On Friday, the 2021 NCAA Women’s Final Four will get underway in San Antonio, Texas. In the first game of the day, the tournament’s top overall seed South Carolina will take on Stanford. Following the conclusion of that game, UConn will meet Arizona, which is in the Final Four for the first time in school history. The winners of those games will then meet on Sunday for the national championship.
For some players, that will be the end of the road for their basketball journeys. For others, it will be just the beginning. The 2021 WNBA Draft will take place on April 15, and a number of projected first-round picks will be in action this weekend. Ahead of the Final Four, here’s a look at one player from each team that WNBA fans should get to know.
Aliyah Boston, South Carolina
Position: Forward | Class: Sophomore
In the last five years, 11.6 percent of the first-round picks in the WNBA Draft have played at the University of South Carolina, so it will be a little bit strange when no Gamecocks make their way across the stage next month. But that’s only because this is a very young team. Make no mistake about it: They have plenty of WNBA talent.
One player who everyone should get to know if they don’t already is sophomore Aliyah Boston. The 6-5 forward walked onto campus and put up a triple-double that included 10 blocks in her first game, becoming the first player in NCAA history to accomplish that feat. From there, she was off, and has established herself as one of the best players in the country.
This season, Boston was a First Team AP All-American, a First Team All-SEC honoree and the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. She’s a walking double-double, averaging 13.8 points, 11.4 rebounds, and gets it done on the defensive end as well, where she gets 2.6 blocks per game.
On the offensive end she succeeds by cleaning up around the basket, where she’s one of the most efficient post scorers in the country and gets a ton of easy points by crashing the offensive glass. Her average of four offensive rebounds per game is ranked 18th in the country, and she shoots 67 percent at the rim, per CBB Analytics. Defensively, she has the size and athleticism to deal with anyone in the post, and her timing makes her an elite rim protector.
Kiana Williams, Stanford
Position: Point Guard | Class: Senior
The Stanford University women’s basketball program is such a powerhouse that this year’s trip to the Final Four snapped a four-year absence, which was the longest drought for them since the late 1990s to mid 2000s. Now, they’ll have to face the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed in South Carolina.
If Stanford wants to advance to the championship game, it will have to lean on senior point guard and leading scorer Kiana Williams. Fittingly enough, the games this weekend will be played in Williams’ home town of San Antonio, Texas. “It feels homey,” Williams told The Athletic. “When I stepped off the plane, the heat and humidity, it slapped me in the face and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m back.'”
One of the most steady players around, Williams runs the show for the Cardinal, averaging 14.5 points and 3.1 assists per game. She hardly ever turns the ball over, and her 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio puts her in the 97th percentile in the country, per CBB Analytics. She’s also an elite 3-point shooter, and more than comfortable letting them fly off the dribble. Overall, she knocked down 38.6 percent of her 6.8 attempts per game this season.
In fact, in the first round of the tournament, she made six triples to become Stanford’s all-time leader in 3-pointers, passing former No. 3 overall pick Candice Wiggins. Williams won’t go quite that high in the 2021 WNBA Draft later this month, but thanks to her shooting and ability to run an offense, she’s going to be a first-round pick.
Evina Westbrook, UConn
Position: Guard | Class: Redshirt Junior
As a redshirt junior, Evina Westbrook will be eligible to enter the WNBA Draft, but she still hasn’t made a decision about her future — or at least she hasn’t announced anything publicly. If she does decide to turn pro when UConn’s season comes to an end, she’ll almost certainly be a first-round pick.
After two seasons at Tennessee, Westbrook transferred to UConn where she’s taken on a smaller offensive role — her 7.6 shots per game are a career low — but has still been a vital part of this dominant Huskies team. Her two-way ability as a big guard has not only won over head coach Geno Auriemma, but is why she’s a projected first-round pick.
Averaging 9.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.8 steals per game, Westbrook can do a little bit of everything. As UConn’s star freshman Paige Bueckers put it after their win over Iowa in the Sweet 16, “Rebounds, assists, passing, defense, scoring — just anything we need her to do, she’s gonna do it.”
Westbrook has only been an average 3-point shooter this season — 33.3 percent on four attempts per game — but has been an extremely efficient scorer inside the paint. And in addition to being a strong rebounding guard, she knows how to run an offense. In particular, she makes some brilliant feeds out of the pick-and-roll, though at times she can get a little too ambitious with her attempts to set up teammates. And as good as she is on offense, she might be even better on defense, where her understanding of the game is on full display.
Aari McDonald, Arizona
Position: Guard | Class: Senior
If Aari McDonald had declared for the draft last year, she would have been a first-round pick. Instead, she chose to return to school, and it’s proven to be a brilliant decision. With McDonald leading the way, the Wildcats made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005, and are now in the Final Four for the first time in school history.
Along the way, McDonald has racked up the accolades, winning Pac-12 Player of the Year and Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year — the latter for the second straight season. She was also named to the All Pac-12 Team, and a Second Team AP All-American. And when she does leave school this year, she’ll finally be a first-round pick.
As the list of achievements will tell you, McDonald is a terrific defensive player, despite standing just 5 feet, 6 inches tall. She’s quick and tenacious, often hounding opposing ball-handlers until they’re desperate to give up the ball — often to her. McDonald had a steal in all but three games this season, and her 2.7 per game ranked 28th in the country.
On the offensive side of the ball, McDonald has struggled to shoot it from distance throughout her career, but has caught fire in the tournament, going 11 of 18 over the last two games to get the Wildcats to the Final Four. More notably, though, she’s an excellent passer, and will throw some really remarkable kick-out passes after breaking down the defense.
If the Wildcats go all the way, McDonald will be a big reason why.
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