February 7, 2024 

JuJu Watkins, Cameron Brink lead list of Pac-12 Player of the Year candidates

Handicapping the race for Pac-12 Player of the Year

This extraordinary Pac-12 season, one notable for both the quality of the teams and the impending end of an era, belongs to the players. This league has set a standard for both the upperclassmen leading their squads on the floor and the young players who make up one of the most impressive collectives in the nation, a group that will disperse across the country come fall and lift their new conferences.
But first, a race to both the Pac-12 title and Player of the Year honors. With a month to go before the conference tournament, let’s take a look at the contenders.

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USC’s JuJu Watkins shoots over two Ohio State defenders in the Hall of Fame Series at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nev., on Nov. 6, 2023. (Photo credit: John McGillen/USC Athletics)

JuJu Watkins

The USC freshman is a revelation, with a game that already looks pretty close to pro ready and the ability to carry the Trojans’ offense on her back. USC’s return to the national rankings started with Watkins’ performance in a season-opening upset of Ohio State and she simply hasn’t tailed off. Watkins leads the Pac-12 in scoring at 27.2 points a game, ranking second nationally behind Caitlin Clark. The Trojans’ have wins over UCLA and Stanford, in which her record-breaking 51-point performance cemented her place as the game’s next big thing.

POY Prospects: USC’s ability to stay in the top of the conference standings is going to make it a lot easier for voters to make her the conference’s first freshman Player of the Year since Candice Wiggins in 2005.

Cameron Brink

The Stanford senior is in a position to be a top 2 or 3 pick in the WNBA draft, and there is some question about whether Brink will consider staying for a fifth season and helping to ease the Cardinal’s transition to the ACC. But while she is in a Stanford uniform, she is a Player of the Year frontrunner thanks to her two-way talents. She ranks sixth nationally in rebounds (11.6), first in blocks (3.38), is averaging 17.6 points a game and shooting 93 percent from the free-throw line — all of it in an average of 23 minutes a game.

POY Prospects: Assuming that Stanford stays near the top of the conference standings, Brink — a two-time defensive player of the year — might be in a position to win her second Player of the Year award.

Kiki Iriafen

The junior who plays alongside Brink is having a breakout season and is one of the most improved players in the nation. She leads Stanford in scoring at 18.8 points a game to go with 10.8 rebounds and more than 22 points a game in conference play. Iriafen’s speed, length and energy has buoyed the Cardinal all year and whether she is playing with Brink or on her own in the paint, she is proving to be one of the best interior players in the conference and the country.

POY Prospects: Iriafen’s chances at Player of the Year are likely muddied by a vote split with Brink.

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Graduate guard Jaylyn Sherrod (00) returns to Colorado for a fifth year after leading the team in assists and steals. (Photo credit: Colorado Women’s Basketball/Twitter)

Jaylyn Sherrod

Colorado’s fifth-year senior floor leader has been known best throughout her career as a lock-down perimeter defender and a passionate tone-setter. But in her final collegiate season — Sherrod chose to come back for year five to lead an experienced Buffaloes squad — Sherrod has had some breakout offensive games, including a career-high 34-point game in a win over Utah in January. Sherrod is averaging 13.5 points per game along with 46 steals. Sherrod’s leadership has been critical to Colorado’s emergence as a national elite program.

POY Prospects: Sherrod’s offense will be the thing that holds her back here.

Charisma Osborne

UCLA’s fifth-year senior has been the rock for a Bruins’ team looking for its first Final Four berth. Her status as one of the best players in program history — she ranks third on the program’s all-time scoring list — has only been elevated by her play in the absence of sophomore post Lauren Betts. Putting up 32 points against Cal on Friday night was the fifth 30-point game of her career and she’s averaging 15.9 points (17.4 in Pac-12 play), 4.9 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game.

POY Prospects: UCLA’s up-and-down conference season may have voters looking in different directions.

Alissa Pili

The Utah senior and reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year has been asked to hold a lot this season, particularly after the season-ending knee injury to Gianna Kneepkens. Pili has responded by averaging 22.7 points per game, and shooting 59.3 percent from the floor and 44.2 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. Pili has scored in double figures in all but one game this season.

POY Prospects: With the emergency of Watkins and Iriafen, it’s going to be more difficult for Pili to repeat, but she will make a very strong case.

Written by Michelle Smith

Michelle Smith has covered women's basketball nationally for nearly three decades. Smith has worked for ESPN.com, The Athletic, the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as Pac-12.com and WNBA.com. She was named to the Alameda County Women's Hall of Fame in 2015, is the 2017 recipient of the Jake Wade Media Award from the Collegiate Sports Information Directors Association (CoSIDA) and was named the Mel Greenberg Media Award winner by the WBCA in 2019.

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