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Wednesday, December 30, 2009
A focus toward the freshmen

Kelsey Bone, Skylar Diggins, Elena Delle Donne and Brittney Griner. In alphabetical order, the four first-year players who entered this season as the headliners of a star-studded influx of new talent. And to date, each of the four has more than lived up the billing. They aren't alone. Heralded or otherwise, freshmen are making contributions across the country, including those below who are turning out to be just what their teams needed (for bookkeeping purposes, only true freshmen are included below; all stats are through games as of Sunday).

Starr Crawford, TCU: Crawford has six double-digit rebound games in her first 11 appearances for the Horned Frogs -- almost half as many as the entire team had last season. And it's not as if TCU struggled to a mediocre finish without a dominant rebounder in the post a season ago. Crawford's offensive game might not yet be as consistent. She leads the team in shots taken but is shooting just 43 percent and has gotten to the free-throw line 19 times. But even on that count, she's shooting 47 percent since the start of December.

Lindsey Moore
Nebraska freshman Lindsey Moore is only 28 assists shy of matching the team lead for the entirety of the 2008-09 season.

Kelly Faris, Connecticut: Put the greatest basketball minds in a lab with some scientists of questionable ethics and you couldn't genetically engineer a better freshman fit for this season's Huskies than Faris. She can play comfortably anywhere from point to small forward, defends well, passes better -- particularly in the transition game with which Connecticut clubs so many opponents into submission -- and doesn't need shots to stay in a game.

Lindsey Moore, Nebraska: Senior Kelsey Griffin led the way with 30 points and 14 rebounds in Nebraska's profile-raising win against LSU earlier this season, but Moore chipped in that day with seven assists against just one turnover. Big 12 defenses will make her prove a rough shooting start to the season isn't permanent, but she leads Nebraska in minutes per game and ranks in the top eight in the conference in assists per game and assist-to-turnover ratio. She's only 28 assists shy of matching the team lead for the entirety of the 2008-09 season.

Sam Ostarello, Purdue: Chalk this one up to potential, but there is something tantalizing about Ostarello's numbers projected over 40 minutes per game: 11.7 points, 14.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.9 blocks. Of course, there are reasons the 6-foot-2 freshman averages just 17.5 minutes per game for a rebuilding team (24 fouls in 192 minutes and 45.5 percent shooting from the free-throw line come to mind). But a three-time prep champion in high jump, Ostarello seems like a bundle of possibility. If her bio is to be believed, she's even musically multi-dimensional, playing the clarinet, oboe, tenor sax and drums.

Jaime Printy, Iowa: Far from hitting a wall at the end of the season's first sprint, Printy seemed to get better as December crept along. She led Iowa in scoring with 22 points against Drake and 18 against South Dakota State to head to the Christmas break with back-to-back wins and some momentum after a three-game losing streak to start the month. Make a list of players in any class that lead their teams in assists, shoot 40 percent from the 3-point line and average at least five rebounds per game and you aren't likely to run short on ink.

Sugar Rodgers, Georgetown: A lock for any list of the best freshman names, Rodgers is also making a name for herself on the court. She's the leading scorer for a 10-2 Hoyas team with some noteworthy wins (Purdue, Wake Forest, Richmond and NC State), and she doesn't seem to be forcing the action. The weight of her outside shooting (31 of 87 from the 3-point line) mitigates an otherwise so-so 41.8 field goal percentage, and she gets her offense without turning over the ball like some freshmen (31 assists, 24 turnovers).

DeNesha Stallworth, California: With a résumé that includes a loss at home to San Jose State, the young Bears might be a work in progress. But if Stallworth is any indication, the emphasis will be on progress as the Pac-10 season gets going. She trails only another freshman teammate, Gennifer Brandon, for the team rebounding lead, ranks second in points and leads in blocked shots. At 6-3, she even has eight 3-pointers on just 11 attempts. She might get to line a bit more as she settles in, but that's a small quibble at this point.

Diandra Tchatchouang, Maryland: A 29-point loss against Mississippi State knocked Maryland out of one poll and a subsequent loss at Towson fished the job in the other poll. But credit Tchatchouang for stepping up as the team's leading scorer at 14 points per game (on impressive 48.5 percent shooting from the floor overall and 43.2 percent shooting from the 3-point line) as one reason the team still sits at 10-2 and controls its own fate in ACC play. Freshman teammates Dara Taylor and Tianna Hawkins are holding up nicely, as well.

Davellyn Whyte, Arizona: Three consecutive December losses, capped by a 12-point loss at UC Riverside put a damper on early optimism about the Wildcats, but don't blame Whyte (who scored 20 points on 7-of-16 shooting against UC Riverside, while the rest of the team scored 33 points on 9-of-32 shooting). The daughter of Gold Glove winner Devon White can play defense, but she's an efficient scorer with 3-point range at 13.9 points per game.

Also in the mix: Alex Bentley, Penn State; Shante Evans, Hofstra; Katherine Harry, DePaul; Tayler Hill, Ohio State; Dayeesha Hollins, Michigan; Jasmine James, Georgia; Kevi Luper, Oral Roberts; A'Dia Mathies, Kentucky; Courtney Osborn, Miami (OH); Karisma Penn, Illinois; Niveen Rasheed, Princeton; Katie Rutan, Xavier; Monique Smalls, Texas Tech; Shenneika Smith, St. John's; Taber Spani, Tennessee; Markel Walker, UCLA; Taryn Wicijowski, Utah