With the 2019-20 women’s college basketball season about halfway over, we’ve gotten the chance to see which freshmen have stood out amongst the rest.
These are the players who have had stellar scoring nights, who have blocked shots in bunches, who have rebounded with tenacity and who have passed with preciseness. They’ve led their teams to wins and could be real weapons in the post-season. We will watch their careers with great interest.
Here’s the five freshmen who have stood out the most this so far this year.
Aliyah Boston, South Carolina
What she does best: Blocking shots
A 6-foot-5 forward from St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Boston burst onto the scene for the Gamecocks by dropping a triple-double in her first collegiate game. In a win over Alabama State, she tallied 12 points, 12 rebounds and 10 blocks. She has continued to be a force in the paint and a leader for this South Carolina team, leading the team in points (13.1), rebounds (7.8) and blocks (3.1) per-game.
Boston has also shown a tendency to play big in important games. Against then-ranked No. 4 Maryland, she had 14 points, seven boards and five blocks. And against then-ranked No. 2 Baylor, she had 20 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks.
Tabbed as the third-best prospect in her class by ESPN, Boston has exceeded expectations and has become a centerpiece for a team with Final Four aspirations.
Malu Tshitenge, UNC
What she does best: Owning the paint
Basketball is in Tshitenge’s blood. Her uncle happens to be Dikembe Mutombo, the NBA Hall of Famer who is second all-time in blocked shots. She plays a little like him too, and has established chemistry with junior Janelle Bailey to create a fearsome front court duo.
A 6-foot-5 native of Germantown, Maryland, Tshitenge is averaging 12.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per-game this season. She’s also blocked nine shots, stole 10 possessions and dished out 13 assists in 14 games. She’s shooting 62.2 percent from the floor on all shots, a mark that is second-best in the ACC.
“I’ve been coaching a long time, and Malu is one of a small group of people who comes with a purpose every day,” UNC head coach Courtney Banghart told NCAA.com. “She comes in – she barely says hello – she takes two balls and she goes over to a hoop and she starts doing her Mikan (drills). If I say something that she doesn’t understand, right in that moment she asks me. She doesn’t let moments waste… I look at her and I see a lot of hope.”
Dyaisha Fair, Buffalo
What she does best: Scoring buckets
After Cierra Dillard graduated last year, many wondered who would pick up the scoring for Buffalo. Dillard averaged 25.2 points per-game last season and had led the Bulls to back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances. Buffalo was able to replace her production, but the player has been carrying the load wasn’t on the roster last season.
Dyaisha Fair is averaging 23.1 points per-game this season, a mark that leads all freshmen and is fourth in the nation. She’s a 5-foot-5 firecracker from Rochester who can score in bunches and she’s helped Buffalo get off to a 10-3 start. Her best game this season was just the second in her collegiate career, when she tallied 31 points, seven assists and three rebounds in a win over Niagara. She’s been a decent three-point shooter this season too, knocking down outside shots at a 36.4 percent clip.
Fair wasn’t included in ESPN’s ranking of the top 100 players in her class, but she was sought after by more recognizable programs like UConn and Syracuse. Halfway through her freshman season, she’s showing everyone what they missed out on.
Anaya Peoples, Notre Dame
What she does best: Rebounding
It’s been a bumpy season for Muffet McGraw’s powerhouse program at Notre Dame. After losing all five starters from a Final Four team, the Irish are off to 6-9 start. But the lack of veterans has given the opportunity to younger players, like Peoples, to really shine.
Peoples is third on the team in scoring, first in rebounding, second in blocked shots, first in steals and third in assists. The Irish and McGraw have needed younger players to step up and Peoples has done that in a big way, doing a little bit of everything for her team.
One of Peoples’ best games came against then-ranked No. 16 DePaul, where she had 22 points, 15 rebounds and three assists in 38 minutes of action. The contest ended in a loss for Notre Dame, but it showed what Peoples is capable of on a big stage.
“This is a team that we’re still looking for an identity and I think they’re excited for the challenge,” McGraw told NCAA.com at ACC Media Day in October. “Like, ‘Now it’s my turn.’ They watched it happen and we have a high bar – can they reach it?”
Listed as a 5-foot-10 guard from Danville, Illinois, Peoples has stood out with her rebounding. She averages 8.8 boards per-game, which is the best among all ACC freshmen and seventh-best in all of the conference.
Hayley Jones, Stanford
What she does best: A little bit of everything
Tabbed as the top recruit in her class by ESPN, Jones has not disappointed at Stanford. She’s twice been named Pac-12 Freshman of the Week and has worked her way into a crucial role, starting in the Cardinal’s last eight games.
On the season, the 6-foot-1 guard from Santa Cruz has posted per-game averages of 10.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists. She had one of her best performances in a win over UC Davis, totaling 21 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and two blocks in 35 minutes.
Stanford was ranked fifth in the latest AP Top 25 women’s basketball poll and are hoping to capture a Pac-12 title this season. If Jones’ awesome play continues, it could give the Cardinal the edge they need in the post-season.