Amanda Zahui B. is player of week

Editor's note: Charlie Creme, Graham Hays, Michelle Smith and Mechelle Voepel each vote to determine espnW's national player of the week, which is awarded every Monday of the women's college basketball season.

Minnesota's Amanda Zahui B. spent a lot of her summer touring with the Swedish national team and learning a lot about what it takes to play at that level. And the Golden Gophers are benefiting.

Zahui, a 6-foot-5 sophomore center from Stockholm, Sweden, is our espnW national player of the week after a seven-day stretch that sums up all she means to Minnesota now.

The loss of star guard Rachel Banham to injury Dec. 10 put all the more pressure on Minnesota's inside game, but the "Big Z" -- along with forward Shae Kelley -- has stood up to the task.

Take Monday, for example, as the Gophers rallied to upset then-No. 12 Nebraska 72-69. Zahui had 20 points, 15 rebounds and four blocked shots.

Then on New Year's Day, she was even bigger on the boards and pulled down 19 to go with 21 points, five blocks and four assists in Minnesota's 81-68 victory at Purdue. Sunday at Wisconsin, Zahui finished her week with 11 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks and three assists as the Gophers downed the Badgers 72-60.

In the three games, Zahui shot a combined 21 of 38 from the field (55.3 percent). Increased fitness was a major focus for Zahui in preparing for her sophomore season, and her national-team regimen helped with that too.

For the season, Zahui and Kelley -- a transfer from Old Dominion -- are both averaging 15.9 points. Zahui is also averaging 11.5 rebounds, and she has 61 blocks.

Last season, Zahui was the Big Ten's freshman of the year with averages of 15.1 points and 11.6 rebounds, along with 105 blocked shots. But the Gophers, for the fifth year in a row, did not make the NCAA tournament. They advanced to the third round of the WNIT.

The loss of Banham last month almost certainly made Minnesota fans despair that the NCAA tournament drought might continue. But with the 14-1 Gophers now off to a 3-0 Big Ten start under new coach Marlene Stollings, NCAA hopes are actually very high for Minnesota. And Zahui is a big reason for that.

Also nominated: UConn's Moriah Jefferson, South Carolina's A'ja Wilson

Previous players of the week: Nov. 24: Stanford's Thompson | Dec. 1: Chattanooga's Gilbert | Dec. 8: UConn's Tuck | Dec. 15: Notre Dame's Loyd | Dec. 22: Duke's Williams | Dec. 29: Ohio State's Mitchell