By Michelle R. Martinelli
Each women’s basketball team in the Big Ten has at least one standout player, one superstar who can control the course of a game, regardless of how well or poorly the rest of her team is playing. They each have the ability to paralyze their opponents, leaving them stunned while watching exceptional displays of athleticism.
“It’s a loaded conference right now,” Northwestern coach Joe McKeown said. “So we’ll see if we can stop a couple of them. Everybody’s got two or three really good players on their team.”
With the Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament starting Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. in Indianapolis, here’s a look at some of the top players who are sure to put on a spectacle.
Rachel Banham, Minnesota
The Gophers’ 5-foot-9 senior guard is nearly unstoppable. Averaging 27.7 points per game, the Big Ten Player of the Year is second in the nation in scoring and first in the Big Ten.
In a double-overtime win for Minnesota, Banham tied the NCAA single-game record with 60 points against Northwestern and destroyed the previous conference mark of 49. In the Gophers’ 112-106 win, she shot 59 percent from the field.
“We really needed this win, and we wanted it so much,” Banham told the Big Ten Network after her 60-point game. “We’ve been working so hard, and I just knew I needed to take over the game.”
Showing she can consistently carry her team, Banham recently put up 52 points in the Gophers’ 114-106 loss to Michigan State.
Kelsey Mitchell, Ohio State
The Buckeyes’ 5-foot-8 sophomore guard is chasing Banham in scoring, averaging 25.3 points — good for second in the Big Ten and fourth in the NCAA. In the Big Ten, she’s also barely behind Banham for made 3-pointers, averaging 3.6 and 3.7, respectively.
In No. 9 Ohio State’s 107-105 triple over-time loss to No. 19 Michigan State on Saturday, Mitchell broke the Buckeyes’ school record with 48 points against the Spartans. Her previous mark was 42 points, which she set in November against Texas A&M.
Not only is Mitchell speedy and athletic, her youth all but ensures she’ll continue her dominance for the next couple years.
“I look at her and say, ‘Wow, look at what she’s done for a team that only has [three losses in the Big Ten],’” McKeown said.
Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, Maryland
The Terrapins’ 5-foot-11 junior guard is just one of many powerful players leading the nation’s No. 5 team. If she gets an open look, she’ll punish her opponent with 3-pointers, leading the NCAA and the Big Ten with a 56.5 percent average from beyond the arc.
She’s patient and waits for that perfect 3-point shot, and if it’s not there, she’s able to set up her teammates down low or drive toward the basket herself. She leads the Terrapins averaging 19.6 points per game.
“She’s a really tough matchup in our league, not just for us, for everybody,” McKeown said after Walker-Kimbrough led Maryland to a 79-70 win over Northwestern with 27 points and 66.6 percent shooting, 75 percent from behind the arc.
Aerial Powers, Michigan State
The 6-foot junior forward is a big reason why the Spartans are No. 19 in the nation. Their top scorer, averaging 21.9 points, is fourth in the Big Ten and 11th in the NCAA. If MSU is struggling, Powers steps up for a key shot to stimulate some momentum and re-energize her teammates.
In a 114-106 win for MSU over Minnesota, she scored a career-high 40 points. She is tied for fourth in the conference in rebounding with nine per game, and she recently broke the Spartans’ career double-double record with 45 and counting after scoring 23 points and grabbing 16 rebounds against Ohio State on Saturday.
Ashley Deary, Northwestern
The Wildcats’ 5-foot-4 point guard is a ball thief. The Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year currently leads the NCAA with 128 steals and averages 4.3 a game, and she recently shattered the Big Ten single-season record of 124 and Northwestern’s record for career steals with 298 on the season.
Averaging 12.2 points and 6.7 assists — second in the conference — her versatility is one of her greatest assets, filling in whatever gap Northwestern leaves open.
“She does a lot to speed them up and get them playing at a really fast pace,” Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff said after the Buckeyes’ 86-82 loss to Northwestern. “She kind of sets the tone for them.”
Tyra Buss, Indiana
The 5-foot-8 point guard’s exceptional speed allows her to fly up the court for quick layups, and she leads the Hoosiers in scoring, averaging 19 points per game. She’s also tied for second in the Big Ten averaging 2.2 steals.
Against the Wildcats, she posted 10 of her 21 total points in the fourth quarter to lift Indiana to a 91-84 win on January 24. She consistently weaves between several defenders on her way to the rim, and whether or not they see her coming, they have a tough time keeping up.
“I thought she played at the level that I’ve seen her in the past where she was just doing everything she could to help [her] team win,” McKeown said after Northwestern’s loss.
Brene Moseley, Maryland
The Terrapins’ 5-foot-7 senior guard is one of the most powerful players off the bench in the Big Ten. Starting in just her first game this season in the regular season finale against Minnesota, Moseley was named the Big Ten’s Sixth Player of the year and ranks third among her teammates with 11.4 points per game and leads them with 6.1 assists — good for third in the conference.
She uses her speed to capitalize on fast-break points, running circles around her opponents and their defensive schemes. Averaging 22.4 minutes, she’s a valuable weapon for the Terrapins and can’t be discounted just because she’s not a starter. She’s also 15 points from hitting the 1,000 career points mark.