Hidden Gems in the Top 25
Players maximizing their minutes while remaining mostly out of the spotlight
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Most of the teams in the AP Top 25 Women's Poll are stacked with star power, but several of these teams also have an extremely valuable player who might not make the headlines quite as often. These players may not hold a starting position, play the most minutes, or score the most points, but they’re making plenty of valuable contributions when they’re in the game. Below we highlight a few of these players and discuss how they might factor into their teams’ late-season success.
Destiny Adams, North Carolina
The 6-foot-3 sophomore comes off the bench for North Carolina and makes the most of her 16.6 minutes per game, leading the team in blocks (1.2 per game), field-goal percentage (55.7%), and points per scoring attempt (1.24). Adams is also one of only four players in the country averaging at least three steals and 2.5 blocks per 40 minutes (minimum 250 minutes played). In the Tar Heels’ recent victory against NC State, Adams proved she is much more than a hustle player, pulling down nine rebounds and scoring eight points—including two threes—in less than two minutes to help build a critical lead late in the game.
North Carolina has had a rocky stretch as of late—including a couple of heart-breaking losses against Virginia Tech and Miami—but it will no doubt find itself in a much better position if Adams not only continues to rip down boards and dive for loose balls, but also takes advantage of her open looks when she’s in the game.
Brinae Alexander, Maryland
Alexander transferred to Maryland from Vanderbilt for her fifth year, and the 6-foot senior guard definitely brought along her prized shooter’s touch. Coming off the bench, she’s averaging 9.5 points per game and holds the team highs in effective field goal percentage (62.1%) and points per scoring attempt (1.26). Alexander has knocked down 48.8% of her shots from long distance, which ranks fifth in Division I among those with at least 75 attempts. In the Terps’ recent win against Rutgers, Alexander was the team’s top scorer, with a season-high of 20 points and shooting 6-for-8 from beyond the arc.
Even though Maryland is loaded with talent, including potential WNBA lottery pick Diamond Miller, having a reliable scoring spark off the bench will play an important role in the team’s success down the stretch. Currently, the Big Ten has six teams ranked in the AP poll, and Alexander’s experience, consistency, and perseverance could be decisive factors in Maryland being able to get key wins against those teams and make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
Lauren Betts, Stanford
Although Betts was ranked No 1 in the 2022 recruiting class, her minutes have been limited with the Cardinals since she’s playing behind All-American Cameron Brink and two experienced seniors, Ashton Prechtel and Fran Belibi. But the 6-foot-7 freshman is still making the most of her time on the floor when she’s given the opportunity, putting up 5.3 points and pulling down 3.5 rebounds per game while averaging only 7.7 minutes, and holding the team highs in player efficiency rating (47.0) and field-goal percentage (58.8%).
Considering Stanford’s depth, it’s tough to say how critical Betts will be in late-season play. But the team is definitely in a better position having the ability to use Betts as a reliable bench option if other players run into foul trouble, sustain an injury, or have an off night.
Vanessa de Jesus, Duke
While de Jesus has only been playing around 16 minutes per game, the 5-foot-8 junior point guard is averaging 5.2 points and 1.8 assists and is third on the team in player efficiency rating (19.2). And the potential for greater production is there. In Duke’s most recent wins against Clemson and Georgia Tech, de Jesus scored 11 and eight points, respectively, and she’s been the team’s top scorer in two other contests earlier in the season.
With a 16-2 record, the Blue Devils hold the No. 13 spot in the latest AP poll and are currently tied for first in their conference. But there are several teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) capable of knocking them out of that position, and de Jesus’ court vision, playmaking, and scoring potential off of the bench will no doubt factor into whether Duke can maintain its coveted position.
Hannah Stuelke, Iowa
Stuelke plays behind the extremely talented and experienced forwards Monika Czinano and McKenna Warnock, so it’s been challenging for the 6-foot-2 freshman to see quality time. But even with her limited minutes (11.5 per game), she’s able to come in as a sub and quickly contribute, averaging 6.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. In the Hawkeyes’ recent win against Penn State, Stuelke put up 11 points and pulled down three rebounds in seven minutes, and likely could have done much more if she stayed out of foul trouble.
Although Iowa’s starters play the majority of the game, having Stuelke able to efficiently produce when giving them a break or if they’re in foul trouble will be critical to the Hawkeyes’ success down the stretch. The Hawkeyes are currently tied for second in the Big Ten, but Michigan, Maryland, and Illinois are nipping at their heels, so every game matters.
Taylor Thierry, Ohio State
Even though Thierry has started in all nineteen games for the Buckeyes, with big-name teammates like Jacy Sheldon, Taylor Mikesell, and Rebeka Mikulasikova as well as freshman phenom Cotie McMahon, her consistent production has mostly flown under the radar. But the 5-foot-11 sophomore forward is extremely athletic and often the one making the less noticeable plays that contribute to the team’s wins. And the data support her undeniable value: Thierry leads the unbeaten Buckeyes in player efficiency rating (29.0), points per play (1.20), field-goal percentage (66.9%), rebounding (6.5), and win shares (5.6). One of the nation’s most efficient players on offense, Thierry’s field-goal percentage and points per play are both in the top 15. In Ohio State’s recent 76-67 win over Nebraska, she shot 6-for-6, pulled down eight rebounds, and had two blocks and two steals.
Ohio State has had a remarkable run this season, going 19-0 and ascending to the No. 2 spot in the latest AP poll even as key players have been sidelined with injuries. Thierry’s performance will continue to be a huge factor in determining how far this team can go.
Skylar Vann, Oklahoma
Vann has been a key reserve for Oklahoma since she was a freshman. And although the 5-foot-11 junior guard comes off the bench, she’s third on the team in player efficiency rating (26.4) and averages 11.0 points and 7.6 rebounds in 19.6 minutes per game. Vann, who has reached double figures in more than half of the games, ranks sixth in scoring among all players coming off the bench in the country. And in the Sooners’ recent 89-79 victory over Texas Tech, Vann’s production—19 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, and three blocks—was an unquestionably deciding factor.
Oklahoma’s 15-4 record—including recent wins over Iowa State, Texas Tech, and Kansas—has earned them the No. 15 spot in the latest AP poll. Vann provides depth to an already potent Sooners offense, giving them a legitimate shot of making noise in the NCAA Tournament. If Vann can continue to contribute with her tenacious rebounding and consistent scoring abilities, the team has an even better shot at building on its success.