College women’s basketball: Duluth’s Kneepkens named Pac-12 freshman of the year
Former Hilltopper has Utes primed for first NCAA Division I tournament appearance since joining the Pac-12 in 2011.
SALT LAKE CITY — Former Duluth Marshall star Gianna Kneepkens was named Pac-12 women’s basketball freshman of the year as the conference’s postseason awards were announced Tuesday.
Gianna Kneepkens, who last winter was named Duluth News Tribune All-Area player of the year and Gatorade Minnesota Girls Basketball Player of the Year, averaged 11.7 points and 4.2 rebounds in her first season with Utah. She appeared a strong candidate for the award after earning five freshman of the week awards for the Utes this season.
Kneepkens, teammate Jenna Johnson, California’s Jayda Curry, Colorado’s Kindyll Wetta and USC’s Rayah Marshall were named to the five-person All-Freshman Team.
Kneepkens posted three 20-point games this season, including a career-high 29 points off the bench against BYU in December.
Utah head coach Lynne Roberts was reportedly surprised how consistent Kneepkens has been as a freshman.
“That’s not typical of a freshman,” Roberts said. “I didn’t know how it would translate, and it translated really quickly, but she’s been consistent. And even the games where she maybe didn't shoot a stellar shooting percentage, she’s still doing other things that maybe don’t show up.”
Kneepkens was also the only Utah player named to the 15-person All-Pac-12 Team, though Kennady McQueen was an honorable mention.
The Utes were scheduled to play against California in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament late Wednesday. Utah (17-10) is hoping for its first NCAA Division I tournament appearance since joining the Pac-12 in 2011.
“I am very grateful and honored to receive freshman of the year but I know I have to keep working and improving,” Kneepkens said. “I am so thankful for all the people around me. Now I’m focused on keeping it going here at the end of the season.”
At Duluth Marshall, Kneepkens averaged a state-best 43.1 points per game — 10 points more per game than anybody else — while leading the Hilltoppers to a second straight appearance in the Class AA state tournament. The 5-foot-11 guard/ forward finished as the Northland's all-time girls basketball scoring leader with 3,704 career points, fourth all-time in Minnesota.
On top of all of that, her college coach was impressed by the well-grounded Kneepkens.
“It's been awesome to see her just settle in, and she’s such a humble kid that there's no worry of her getting overconfident or getting too smooth,” Roberts said. “She’s just steady, which is cool. I think the sky’s the limit for her and if she wants to be a professional, she can.”