Women's basketball player of year race wide open

DOUG FEINBERG AP Basketball Writer Published:

With a little more than a month left in the regular season, the women's basketball player of the year race is wide open.

That's a somewhat rare situation since over the past few years it almost seemed a forgone conclusion before the season even started who was going to be the top player in the country.

"It is great having so many people who could win player of the year," ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo said. "They are all so different in what they do. Usually by now someone would have set themselves apart, but this year there are definitely a few candidates."

In fact the AP player of the year award has been a runaway since 2007 when Oklahoma's Courtney Paris edged Tennessee's Candace Parker and Duke's Lindsey Harding by two votes. The year before LSU's Seimone Augustus received one vote more than North Carolina's Ivory Latta.

Parker, Maya Moore, Tina Charles and Brittney Griner all won by landslides.

The player of the year will be voted on by the panel that votes in the AP's weekly Top 25 poll and will be announced at the Final Four in Nashville, Tenn.

Here's a look at five potential candidates in alphabetical order, though there are certainly others out there:

KAYLA MCBRIDE: Notre Dame's senior guard left a strong impression in the fall at the USA basketball national team training camp. She has continued to impress this season in leading the Irish to an undefeated record so far. McBride is averaging 17 points, 5.6 rebounds and nearly 4 assists a game.

"Kayla has really stepped it up this season," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said to the South Bend Tribune. "Last year, she made a lot of big shots in big games, and has always played well in the big games. This year, she's just doing it so consistently. Her leadership has really grown. The team respects and listens to her. She's a great leader by example."

"She has ice water in her veins. She's a competitor. She loves a challenge. She loves to compete in big games and play against the other great players."

CHINEY OGWUMIKE: Stanford's senior forward has been putting up video game-like numbers this season in guiding the Cardinal to a 21-1 record. She's averaging 27 points and 12 rebounds while shooting 63 percent from the field.

"I personally think it's Chiney's leadership that makes her special," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "No matter how things are going she plays really hard. From the day she got on campus, she has been a warrior. She's evolved into a great player."

ODYSSEY SIMS: Baylor's senior guard has really stepped up her play this season after the graduation of Brittney Griner. She's leading the nation in scoring, averaging 30 points and nearly five assists while shooting 42 percent from behind the 3-point line and 82 percent from the free throw line. Sims has scored more than 40 points four times this season with opponents keying on her every game.

"People who think that Odyssey Sims is in Brittney Griner's shadow don't understand the value of Odyssey Sims," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. "Pound for pound, she is considered by many to be the best to ever play the game.

"When you're 6-8 like Brittney is, when you walk on the court you don't notice Odyssey Sims at 5-8," Mulkey said. "But when the ball is being tossed up, then you go, 'Holy cow, this girl is the real deal.' She's never been in the shadow of anyone."

BREANNA STEWART: UConn's sophomore forward won outstanding player of the Final Four last April and hasn't looked back in leading the top-ranked Huskies to an undefeated mark this season. She's averaging 19.3 points, 7.9 rebounds while shooting 50 percent from the field and 81 percent from the foul line. At 6-foot-4 she's nearly impossible to guard.

"She's a pretty unique player in college basketball today," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "There's a lot of things that she does that are very, very difficult to do that she makes them look real easy. And I'm glad we have her."

ALYSSA THOMAS: Maryland's senior forward has been a triple-double machine this season racking up three of them. She's two short of the NCAA record set by Nicole Powell of Stanford in 2002. The Terrapins star is averaging 18.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 4 assists.

"She's just such a special player for us," Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. "There really isn't much that she can't do. She's had to play virtually every position for us. Just a really great player and even better person."

___

AP Sports Writers Janie McCauley in Stanford, Calif. and Stephen Hawkins in Waco, Texas contributed to this report.

___

Follow Doug on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/dougfeinberg