a wing, but to call her those things right now would be inaccurate. Terp fans may have anticipated her being like a second Diamond Miller: handling the ball, making threes and driving all the time. However, she never settled into that role during a freshman season that saw her miss a big chunk of time with a foot fracture and her sophomore season has been more of the same. The plan may not have been for Reese to become one of the best inside presences in the country, but her soft touch and persistence getting offensive rebounds have made her just that. If she can develop a 3-point shot, as many college players do later in their careers, she could became the ultimate offensive weapon. Washington Mystic and former Terp Tianna Hawkins, also a 6-foot-3 post with great inside touch and rebounding ability, developed a 3-point shot as a senior and took her game to another level. That’s something Reese should probably worry about next year though, as opposed to trying to change her game on the fly in the NCAA Tournament.
Reese may not be the versatile player she was billed to be, but she has lived up to expectations as a No. 2 recruit and is one of many reasons the Terps dominated the opening weekend of the Big Dance for the second season in a row. Last year they were a No. 2 seed and their season ended with an unexpected and disappointing loss to No. 6 seed Texas in the Sweet Sixteen. This year, they may have a shot at upsetting Stanford and advancing to the Elite Eight, where many people predicted them to be in the preseason.
Brink has definitely lived up to expectations as well. It is hard to say who the best player on Stanford is between her and Jones, the latter of whom was the No. 1 recruit in 2019. Brink helps make Stanford an offensive juggernaut that is capable of keeping up with an even bigger offensive juggernaut in Maryland.
Rest of Wooden ballot
Shakira Austin (Ole Miss Rebels): A Maryland transfer who turned Ole Miss into an NCAA Tournament team. She is versatile offensive player with her ball-handling and explosive first step being her biggest assets as a big. Also a great shot blocker. Projected to go third in the 2022 WNBA Draft.
Aliyah Boston (South Carolina Gamecocks): The frontrunner for national player of the year. She is the best player on the best team in the country. She currently has 26-straight double-doubles and is a phenomenal defender.
Caitlin Clark (Iowa Hawkeyes): As a freshman, her numbers, aside from efficiency numbers, outshined those of national player of the year Paige Bueckers and she got it done in a more competitive conference. As a sophomore, she is getting her due more and more and being put in the same class as Bueckers. Led the country in both scoring and assists.
Elissa Cunane (NC State Wolfpack): An all-around phenomenal center who has led the Wolfpack to another No. 1 seed. Is projected to go No. 5 in the 2022 WNBA Draft.
Destanni Henderson (South Carolina Gamecocks): A bit of a surprise member of this ballot as she took her game to another level as a senior. A point guard known for her speed, defense and distributing abilities. She can knock down threes too though.
Naz Hillmon (Michigan Wolverines): The first Wolverine (man or woman) with 2,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds. Dropped 50 points in a game last year and is just a beast in the paint. Projected to go No. 4 in the 2022 WNBA Draft.
Rhyne Howard (Kentucky Wildcats): Perhaps the most gifted all-around scorer on this list. A big (6-foot-2), physical guard who was widely considered to be the best player in this year’s senior class for much of her career.
Ashley Joens (Iowa State Cyclones): A pure scorer who is quietly a phenomenal rebounder. Can drive, back down and hit the three. Another WNBA prospect who has led the Cyclones to the Sweet Sixteen.
Haley Jones (Stanford Cardinal): As mentioned, she is the reigning NCAA Tournament most outstanding player. A versatile scorer at the 3 who brings a lot of intangibles to Stanford.
Ayoka Lee (Kansas State Wildcats): Holds the NCAAW Division I record for most points in a single game (61, accomplished this season). Just a great inside scorer at 6-foot-6 who led the Wildcats to the second round this year.
Aneesah Morrow (DePaul Blue Demons): A freshman forward who is a double-double machine and brought a lot of excitement to DePaul this year. Helped lead the Blue Demons to the NCAA Tournament.
Khayla Pointer (LSU Tigers): A triple-double threat with a lot of heart. Very talented and dynamic guard; projected to go in the 2022 WNBA Draft.
NaLyssa Smith (Baylor Bears): An explosive 6-foot-4 power forward. Can drive, back down and hit from mid-range. Averaged 22.1 points and 11.5 rebounds this year.