After beginning the season unranked, NC State women’s basketball has skyrocketed to the top of women’s college basketball and emerged as a serious contender for the national championship come March.
The Wolfpack’s success can be attributed first and foremost to its core starting five, all of whom returned from last season and all of whom have improved tremendously. While nearly every player in the regular rotation is deserving of an award up until this point in the season, here is the shortlist of mid-season awards for the Wolfpack women.
MVP: Aziaha James
Perhaps the toughest award to decide, the MVP award was a toss-up between junior guards Aziaha James and Saniya Rivers. An argument could be made for both players, but I decided to go with James because she is the team’s leading scorer and has been the most consistent player, particularly through conference play.
James showed flashes of what she could do towards the end of last season, notably in a comeback win over UNC, and she has only continued to improve this season. Averaging 15.8 points per game, James has put forth some of the biggest performances of the season for the Pack, including a 33-point performance in a win over Duke and a 28-point performance in the Play4Kay win over Louisville.
James has scored 20 or more points five times this season, and whenever she’s on a roll, the team is hard to stop.
Most Improved: Saniya Rivers
If not the MVP, Rivers is the sure-fire most improved player. In her first season in Raleigh after transferring from South Carolina, Rivers made a name for herself as a defender. While her defense has remained stout this season, the biggest improvement to her game has been her offense, averaging 12.5 points per game and developing a deadly midrange jumper.
Rivers was responsible for perhaps the most impressive single-game performance of the season thus far for the Pack, dropping 33 points against UConn with the eyes of the women’s college basketball world on Reynolds Coliseum. That performance catapulted both Rivers and her team to stardom, and she has not looked back since.
With both Rivers and James, the Pack possesses one of the most dangerous backcourts in the country, and come tournament time, the team will go as far as the duo takes it.
Defensive Player of the Year: River Baldwin
This one also could have easily gone to Rivers, but to spread the wealth, I decided to go with graduate center River Baldwin, another player who has made tremendous strides in her second season in Raleigh. Baldwin is a presence on the defensive side of the floor, leading the team with 1.2 blocks per game and tying for the team lead in rebounds with 6.7 per contest.
Baldwin has tallied three or more blocks on several occasions this season, notably against her former team of Florida State. Along with her three blocks, Baldwin scored 21 points in less than three-quarters worth of game time before going down with an injury.
When Baldwin is not in the game, her absence is felt, such as in a last-second game-winner by Virginia Tech’s Elizabeth Kitley on the road. Had Baldwin been there to defend, the Pack could very well have escaped Blacksburg, Virginia, with a victory.
Sixth Player of the Year: Zoe Brooks
Perhaps the easiest choice to make on the list, freshman guard Zoe Brooks has by far been the team’s most consistent contributor off the bench, averaging 9.5 points per game and scoring in double digits 12 times.
Brooks was part of the three-headed guard monster that terrorized UConn back in November, scoring 12 points off the bench. She has also scored as many as 19 in a win over Virginia back in January.
The freshman plays a vitally important role on the team, providing key relief minutes whenever Rivers and James need a break. Not only does Brooks provide relief, she is a two-way spark plug, ready to knock down shots and make plays on defense.