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.
For the second week in a row, Stanford played a starring role in determining espnW's national player of the week. The Cardinal should enjoy this version of the script a good bit more.
More importantly, player of the week Brittany McPhee should have them feeling a good bit better about 2018.
The Cardinal went into Christmas on the heels of back-to-back home losses against Western Illinois and Tennessee. The cumulative effect of those setbacks knocked the traditional Pac-12 power out of the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since 2001. Indeed, the sheer scale of the upset in the first of those losses, a Summit League team coming into Maples Pavilion and leaving with a win, propelled Western Illinois' Emily Clemens to weekly individual honors.
With visits from UCLA and USC making for a difficult opening weekend of conference play, Stanford's season could have been in tatters before the ball dropped to welcome in a new year. Instead, the Cardinal enter 2018 back in the Top 25 (at No. 24) and tied for the early conference lead after wins against both Los Angeles schools. And much as was the case in the best moment of 2017 for the Cardinal, an Elite Eight win against Notre Dame, McPhee resolved to carry the day.
Unavailable in the loss to Western Illinois because of a foot injury that kept her out of nine games, and unable to save her team despite a big scoring day against Tennessee, the senior totaled 26 points, seven rebounds and four assists in a 76-65 win against No. 11 UCLA. That win averted the program's first three-game home losing streak since well before McPhee was born (the 1985-86 season, to be exact). She followed that with 21 points, eight rebounds, two blocks and two steals in a 72-65 win against USC.
Stanford wasn't the only team to pull off an upset against a ranked opponent at the end of the holiday stretch, with Miami beating No. 14 Duke and Northern Kentucky beating No. 19 Green Bay, but the win against UCLA was both the most significant prize, by rank, and arguably the most needed. While the Cardinal took Ohio State to overtime in one of two meetings, they lost their first five games against ranked opponents this season by a combined 94 points.
If that was supposed to make the Cardinal fear the worst, no one told McPhee.
She scored the first five points of the fourth quarter against the Bruins to turn a one-possession game into a seven-point lead. When the visitors cut the deficit back within a single possession with a little more than three minutes to play, McPhee answered with a three-point play, and Stanford never again led by fewer than five points. She scored 13 points in the final quarter.
She was at it again against USC on Sunday, a game that would have been easy to let slip away in the aftermath of Friday's emotions. McPhee scored 14 of her 21 points against the Trojans in the second half, including nine in the fourth quarter.
McPhee's big day in the Elite Eight last spring led Stanford back to where it expects to spend the season's final week. Her big week as 2017 came to a close might yet steer this season back toward a more familiar path.
Also nominated: Reyna Frost, Central Michigan; Marie Gulich, Oregon State; Megan Gustafson, Iowa; Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon; Teaira McCowan, Mississippi State; Abbey Sissom, Middle Tennessee; A'ja Wilson, South Carolina; Imani Wright, Florida State
Previous winners: Louisville's Durr (Nov. 20) | Ohio State's Mitchell (Nov. 27) | Florida State's Thomas (Dec. 4) | Oklahoma State's Goodwin (Dec. 11) | Texas A&M's Carter (Dec. 18) | Western Illinois' Clemens (Dec. 26)