The Stanford, California, pod of the NCAA Tournament not only features four quality teams, but plenty of talented players.
Here are just a few of the players to keep an eye on over the first two rounds.
Jill Barta, Gonzaga
The high-scoring forward from the small town in Montana is Gonzaga’s biggest weapon, and everyone knows it. That includes Stanford, which like most teams will bring frequent double-teams in the paint. Barta can post up low or high, and is adept at both. Barta also is a threat from 3; she leads GU in shots taken (100) and accuracy (37 percent). Barta had a game-high 26 points in the teams’ last meeting, a 68-63 GU win in November 2016. The 6-foot-3 native of Fairfield, Montana, is coming off her second straight MVP award in the West Coast Conference tournament.
Sophie Cunningham, Missouri
If the Zags get past Stanford, they’re likely to run into one of the most enigmatic players in the country in Smith. The 6-1 junior guard is the third-best 3-point shooter in the country (46.6 percent), with athleticism to match. An Associated Press Honorable Mention and two-time All-SEC first-team pick, she’s also gained notice for her hard-nosed play. Said South Carolina coach Dawn Staley after a loss against the Tigers: “She was Sophie – she does what Sophie does.” Counters Mizzou teammate Amber Smith: “She’s a leader overall, but Sophie gives her all. Every possession. Every play. And she’s in it for her teammates.”
Rosemarie Julien, Florida Gulf Coast
She’s only 5-11, but the senior is as comfortable in the paint as in the perimeter. “Rose is a complete player,” FGCU coach Karl Smesko said. “She is a great scorer who can shoot it from deep and also attack the basket. She is also an excellent defender.” A two-time all-Atlantic Sun Conference first-teamer, she leads the 30-4 Eagles in scoring (13.4 ppg), manages to pull down four rebounds per game and shoots a team-high 84.2 percent from the line. Julien’s season-high 25 points helped FGCU to a 74-60 win over Stetson to win the outright title in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
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