Four Players Who Improved Their Draft Stock During the 2021 Women’s NCAA Tournament

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The WNBA draft is on Thursday, and this year there’s less of a consensus than usual on how it will all play out. Luckily for a few different players, the return of March Madness offered a big stage to make a case for having their names called early on draft night.

Arizona guard Aari McDonald

Aari McDonald, Arizona

Stanford sophomore Haley Jones earned Most Outstanding Player honors after the Cardinal defeated the Wildcats in the NCAA women's title game, but Arizona senior Aari McDonald still made a strong case for the award despite not playing for the winning team. During Arizona’s first run to the finals in program history, McDonald averaged 25 points per game and put up 30-point performances in the Sweet 16 against Texas A&M and the Elite Eight against Indiana.

McDonald also improved on her efficiency quite a bit from the regular season, shooting 47% from the field through six games in the tournament, compared with 40.7% before the postseason. Her 14 total steals in the postseason, the most by any player in the tournament, also isn’t a fluke—she averaged 2.5 steals per game throughout her three years in Arizona.

McDonald not only proved that she can be the primary option on a championship-caliber team, but that she can also put the team on her back. Coach Adia Barnes said she never considered letting anyone else take the final shot in the team’s close championship loss to Stanford. She’s projected to be a first-round pick, but her tournament run could push her into lottery pick territory.

Dana Evans, Louisville

The highly touted guard out of Louisville had an impressive tournament showing. Louisville made it to the Elite Eight before losing a lead to eventual-champion Stanford. Evans didn’t have eye-popping stats in the first two rounds, but she heated up and scored 29 points on 52.4% shooting against Oregon in the Sweet 16. Against Stanford, she scored 24 points, including a ridiculous 6-of-8 from three.

Mock drafts had Evans as a solid first-round pick before the tournament, but a strong showing has put her squarely in the conversation for one of the top five picks in the draft. She is a solid option for teams who need a versatile, scoring point guard. But this draft is loaded with scoring point guards, and where Evans falls will depend on how teams view her compared with other options, like McDonald or Stanford’s Kiana Williams.

Kiana Williams, Stanford

Williams wasn’t the top scoring option on a loaded Stanford squad, but her 13 points per game are nothing to scoff at. She’s a reliable three-point shooter, and, maybe most important for WNBA teams, she’s shown she can play well with elite scorers and even elevate their play.

Williams has always been a solid playmaker at the point, and she made huge strides in taking care of the ball this season—averaging 1.5 turnovers a game after averaging more than two a game each of the prior two seasons. The Cardinal rallied around her as they played the Final Four and championship games in Williams’s hometown of San Antonio, and the leadership she showed on the young Stanford squad played a big part in pushing her into first-round consideration.

Baylor guard DiJonai Carrington

DiJonai Carrington, Baylor

Baylor’s season came to a disappointing end on a controversial no-call when Carrington took contact from two UConn defenders as she missed a floater in the final seconds of the game, but she played a huge part in the Lady Bears’ getting that far. Her draft stock could reflect that.

On Baylor’s way to the Final Four, Carrington put up 18 points and more than six rebounds per game. The Stanford transfer looked the part of a WNBA player with her physical play on the biggest stage in college basketball. While fans will long remember her tournament for the shot that didn’t go in, WNBA teams likely saw a player ready to make an impact off the bench right away. Draft boards previously had her in the late second round, but she is now projected to go late in the first round or early in the second.

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Spencer Chism is a contributor for GoodSport, a media company dedicated to raising the visibility of women and girls in sports.