Has Caitlin Clark locked up Naismith Player of the Year? Here are 5 contenders for the country’s highest award

By | March 20, 2024

Ten players have a chance to win the Naismith Player of the Year Award, as the finalists were announced on March 14. Madison Booker, Cameron Brink, Paige Bueckers, Kamilla Cardoso, Caitlin Clark, Hannah Hidalgo, Elizabeth Kitley, Angel Reese, Jacy Sheldon and JuJu Watkins were all named to the list.

But of the ten, five stand out as legitimate contenders.

Caitlin Clark, senior, Iowa

After winning the POY award last season and setting the all-time NCAA record this season, Clark is once again the favorite to take home the award. The Iowa guard is putting up career numbers, averaging 31.9 points, 8.9 assists, 7.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game.

In addition to leading the nation in points per game, Clark is also the national leader in assists, field goals made and three-pointers made. With her at the helm, Iowa went 29-4 this season and earned a No. 1 seed in March Madness.

This was a historic season for the Iowa native, as she set the NCAA women’s scoring record (past Kelsey Plum), the all-time women’s scoring record (past Lynette Woodard) and the all-time NCAA scoring record (past Pete Maravich). Clark’s performance transcends this season, making her almost a contender for the award.

Caitlin Clark is the frontrunner for the Naismith Player of the Year award.  (Bruno Rouby/Yahoo Sports)Caitlin Clark is the frontrunner for the Naismith Player of the Year award.  (Bruno Rouby/Yahoo Sports)

Caitlin Clark is the frontrunner for the Naismith Player of the Year award. (Bruno Rouby/Yahoo Sports)

JuJu Watkins, freshman, USC

If Clark wasn’t in the picture, Watkins would likely be the favorite to win POY, and even now her case is strong. The freshman came to USC and completely changed the program. Last season, USC was 21-10, earning a No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament. This year, the Trojans went 26-5, earned a No. 1 seed and are Final Four contenders.

Watkins is second in the nation in scoring, averaging 27 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.7 blocks per game.

The freshman made USC history in her first game, scoring 32 points in her debut to lead the Trojans to an 83-74 victory over Ohio State. It was the most points scored by a freshman in USC history, beating Lisa Leslie’s previous mark of 30. Watkins dominated non-conference and Pac-12 competition, scoring 30 or more points in 13 games and recording a career-high 51 points in a win over Stanford.

Hannah Hidalgo, freshman, Notre Dame

With Olivia Miles missing the season due to injury, Hidalgo was forced to suit up for the Fighting Irish. She has performed in a huge way, averaging 23.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 4.6 steals per game. She is third in the nation in scoring and first in steals with 147 so far this season.

Hidalgo has a habit of showing up in big situations, such as in the ACC Championship Game, where she had 22 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals to lead Notre Dame to a 55-51 rout of NC State.

Hidalgo is an accomplished scorer and passer, but it is her defense that stands out. The freshman is also a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year after setting both the ACC and Notre Dame freshman scoring records – a feat she accomplished in early February.

Hannah Hidalgo is a star on both ends of the court for Notre Dame.  (Lance King/Getty Images)Hannah Hidalgo is a star on both ends of the court for Notre Dame.  (Lance King/Getty Images)

Hannah Hidalgo is a star on both ends of the court for Notre Dame. (Lance King/Getty Images)

Cameron Brink, senior, Stanford

Stanford’s star forward has been dominant in the Pac-12 this season, winning Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year awards. That’s no surprise, considering Brink is one of the best two-way players in the country. Like Hidalgo, she is also a finalist for the national DPOY.

Brink is the national leader in blocks this season with 109 total, a figure that reflects her career. She set the all-time record at Stanford as a junior, and if Stanford advances far enough in the NCAA tournament, she could break her own single-season record of 118.

The forward is also a force on offense, averaging 17.8 points. She has 19 double-doubles this season, with 12 rebounds per game. Brink scores the ball efficiently, making 51.2% of her attempts from the field and 85% from the free throw line.

Paige Bueckers, junior, UConn

It’s hard to believe that Bueckers can be underrated, especially after the national attention she received while attending UConn and during her freshman year. But due to injuries over the past two seasons, that’s exactly what she is. Bueckers won POY as a freshman and she has a legitimate case again this season.

Bueckers missed all of last season with a torn ACL and was also injured for most of the 2021-22 season. But this season she is healthy and showing the country what they have been missing. The junior is averaging 21.3 points (a slight increase from her freshman average of 20), 4.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.4 blocks per game. Bueckers can score at all three levels, shooting 53.8% from the field and 42.4% from beyond the arc.

With her in charge, UConn earned a No. 2 seed and has a chance to return to the Final Four, a 14-year streak that was snapped last season in her absence.

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