Editor's note: Charlie Creme, Graham Hays and Mechelle Voepel each vote to determine espnW's national player of the week, which is awarded every week of the women's college basketball season.
Sometimes the shoes aren't too big to fill. Sometimes they fit snugly. The final week of 2016 made that abundantly clear. Unbothered by the deeds of those who came before, those who are currently Connecticut Huskies passed yet another road test at Maryland. They aren't their predecessors, the ones who earned most of the 88 consecutive wins, but to the surprise of even their coach, the story is who they are.
A thousand miles and then some to the west, another reigning champion knows the feeling.
The University of South Dakota might no longer have Nicole Seekamp, the Australian who put Vermillion, South Dakota, on the Division I basketball map with a WNIT title a season ago, but it has Allison Arens.
So far that is a comfortable fit.
In conference wins against Denver and archrival South Dakota State this past week, Arens averaged 26 points, eight rebounds and four assists. She shot 90 percent on 30 free throw attempts and turned over the ball just three times in 80 minutes.
A schedule shortened by the Christmas holiday still offered plenty of games and no shortage of performances to single out, from the post work of UCLA's Monique Billings and Tennessee's Mercedes Russell to the point production of Marquette's Allazia Blockton and Connecticut's Katie Lou Samuelson or the giant slaying of NC State's Miah Spencer. But while the setting was smaller, no individual's contribution to meaningful results exceeded that offered by Arens, espnW's player of the week.
She did plenty in South Dakota's Summit League opener, a 70-64 win against Denver. In going the full 40 minutes, she led all players with 28 points and 11 rebounds and turned over the ball just once. She scored 14 points in the fourth quarter, one fewer than anyone else on either team scored in the game, and assisted on the only field goal scored by a teammate. Her 18 free throws, including conversions on all 14 second-half attempts, set a school record.
Yet that was in many ways the lesser of her two performances. The in-state rivalry in South Dakota spans decades and divisions, South Dakota State a Division II champion in 2003 and South Dakota a Division II runner-up in 2008. But only recently has it been a competitive series in Division I. A perennial mid-major powerhouse, South Dakota State is the team every Summit League contender must go through. South Dakota did so twice a season ago, thanks to two brilliant performances from Seekamp, but a loss in the conference tournament consigned the Coyotes to the WNIT, even if they made the most of it.
On the line Saturday was which team now holds the upper hand, South Dakota without Seekamp (and coach Amy Williams, replaced by Dawn Plitzuweit) or South Dakota State without injured star Macy Miller.
Arens provided the answer.
The 5-foot-9 sophomore, whose hometown is about 40 miles from campus on the Nebraska side of the Missouri River, was again at her best with the game on the line in the second half. Down by 11 points at halftime, South Dakota outscored South Dakota State 39-25 in the final two quarters. Arens alone had 17 points and five assists after halftime.
After older sister Bridget Arens broke a 59-59 tie late, Allison hit four free throws to seal a win.
For the season, Arens averages 20.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game, while shooting 54 percent from the field, 43 percent from the 3-point line and 86 percent from the line.
South Dakota wouldn't be the same without her. This week or any week.
Talk about a tough act to follow.
Also considered: Monique Billings, UCLA; Allazia Blockton, Marquette; Desire Finnie, Pacific; Precious Hall, James Madison; Erica McCall, Stanford; Kelsey Mitchell, Ohio State; Kelsey Plum, Washington; Mercedes Russell, Tennessee; Katie Lou Samuelson, UConn; Miah Spencer, NC State