Women’s college basketball – What’s behind all the triple-doubles this season?


The first one happened on opening day of the 2021-22 women’s college basketball season, and they’ve rolled in on a record-breaking pace ever since. Through Tuesday’s games, there have been 16 triple-doubles thus far in Division I women’s basketball. (Click here for the complete list.) That already exceeds the total of 15 for all of last season, according to data compiled by ESPN Stats & Information.

Ten of the triple-doubles came in November, which broke the previous record of nine set in both 2017 and 2018 for the opening month of a season. And 10 marked the second most in a calendar month in women’s basketball, behind the 12 in January 2019.

Of course, that 2019 number was influenced a bit by then-Oregon All-American guard Sabrina Ionescu, who had two of those 12. Over four years with the Ducks, Ionescu, the No. 1 WNBA draft pick by the New York Liberty in 2020, had 26 career triple-doubles, the NCAA record for men and women.

Are we now seeing the Ionescu effect in college, with more players having triple-doubles?

“I definitely think Sabrina has something to do with it,” Oregon coach Kelly Graves said. “But I think a lot of it is media-driven too. I mean, Oscar Robertson averaged a triple-double, and no one cared. But in recent years, it’s become a thing that’s celebrated.”

But what goes into players’ ability to reach the triple-double? Does more positionless play these days help? Perhaps. But being a guard who can rebound seems to be a key part, as well. Of the triple-doubles so far this season, 14 were by guards, and 11 of those were points, rebounds and assists. The other three were points, assists and steals.

The remaining two triple-doubles were accomplished by post players with points, rebounds and blocked shots.

The 16 triple-doubles are spread among 15 players; Iowa sophomore guard Caitlin Clark notched triple-doubles on Nov. 17 (16 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in 29 minutes) and Dec. 5 (24 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists in 32 minutes).

The first triple-double this season came from LSU‘s Khayla Pointer, a 5-foot-7 point guard who has the physicality and nose for the ball to be a really good rebounder for her size. She is averaging 6.7 rebounds per game. In Kim Mulkey’s debut as LSU coach on Nov. 9 versus Nicholls, Pointer had 16 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds.

Mulkey said afterward she had no idea that Pointer was close to a triple-double until a staff member told her not to take Pointer out of the game yet because she was one rebound short.

“You know what goes through a head coach’s mind: ‘So close. But, dang, if she gets hurt out there, I’ll never live with myself,'” Mulkey said. “But she got that rebound.”

In fact, Pointer was able to get two more before exiting the game — she played 36 minutes in an 82-40 victory — but the dilemma of leaving a player in a game that’s essentially decided just to reach a milestone isn’t an easy one. On one hand, milestones are great and attention-grabbing. But on the other hand, is it tempting fate? In Pointer’s case, it worked out fine.

“I got to see history,” Mulkey said.

Sometimes, triple-doubles happen in a relatively short amount of playing time. Such was the case for Eastern Michigan guard Areanna Combs, who collected 12 points, 11 assists and 10 steals while playing 20 minutes in a 133-45 victory over Grace Christian on Nov. 18.

And on Nov. 20, Nebraska guard Jaz Shelley tallied 14 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in 20 minutes in a 113-58 victory over North Carolina Central.

Both were huge blowouts, but no one could really complain about a player being in only half of the game.

The most minutes anyone has played in getting a triple-double this season is Tennessee center Tamari Key, who was in for 39 minutes, 23 seconds in getting 10 points, 18 rebounds and 10 blocks. But that wasn’t about stat-padding; it happened in a 74-70 overtime victory by the Lady Vols over Texas.

It was the fifth triple-double in Tennessee’s storied history, and two of those are by the 6-foot-6 Key. Her first was 23 points, 10 rebounds and 10 blocks against Florida last season. Three of the program’s five triple-doubles have come in the past five seasons; the others were in 2010 and 1985.

Key was as proud of the minutes she played as she was the triple-double.

“I’m just trying to stay in shape, and I wanted to stay in the game as long as I could,” said Key, who fouled out in overtime.

Another player whose triple-double came in a close game where every point, rebound and assist mattered was Tulane guard Moon Ursin, who transferred from Baylor for this season. She had 18 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in 37 minutes in 91-84 victory over Troy on Dec. 8.

The youngest player to do it this season is Notre Dame freshman guard Olivia Miles, who had 11 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists in a 73-56 victory over Valparaiso. She is the seventh Irish player to get a triple-double. There have been nine at Notre Dame overall, with Skylar Diggins-Smith and Jackie Young each having two.

Now that we’re nearing the end of nonconference play, will the triple-doubles slow down? Perhaps, but Graves thinks we’ll continue to see more of them than we used to. Ionescu had 12 triple-doubles in Pac-12 Conference play.

“I think the level of the all-around player continues to get better and better,” Graves said. “So you’re bound to have more players with the ability to accomplish it. Sabrina did make it cool on the women’s side, though, for sure.”

Here’s a look at every triple-double so far this season.

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