Updated: February 24, 2014, 12:08 AM ET

McBride makes case for national player of year

By Graham Hays | espnW.com

More than a decade has passed since a player was awarded Associated Press national player of the year honors for a season in which she averaged fewer than 18 points per game, not since Connecticut's Diana Taurasi in 2002-03.

It probably won't happen this season. Not with Stanford's Chiney Ogwumike and Baylor's Odyssey Sims at or near the top of the national scoring charts for teams that need those points to maintain familiar Final Four aspirations.

Not with Breanna Stewart following in the footsteps of Taurasi and others for an undefeated team at Connecticut.

But good luck finding someone who makes 17.5 points per game matter more than Kayla McBride.

Kayla McBride
AP Photo/Joe RaymondKayla McBride's 31 points, seven rebounds, four assists and four steals helped Notre Dame clinch the ACC regular-season title.

McBride has led Notre Dame in field goal attempts in each of the past two seasons to help the Fighting Irish clinch back-to-back conference championships in the Big East and ACC, respectively, without losing a regular-season game in the process. That Sunday's performance to clinch the second of those titles in an 81-70 win against No. 7 Duke might have been the best of the bunch -- a career-high 31 points on 13-of-25 shooting with seven rebounds, four assists and four steals -- only underlined how good she generally is when we're all watching.

In Notre Dame's five biggest games -- against Maryland, Penn State, Tennessee and twice against Duke -- McBride averaged 21.8 points and shot 50 percent from the field. She also averaged 6.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.2 steals in those games. Only in the win against Penn State was she not one of the decisive players on the court.

Oh, and Sunday's game was the first of the five played at home, where she has lost just four times in her career.

All five games were on national television. The average crowd, hostile until Sunday, was more than 8,500 people.

This from someone who averaged 18.7 points per game a season ago in seven games against Baylor, Connecticut, Duke and Tennessee, three points more than she averaged in the rest of Notre Dame's games.

Basketball gyms across the country, including more than a few inhabited by even supposed college contenders, are full of 5 o'clock players, those who look great when the gym is empty and the scoreboard is turned off. But there is a world of difference in those few hours between 5 o'clock and the tip time of games that mean something. We know exactly how much because there are people like McBride against whom to measure the pretenders.

The antithesis of Skylar Diggins in her quiet, soft-spoken demeanor, McBride is nonetheless every bit the competitor. So personality aside, she was the ideal person to challenge with the task of keeping Notre Dame atop whatever conference it called home.

"I knew my role was going to change," McBride said as her final season approached. "After losing Sky, I figured the ball was going to be in my hands a lot more. So I think a lot of it was just mentally preparing. Just knowing that being a part of a Final Four team the past three years -- knowing that I can contribute so much, but now I'm going to have the ball. So [offseason work] was a lot of ballhandling, a lot of 3-point shooting and a lot of getting to the basket.

"Getting my body leaner and faster because I know I'm going to be playing a lot more minutes and I'm going to need to be in the best shape of my life."

Alexis Jones
AP Photo/Joe RaymondAlexis Jones, who has stepped up for Duke since Chelsea Gray's season-ending injury, suffered an injured knee in the second half Sunday.

Put aside the points, all those midrange jumpers and contortionist drives. McBride ensures "shooting guard" remains a valid label, but she leads the Fighting Irish in assists. She had just seven more assists than turnovers through her first three seasons. She has 44 more assists than turnovers this season, enough to rank in the top 100 nationally.

It somehow perfectly encapsulates McBride's place in the basketball universe these past four years that it can simultaneously be debated whether she's the best player in the country and whether she's the best player on her own team. It was, after all, Jewell Loyd who scored all of her 19 points Sunday after Notre Dame's initial surge and helped keep Duke from completing a comeback that trimmed the deficit to seven points before Alexis Jones left with a knee injury (that with an MRI pending hopefully for the Blue Devils will not match in severity the anguish on the sophomore's face when she returned to the bench). And it was Loyd who stymied Tricia Liston, as the latter attempted just eight shots.

It is Loyd, not McBride, who leads Notre Dame in scoring and who shoots better than 50 percent from the field.

As long as the Fighting Irish are allowed to play them together, they won't much care about any Simon-and-Garfunkel debate. Nor will they care nearly as much about McBride's place in the national or ACC player of the year debate as a place in Nashville and a chance to win the championship that eluded them the past three Final Fours.

Equally strong arguments exist for Ogwumike, Sims, Stewart and Alyssa Thomas. It's that kind of season. Surplus points just shouldn't be among the evidence. McBride scores plenty, which is a giant reason her team still hasn't lost.

Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.

Is BYU's Hamson an All-American center?

Jennifer Hamson(AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJennifer Hamson joins Stefanie Dolson, Elizabeth Williams and Natasha Howard as top centers.

On the list of things that set Jennifer Hamson apart from most of her peers, starting with the fact that the BYU senior stands 6 feet, 7 inches, is, well, starting with the low-hanging fruit. There are so many more interesting avenues to explore.

Start with the fact that the NCAA's leading shot-blocker, 118 through 28 games, still has fewer on the basketball court this season than she did as a first-team All-American who helped BYU's volleyball team reach the Sweet 16 in 2012.

Not bad, but we can do better.

How about her place on a short list, so to speak, of basketball players whose mothers have Wikipedia entries?

Now we're getting somewhere.

Finish off with the mounting evidence that she should join former Stanford star Kristin Folkl in the very exclusive club of athletes to achieve All-American status in both basketball and volleyball.

That's the one.

Associated Press voters are encouraged to submit "playable teams" when they vote for All-American basketball honors, i.e. not a collection of five point guards. With Chiney Ogwumike, Breanna Stewart and Alyssa Thomas around, there is enough wiggle room to put together a first team without a true center in the mold of, say, Brittney Griner. Very much a true post, Connecticut's Stefanie Dolson is in that mix, too, with Duke's Elizabeth Williams and Florida State's Natasha Howard likely to draw support. Hamson should be on ballots, too.

A week after she helped BYU upset Gonzaga with a huge second half and totals of 20 points, eight rebounds and seven blocks in a win that at least made it possible for the Cougars to contemplate a place in the NCAA tournament at-large mix, Hamson was at it again. She warmed up with 17 points, 14 rebounds and 5 blocks in a win against Pepperdine and finished the weekend with 23 points, 19 rebounds and 2 blocks against Loyola Marymount.

Hamson
Courtesy of BYU Athletics Jennifer Hamson has blocked 118 shots in 28 games this season.

As good as the numbers have been in recent days, they are representative of what she has done all season in averaging 18.4 points, 11.5 rebounds and 4.1 blocks per game. And that itself is part of the story precisely because she has been on the court all season long. For the first time in her years at BYU, Hamson is a one-sport athlete.

And arguably the best center in the country, as a result.

It wasn't her idea to stop the athletic juggling act, and she said she wasn't even initially sure she liked it, but that when both basketball coach Jeff Judkins and volleyball coach Shawn Olmstead encouraged it, she relented. The free time she envisioned would finally come her way this past fall never materialized (she still made her way to many volleyball practices to lend her support), but the benefit came with a full preseason on the basketball court.

"I had all the summer and stuff to get into the flow with volleyball, but transitioning to basketball was sometimes hard to get my rhythm right and my timing down as quickly as possible," Hamson said of her routine the first three years. "I definitely think it's helped, especially in the beginning. Now my timing is definitely down."

It's not as if she had a lifetime of basketball to fall back on when she made the switch in past seasons, either. Her mother's Wikipedia entry is largely the result of the All-American honors Tresa Hamson (née Spaulding) earned for the Cougars. But her eldest daughter was more inclined to gymnastics. It wasn't until high school that her mom convinced her to take up some sports that might be a more natural fit for her height. By her own admission shy in those days, Hamson struggled to muster the aggressiveness required of centers -- and still struggles with that part at times.

Not that toughness is an issue, not when she was left bloodied but unbowed after elbows to the nose in back-to-back games earlier this season.

In some ways just getting started, she won't be ready to give up sports after the next academic year, when she intends to return for a final season of volleyball eligibility. She also isn't letting on which sport she might choose if forced to make a permanent decision in the professional ranks. The idea of playing for a national team appeals to her, which might point to volleyball, if only because Griner and Tina Charles aren't exiting the picture anytime soon. But there is more to her basketball game than height. She is good enough to have a future on that court if she wants it.

Good enough to be an All-American in a second sport, which would be a first even in a family with some experience when it comes to accolades.

"I hear a lot of stories from her and from my dad about her," Hamson said of her mom. "And we actually have some old tapes of her playing, and so those are kind of cool to see. I don't know, she was just an amazing player, from what I know -- and from what she's taught me."

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.