With Declining Numbers, Does MiLaysia Fulwiley Deserve Freshman of the Year?

Published 02/12/2024, 10:20 PM EST

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The South Carolina Gamecocks guard MiLaysia Fulwiley made a name for herself when she basketed 17 points in her debut game against the Notre Dame. She burst on the scene and was competing with big names such as A’ja Wilson and Aliyah Boston, surpassing them by becoming the leading scorer for the Gamecocks in the first three games with 47 points.

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Fulwiley was seen as the perfect candidate for the Freshman of the Year awards back then. But unfortunately, her performances have declined. In her most recent game against the University of Connecticut Huskies, the Columbia-born scored a paltry six points. Though she helped the team by nabbing 4 rebounds, still it made fans question if Fulwiley was the best choice for the Freshman of the Year award. Without a detailed look into her performances, it would be difficult to judge.

How has Fulwiley performed?

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Fulwiley has mostly scored in double-digits. In her second game against the Maryland Terrapins, Fulwiley potted 12 points. She also nabbed a singular rebound with 2 assists. With her decent performances, Fulwiley established herself as a core player for the Gamecocks. Her next exceptional performance came against the Clemson when she decimated the highest points for her team (18). With this match, she sent a clear message that she could step up for the team and be the alpha when the situation demands. 

Though Fulwiley was not the regular player that scores in 30s and 40s, yet with her dominant performances she did prove her mettle. Another standout performance came against the Mississippi Valley State when she throttled 17 points with 5 assists. Her numbers were the highest for her team in both the departments of points scored and assists. She therefore proved that she could be a top-notch scorer while being selfless at the same time. But she also has a list of forgettable performances to her name.

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Against the North Carolina Tar Heels and Missouri Tigers, Fulwiley could score nil points. Her performance against the Tar Heels could be excluded since she only played for three minutes, but against the Missouri, Fulwiley got a chance to ply her trade for a complete 10 minutes.

Even during the performance against the Bowling Green Falcons, Fulwiley played for 19 minutes but could only souse 6 points. It is a thing to note that although the Gamecocks haven’t suffered any loss this season, the team has amped up its game every time, Fulwiley hasn’t always been the key player that was expected of her.

Then again against the Louisiana State University Lady Tigers and the Mississippi State Bulldogs, Fulwiley scored a paltry 8 and 9 points. Here too she can be discounted since she played for only 10 and 14 minutes, but another point to consider is that Fulwiley is not always relied on by their head coach Dawn Staley.

Overall, Fulwiley averages a decent 12 points per game with 2.8 rebounds per match and 2.2 assists per contest. She is in second place in the points average for the Gamecocks, but the team overall has a low ceiling. The highest points average is by their center Kamilla Cardoso who has thrashed 13.8 points per game. The team has demonstrated perfect cohesiveness rather than being dependent on a few players, and hence other stars are giving major competition to Fulwiley.

Who are Fulwiley’s competitors?

The two main competitors to Fulwiley’s Freshman of the Year award are the University of Southern California Trojans guard JuJu Watkins and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Hannah Hidalgo. Both of them have been top players this season and stand only next to the leading points average scorer the Iowa Hawkeyes icon Caitlin Clark.

With 27.5 points per game, Watkins occupies the second spot in the NCAA leading points average scorer chart, and Hidalgo is posited at the third spot with 25 points per contest. Even on the defensive end, both are far better than Fulwiley in numbers with 6.9 rebounds per game nabbed by Watkins and 6.1 rebounds per outing grabbed by Hildalgo.

Both Watkins and Hidalgo have been core players for their team, playing the role of an alpha. Watkins’s career best of 51 points recently came against the Stanford Cardinal. This proved that Watkins has a much higher ceiling than Fulwiley. Another point to note is that Watkins has been more consistent for her team. Her lowest performance has been of 15 points against the Seton Hall Pirates which is better than Fulwiley’s average. 

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As for Hildalgo, her career best has come against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets with 35 points. She too much like Watkins has been fairly consistent in her campaign and her worst performance this season has been against the Tennessee Lady Volunteers of 13 points. Therefore, the Fulwiley has been trumped by both Hidalgo and Watkins. This has partly jeopardized Fulwiley’s claim to the awards.

Does Fulwiley deserve the award?

Going by Fulwiley’s performance she isn’t the best freshman this year. But what encapsulates her journey is that the Gamecocks have a low ceiling overall and have relied much on their defense to win games rather than high-scoring matches. Another point to note here is that the Dawn Staley-coached team has been dependent on a comprehensive team effort rather than sparks of brilliance from one or two players.

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If only the performances are counted without taking into account the gameplan then surely Hidalgo and Watkins have a much better chance of winning the Freshman of the Year. They eclipse Fulwiley in performance by a large margin. The only way Fulwiley can change the dynamics is if she starts contributing in crucial games and has a lot of game-changing moments that bring her to the notice of the voting members. Else Fulwiley can assume that the award has slipped away from her.

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Written by:

Ritvan Pande

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Edited by:

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