Summer 2024

Women in the Word: Players to watch in the Women's NCAA Tournament

This story appears in the Spring 2018 issue of Sports Spectrum Magazine, which will hit mailboxes March 19. Support our ministry and subscribe here.

They’re some of the best female basketball players in the country, and they’re also believers. Here are six women to watch in the NCAA Tournament, which culminates with the Final Four on March 30 and April 1 in Columbus, Ohio.

Ariel Atkins | Senior guard | University of Texas

A ferocious sharpshooter, Atkins has helped lead the Lady Longhorns to a No. 7 national ranking, with potential for a deep postseason run. Second in the Big 12 for free throw percentage (.852), steals (2.7 per game) and 3-point field goal percentage (.411), Atkins is the leading scorer on her team, with an average 14.8 points per game. She is also a finalist for two national honors: the John R. Wooden Award and Senior CLASS Award.

Sabrina Ionescu | Sophomore guard | University of Oregon

In only two years of collegiate play for the Ducks, the 5-foot-10 Ionescu has accomplished more than most players dream of. The Pac-12 leader in scoring (19.4 points per game) and assists (7.8 per game), she made history this season when she recorded her eighth career triple-double, making her the NCAA record holder (she later added a ninth). It’s no wonder Oregon has gone as high as No. 6 in the national rankings, the highest in the program’s history.

Jaime Nared | Senior guard/forward | University of Tennessee

Expected to be selected in the 2018 WNBA Draft, Nared has led the Lady Vols to yet another successful season (24-7 through February). She has recorded seven double-doubles, and is ranked first in the SEC for free throws made (164), third for steals (70), and eighth in points per game (17.1) and rebounds (239), all of which has helped the team climb into the top 12 in the nation.

Arike Ogunbowale | Junior guard | University of Notre Dame

Known for her fearless approach and skill as a sharpshooter, Ogunbowale ranks first in the ACC in scoring, with an average of 20.2 points per game, first in total points (666), and first in field goals (244). She’s also within the top 15 of the conference for  field goal percentage (.443), free throw percentage (.788) and steals (1.6 per game). Expect the Fighting Irish to utilize her in multiple roles in order to maintain their top-five national ranking.

Mercedes Russell | Senior center | University of Tennessee

“Good things come in TALL packages,” reads Russell’s Instagram bio, and we’re sure the Lady Vols couldn’t agree more. At 6-6, Russell is one of the tallest and most revered centers in the SEC. Currently eighth in the conference in blocks (42), sixth in field goals made (194), and fourth in rebounds (283), her most impressive accomplishment is a No. 3 ranking in the conference for field goal percentage, at 58.8 percent. Swish.

Gabby Williams | Senior forward | University of Connecticut

The UConn Huskies have been the dominant force in women’s collegiate basketball since 1995, and it’s because of players like Williams. She’s a swiss army knife on the court, able to guard every position (no matter the size of opponent), and versatile enough to achieve the AAC’s highest assist turnover ratio (4.7) and average blocked shots (2.3 per game), second highest field goal percentage (.700) and fourth highest average steals per game (2.3). An All-American projected to be a top-five pick in the upcoming WNBA draft, Williams plans on playing in the WNBA and Europe after her college career.


– Fab Freshmen of Faith: Marvin Bagley III, Duke University
– Fab Freshmen of Faith: DeAndre Ayton, University of Arizona
– Fab Freshmen of Faith: Trae Young, University of Oklahoma