Led by Oregon senior and reigning award winner Sabrina Ionescu, the top three teams in the final AP Top 25 account for four of the five Wooden finalists. Ionescu is joined on the list of finalists by Oregon senior forward Ruthy Hebard, Baylor senior forward Lauren Cox and South Carolina senior guard Tyasha Harris. The only finalist who is neither a senior nor a member of one of the three championship favorites, Kentucky sophomore guard Rhyne Howard, completes the list.
The Wooden Award is given annually to the most outstanding player in women’s college basketball.
Denied the opportunity to play for a championship this season as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic that forced the cancellation of the men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments, Ionescu became the fifth woman to win the Wooden Award at least once without her team capturing a title during her award-winning season. She joins illustrious company on that list in LSU’s Seimone Augustus, Duke’s Alana Beard, Stanford’s Chiney Ogwumike and Washington’s Kelsey Plum.
The first men’s or women’s player in NCAA history to accumulate 2,000 career points, 1,000 career rebounds and 1,000 career assists, Ionescu was recently named Pac-12 Player of the Year for the third consecutive season. She joined former Stanford star Candice Wiggins as the only women to win the award three times. Ionescu led the nation in assists this season, averaging 9.1 per game as the Ducks swept the Pac-12 regular-season and conference tournament titles.
If Ionescu wins her second consecutive Wooden Award, she would join Augustus, Baylor’s Brittney Griner, Tennessee’s Candace Parker and UConn’s Breanna Stewart as back-to-back winners. Former UConn standout Maya Moore won twice in non-consecutive seasons.
While Ionescu led the Ducks in scoring, Hebard scored just eight fewer points in 33 games. The 6-foot-4 forward led Oregon in rebounds and blocks and led the nation by shooting 68.5% from the field. Hebard received AP first-team All-American honors.
Forced out of last season’s national championship game by a knee injury and absent for eight games early this season because of a foot injury, Baylor’s Cox still made her mark in her final college season. The 6-foot-4 forward was the Big 12 Player of the Year for the first time this season. She had twice been recognized as the conference’s best defensive player. Baylor was 21-1 this season when Cox played, losing only in the regular-season finale, with a Big 12 title assured.
A 5-foot-10 senior who started as a freshman when South Carolina won its first national title in the 2016-17 season, Harris was the conductor of the nation’s No. 1 team when the current season was halted. Playing point guard for a team that blended a heralded recruiting class with veterans Harris and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, Harris led the SEC in assists per game and assist-to-turnover ratio. She averaged a career-best 12.1 points per game and shot a career-best 38% from beyond the 3-point line.
Baylor, Oregon and South Carolina have produced Wooden winners, so only Kentucky’s Howard could add a school to the list of winners. Kentucky would be the 10th program to produce a winner since the women’s version of the award was introduced in 2004. Howard ranked second in the nation in scoring, with 23.4 points per game, best among players in major conferences by more than two points per game. The 6-foot guard also led Kentucky in rebounds and steals en route to winning SEC Player of the Year.