When the women’s NCAA Tournament tips off Sunday in San Antonio, more than 900 college basketball players — some already proven game-changers — will be there, with hopes of winning a national title.
A year after the men’s and women’s tournaments were cancelled because of the pandemic, the 64-team field will gather in San Antonio and Austin, Texas, as the NCAA tries to limit the potential risk of contracting COVID-19 by holding the tournament in a smaller footprint.
The top four seeds – Connecticut, Stanford, N.C. State and South Carolina – will be the favorites, along with Texas A&M, ranked fourth in the final regular-season USA TODAY Women’s Basketball Coaches Poll.
These 10 players will determine how deep their teams last in March — and who will hoist the national championship trophy April 4 in the Alamodome.
Aliyah Boston, South Carolina, F, 6-5, So.: Arguably the best defender in the country, she’s a two-time SEC defensive player of the year and was last year’s national freshman of the year. She’s 14th in the country in rebounds per game (11.7) and 12th in blocks per game (2.85).
Charli Collier, Texas, F/C, 6-5, Jr.: The likely No. 1 pick in the upcoming WNBA draft, Collier averages a double-double (20.1 points, 11.7 rebounds), shoots 51.3% from the field and 80.1% from the line. In November, she scored a career-high 44 points against North Texas.
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Elissa Cunane, N.C. State, C, 6-5, Jr.: The leading scorer (16.8 ppg) on the back-to-back ACC champions, Cunane’s 8.2 rebounds per game and 17 blocked shots are best on the team, and she can score from anywhere; she shoots 57.0% from the field and 43.5% from beyond the arc.
Dana Evans, Louisville, G, 5-6, Sr: The back-to-back ACC player of the year led the conference with 20 points per game and led Louisville with 4.2 assists and 1.3 steals per game. She’s clutch from the foul line, and her 92.1% free-throw percentage is fifth in the nation.
Rhyne Howard, Kentucky, G, 6-2, Jr.: Two-time SEC player of the year is 25th in the country in scoring (20.7 ppg) and leads the Wildcats in rebounds per game (7.3). She has scored in double figures in 70 of her 79 career games.
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Haley Jones, Stanford, G, 6-1, So.: Jones can do it all, from bringing the ball up the floor to posting up in the paint, which makes her a matchup nightmare. She epitomizes smooth, and can take over games when necessary, though she averages just 13 points and 7.7 rebounds.
Aari McDonald, Arizona, G, 5-6, Sr.:Maybe the fastest player in the nation with the ball, McDonald’s speed causes problems on both ends. The Pac-12 player of the year and co-defensive player of the year, McDonald has scored in double figures in 87 consecutive games, averaging 19.3 points and 2.7 steals.
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Michaela Onyenwere, UCLA, F, 6-0, Sr.: Arguably the best athlete in the tournament, Onyenwere is an offensive rebound waiting to happen. She’s relentless on the glass, averaging 18.7 points and 7.3 rebounds. For Onyenwere, a double-double always is within reach.
Hannah Sjerven, South Dakota, C, 6-3, Sr.: Finalist for mid-major player of the year, she is one of the best shot blockers in the country (30th, 2.29 bpg). She’s the only player this season to post a 30-point, 20-rebound game.
Jenn Wirth, Gonzaga, F, 6-3, Sr.: The West Coast Conference co-player of the year, Wirth led the conference in field goal percentage (57.2%) while averaging 13.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.2 steals.
Follow Lindsay Schell on Twitter @Lindsay_Schnell and Jordan Mendoza @jord_mendoza.