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The Race Is On
In a three-way battle for player of the year honors, LSU guard Seimone Augustus is SI's choice as the top women's player
Last summer LSU guard Seimone Augustus, Duke guard-forward Monique Currie and Rutgers guard Cappie Pondexter were selected to represent the U.S. at the World University Games in Izmir, Turkey. The three seniors got along famously, and Team USA won the gold medal. Seven months later their names again are being mentioned collectively, this time as the top three candidates for national player of the year.
Rarely in the women's game has the award been so hotly contested. "To me, it speaks volumes about the women's game," says Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. "You're talking about three great players. Typically it's about one, maybe two."
Of the three favorites, Currie is the long shot. The No. 2 Blue Devils (25-2) have a balanced attack--at week's end they led the nation in scoring (89.7 points a game) and assists (21.9 a game), with seven players averaging at least eight points--so Currie's individual numbers (16.4 points and 5.6 rebounds) are not overly impressive. (She also averages only 27.2 minutes because Duke blows out so many of its opponents.) That's not to say the 6-foot fifth-year senior can't light it up, though. In wins against then No. 4 Maryland on Feb. 13 and at Miami six days later, she poured in 31 and 43 points, respectively. "She could easily shoot every time down the court, but she doesn't," says junior point guard Lindsey Harding. "She's a great rebounding guard for us, and she plays great defense. People have to see the big picture."
Pondexter did so when she opted to return for a fifth year at Rutgers rather than turn pro, a tough decision for someone who had the WNBA logo tattooed on her right arm as a high school junior. The 5'9" guard led the No. 6 Scarlet Knights to the Big East regular-season title with a perfect 16-0 conference record (24-3 overall). Pondexter averages a team-high 21.4 points, shooting 46.9% from three-point range. "Without Cappie," says Summitt, " Rutgers would not be the team it's been this year."
SI's choice, though, for top player is Augustus, the reigning winner of the Naismith and Wooden awards. In her four seasons the 6'1" Baton Rouge native has single-handedly transformed LSU into a national power, with consecutive Final Four appearances and a 25-2 record and No. 3 ranking entering the '06 postseason. Augustus's scoring has gone up every year, to a 21.9-point average this season--No. 2 in the nation--on 57.7% shooting from the field. "Her game is so explosive," says Mississippi State coach Sharon Fanning. "She has a great future ahead of her."
Whatever the outcome of the awards balloting, Currie, Pondexter and Augustus will remain close. "After it's all said and done," says Pondexter, "we can be friends, and over the summer we'll get together and talk."
? Stewart Mandel's Bubble Watch at SI.com/collegebasketball.