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Has Caitlin Clark locked up Naismith Player of the Year? Here are 5 contenders for the nation's top award

Ten players have a chance to win the Naismith Player of the Year Award, as the finalists were announced on March 14. Madison Booker, Cameron Brink, Paige Bueckers, Kamilla Cardoso, Caitlin Clark, Hannah Hidalgo, Elizabeth Kitley, Angel Reese, Jacy Sheldon and JuJu Watkins were all named to the list.

But of the 10, five stand out as legitimate contenders.

Caitlin Clark, senior, Iowa

After winning the POY award last season, and setting the NCAA all-time scoring record this season, Clark is once again the favorite to take home the award. The Iowa guard is putting up career numbers, averaging 31.9 points, 8.9 assists, 7.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game.

In addition to leading the country in points per game, Clark is also the national leader in assists, field goals made and 3-pointers made. With her at the helm, Iowa went 29-4 on the season and earned a No. 1 seed in March Madness.

This was a historic season for the Iowa native, as she set the women’s NCAA scoring record (passing Kelsey Plum), the all-time women’s scoring record (passing Lynette Woodard) and the NCAA all-time scoring record (passing Pete Maravich). Clark’s accomplishments transcend this season, which makes her a near-lock for the award.

Caitlin Clark is the frontrunner for the Naismith Player of the Year award. (Bruno Rouby/Yahoo Sports)
Caitlin Clark is the frontrunner for the Naismith Player of the Year award. (Bruno Rouby/Yahoo Sports)

JuJu Watkins, freshman, USC

If Clark wasn’t in the picture, Watkins would likely be the favorite to win POY, and even now, her case is strong. The freshman came to USC and completely changed the program. Last season USC was 21-10, earning an No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament. This year the Trojans went 26-5, earned a No.1 seed and are Final Four contenders.

Watkins is second in the country in scoring, averaging 27 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.7 blocks per game.

The freshman made USC history in her first game, scoring 32 points in her debut, which led the Trojans to an 83-74 upset win over Ohio State. It was the most points scored by a freshman in USC history, beating Lisa Leslie’s previous mark of 30. Watkins dominated non-conference and Pac-12 competition, scoring 30 or more points in 13 games, and recording a career-high 51 points in a win over Stanford.

Hannah Hidalgo, freshman, Notre Dame

With Olivia Miles missing the season due to injury, Hidalgo needed to step up for the Fighting Irish. She’s delivered in a massive way, averaging 23.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 4.6 steals per game. She’s third in the country in scoring and first in steals with 147 so far this season.

Hidalgo has a habit of showing up in big situations, like in the ACC championship game, where she had 22 points 6 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals to guide Notre Dame to a 55-51 upset of NC State.

Hidalgo is a skilled scorer and passer, but it's her defense that stands out. The freshman is also a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year after setting both the ACC and Notre Dame steals record for a freshman – a feat she accomplished in early February.

Hannah Hidalgo is a star on both ends of the court for Notre Dame. (Lance King/Getty Images)
Hannah Hidalgo is a star on both ends of the court for Notre Dame. (Lance King/Getty Images) (Lance King via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink, senior, Stanford

Stanford’s star forward was dominant in the Pac-12 this season, taking home both Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year awards. That’s no surprise, considering Brink is one of the best two-way players in the country. Like Hidalgo, she is also a finalist for national DPOY.

Brink is the national leader in blocks with 109 total this season, a mark that reflects her career. She set the all-time record at Stanford as a junior, and if Stanford advances far enough into the NCAA tournament she could break her own single-season record of 118.

The forward is also a force on offense, averaging 17.8 points. She’s had 19 double-doubles this season, with 12 rebounds per contest. Brink is efficient scoring the ball, making 51.2% of her attempts from the field and 85% from the free-throw line.

Paige Bueckers, junior, UConn

It’s hard to believe Bueckers could be underrated, especially after the national attention she got heading into UConn and during her freshman year. But because of injuries over the last two seasons, that’s exactly what she is. Bueckers won POY as a freshman, and she has a legitimate case again this season.

Bueckers missed all of last season with a torn ACL and was injured for the majority of the 2021-22 campaign as well. But this season she’s healthy, and showing the country what they missed. The junior is averaging 21.3 points (a slight increase on her freshman average of 20), 4.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.4 blocks per game. Bueckers can score at all three levels and is shooting 53.8% from the field and 42.4% from beyond the arc.

With her leading the charge, UConn earned a No. 2 seed and has a chance to get back to the Final Four, a 14-year streak that was broken last season in her absence.