Player of the Year
My pick: Ruth Hamblin, Oregon State. Coaches pick: Reshanda Gray, Cal
Other candidates considered: Brittany Boyd, Cal ; Reshanda Gray, Cal ; Kelsey Plum, Washington*
This was hard. I went back and forth between multiple players when trying to decide. So let's break it down one by one.
*I should probably consider Jillian Alleyne, right? Her numbers are insane, but they are insane every year and Oregon is still awful. I have no clue how to contextualize her, even after the departure of Westhead.
Pros: 6th in the nation in scoring. The best pure scorer in the conference, and she did it with solid efficiency. She's a one-woman foul machine. The hardest guard to game plan for defensively
Cons: I don't think anybody would mistake her for a defensive stopper, and defense was UW's obvious weakness.
Pros: On a per minute basis, scored about as many points as Plum, but much more efficiently. Also drew an absurd amount of fouls. Probably would have scored 30 points/game if she didn't face constant double and triple teams. Other than perhaps Nina Davis, the most offensively dominant true post player in the country.
Cons: Couldn't stay on the court thanks to fouls (one every 8 minutes). Didn't make a big impact defensively, in part because she couldn't take any risks in an effort to avoid fouls and stay on the court.
Pros: The most versatile player in the conference, if not the country. Brilliant passer. Literally the best rebounding point guard in the country. Best on-ball defender in the conference. Most likely player in the conference to turn in an unbelievable play. There are exactly two players that average more than 10 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals per game. One of them plays for 10-19 Austin Peay in the Ohio Valley. The other is Brittany Boyd, who averages 13.1 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.1 assists, and 3.0 steals per game.
Cons: Not an efficient scorer, and some of her weaker games came in Cal losses. Turns the ball over a lot.
Pros: The best defensive player in the conference, if not the country. The 2nd most efficient offensive player in the conference after Gray. Very, very rarely does anything wrong, whether fouls, turnovers, or missed shots.
Cons: Somewhat low usage percentage - she wasn't the go-to offensive player on her team.
In my mind, ANY of the players listed above could have won. Personally, I'd take Hamblin, then Boyd, then Gray, then Plum. But the margins are razor, razor thin. I bet somebody could even make an argument for Sydney Wiese or Jillian Alleyne, although I think it would be difficult.
Why did I go with Hamblin? Quite simply, defense. If offense were your only criteria, the choice would be between Plum and Gray. But the reason I prefer Hamblin and Boyd over the other excellent choices is because they are both amazingly well-rounded players who make obvious, game-changing impacts on both ends of the floor on a nightly basis.
The tie-breaker between Boyd and Hamblin? Oregon State won the conference, and I think she's the #1 reason why.
Coach of the Year
My pick and coaches pick: Scott Rueck, Oregon State
Other candidates considered: Charli Turner-Thorne, Arizona State
An easy pick. The argument for Turner-Thorne is that ASU was picked to finish much lower than OSU, and so she deserves credit for ASU's overachieving season. But Rueck shouldn't be punished for having a great team that he built last year that raised pre-season expectations - expectations that his team surpassed anyway.
Rueck was my pick last year, so it's nice to see him get his due. It's an award that recognizes that he turned one of the worst major conference programs in the country into conference champions in five years. It's a stunning feat, and his team will likely be even better next year.
Defensive Player of the Year
My pick and coaches pick: Ruth Hamblin, Oregon State
Others considered: Brittany Boyd, Cal
Another slam dunk pick. Oregon State's defense was phenomenal all season long, and Hamblin was the linchpin. Her block rate was the 6th highest in the country and 2nd highest among major conference players. That ability to lock down the paint allowed the rest of her teammates to extend their defense out, and OSU rarely needed to double team. Add in the fact that Hamblin is an excellent rebounder and averages just a touch more than 2 fouls/game, and you have an easy choice.
But we must say a kind word for Brittany Boyd. She's a brilliant ball hawk, and has been the best perimeter defender in this conference for at least three years. Hell, based on her career steals total, maybe ever! Alas, she will never take home defensive player of the year honors because she had the misfortune of playing at the same time as two elite interior defenders in Ruth Hamblin and Chiney Ogwumike.
Freshman of the year
My pick: Mikayla Cowling, California
Coaches pick: Jordin Canada, UCLA
Also considered: Kaylee Johnson, Stanford
This is essentially a choice between counting stats and efficiency. Canada was the go-to player on her team, and built up lots of stats as a result. But Cowling did her thing much more efficiently. I don't necessarily blame Canada for having to shoulder the burden on a not-very-good team, but Cowling was first among freshmen in true shooting percentage, and that has to count for something (along with 5 rebounds and 2 assists/game).
Honestly, I think I would have taken Kaylee Johnson ahead of Canada. Johnson didn't do a ton of scoring, but she immediately debuted as one of the best rebounders in the conference and played a large number of minutes of good interior defense. She's going to be annoying us for another three years.
All Conference Team
(Note: The coaches are kinda lame and just pick 15 players. I'm sorting my picks into 1st, 2nd and 3rd teams. Differences between the coaches picks are noted)
PG Brittany Boyd, California
G Jamie Weisner, Oregon State
G Kelsey Plum, Washington
F Reshanda Gray, California
C Ruth Hamblin, Oregon State
If I were just picking the five best players in the conference, you might have three point guards on the list. Orrange and Wiese were both worthy, but I'm fine defending Weisner, a great shooter, rebounder, and defender.
PG Sydney Wiese, Oregon State
PG Amber Orrange, Stanford
G Lia Galdeira, Washington State
F Sophie Brunner, Arizona State
F Jillian Alleyne, Oregon
Here's where it gets hard. I cheated and put in two point guards. But what do you do with Arizona State? A deep roster and a slow pace means that nobody on that team puts up stats that are remotely impressive, but the Sun Devils were every bit as good as Cal, Stanford, and Oregon State. I put Brunner here because of her obvious talent on both ends, even in just 26 minutes/game.
PG: Jazmine Davis, Washington
G: Promise Amukamara, Arizona State
G: Lili Thompson, Stanford
F: Talia Walton, Washington (Coach's pick: Nirra Fields)
F Taryn Wicijowski, Utah (Coach's pick: Alexyz Vaioletama)
I was shocked that the coaches didn't pick Wicijowki, who shouldered a gigantic burden surrounded by mediocre talent in Utah. On the right team, she would probably look like a top 5, top 10 player in the Pac-12. Nirra Fields got the nod for stuffing in stats as UCLA's #1 option, but she shot 37% from the field and had more turnovers than assists, so I went with Talia Walton instead. You probably could talk me into Alexyz Vaioletama, Jen Reese, or Katie Hempen for the last spot as well.
I'm going to be honest - I don't see enough games to remotely evaluate defense. I'm sure that Ruth Hamblin and Brittany Boyd are two of the five best defenders in the conference, and my instinct is just to fill in the rest with players on good defenses that get lots of steals or don't foul a lot. Players like Promise Amukamura, Mercedes Jefflo, Sophie Brunner, Amber Orrange, and anybody who played starter's minutes for Oregon State.
The coaches picked players like that, plus Jillian Alleyne and Lia Galdiera. I wonder about both of those picks. Galdiera I can kind of understand - she gets a ton of steals and is a pain to play against. But those steals are in part inherent to the pressure defense that WSU plays, which isn't a very good defense over all. The Cougars got punished for their gambling, steal producing defense more often than they forced a turnover.
Alleyne's selection is even more perplexing. She doesn't rack up blocks or steals, and she plays major minutes for the 2nd worst defense in the conference. I guess coaches were impressed with her ability to end possessions with defensive rebounds?
PG Jordin Canada, UCLA
G Gabby Green, California
G Lexi Bando, Oregon (Coaches pick: McKenzie Calvert)
F Mikayla Cowling, California
F Kaylee Johnson, Stanford
Four of the picks are easy. Canada did admirably as a point guard shouldering an unfair burden. Johnson was the best true post player freshman by a mile. Cowling and Green both played huge minutes for one of the top four teams and had positive impacts on both ends.
I went with Lexi Bando over Calvert because her stats were across the board better - minutes, shooting percentage, rebounds, assists. Honestly, nobody left a huge impression after the first four.