Three women’s college basketball teams have more than one John Wooden Award finalist. One of those teams, the University of Miami, is in Spokane today.
The Hurricanes’ two Wooden finalists are senior guards Shenise Johnson and Riquna Williams, but just one made the trip to the Northwest, where No. 3 seed Miami (25-5) opens the NCAA tournament this afternoon against No. 14 Idaho State University (24-7).
Tipoff at McCarthey Athletic Center is 3:45 p.m.
Williams did not travel with Miami due to what was termed conduct detrimental to the team. Coach Katie Meier declined to be more specific about the reason for Williams’ absence.
“I appreciate the magnitude of the story. I really do,” Meier said Friday during the Hurricanes’ press conference. “She’s one of the best players in the country. I understand that, but I am obviously going to refer to my comments in the press release. We have already moved forward. I am disappointed. We are more than ready to take the court with who is here.”
Just two-tenths of a point separated Johnson and Williams as the Hurricanes’ leading scorers. The 5-foot-11 Johnson, who hails from Henrietta, N.Y., is the team leader in not only scoring average (16.8) but also rebounds (7.9), assists (4.5) and steals (3.4).
Perhaps more of a leadership role along with increased contributions could fall on Johnson. If so, she has the ability to carry the load.
Just ask Meier, who heaps large praise on her.
“Without question she is the most versatile player in the country and one of the most versatile players to ever play the game,” Meier said. “The stats back it up. And it’s not just the points. Her favorite thing is to give assists. What she’s done for this program, how she’s conducted herself, how she’s carried herself, how she wanted the mantel and never, never shied away from it.”
It begs the question. Why did the McDonald’s All-American out of high school choose Miami, a struggling program at the time?
“How she chose Miami is an incredible story and why she chose Miami is an incredible story,” Meier said.
It came down to a question and a challenge that Meier posed – one that Johnson hadn’t heard from any other college coach.
“One of the things she (Meier) said to me when I came in was ‘what are you going to do for us?’ And I didn’t hear that when I was talking to other coaches and institutions,” Johnson said. “It was more of ‘we are going to do this for you.’ She challenged me and I knew I needed that in my life in order to become the person I have become today.”
Johnson, who led her high school team to three state championships, became the third woman in NCAA Division I history to score 2,000 points, grab 1,000 rebounds and dish out 500 assists. She became the 11th player in Atlantic Coast Conference history to earn All-ACC first-team honors three times and was named to the conference’s defensive team for a third consecutive year.
In other words, Johnson does it on both ends of the floor.
Idaho State University coach Seton Sobolewski knows his team’s game plan begins with defending Johnson.
“Exceptional, exceptional player,” Sobolewski said. “She may be one of the best guards we’ve ever seen in person once we play them. (She) can do everything. She does everything with explosiveness. She’s not quick, she’s explosive. Great ballhandling ability, great pull-up shooter.
“It’s going to be real difficult to defend her.”