Western Illinois' Emily Clemens named espnW player of the week

Senior Emily Clemens scored a season-high 26 points to lead Western Illinois to a 71-64 upset of then-No. 18 Stanford on Dec. 19. Courtesy Western Illinois Athletics

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.

At the very least, Western Illinois can forevermore call itself the Harvard of the Summit League. The folks in the admissions office in Macomb, Illinois, can thank Emily Clemens for that.

Those same people can figure out what that means as far as tuition, but after Western Illinois stunned No. 18 Stanford 71-64 at Maples Pavilion on Dec. 18, the Leathernecks and Crimson share a common basketball bond. All right, this wasn't an upset on quite the scale of what Harvard managed on the same court as a No. 16 seed in the NCAA tournament in 1998, but it was one of the best wins by a mid-major program this season. In fact, it marked the first time that any team ranked in last week's AP Top 25 lost at home to a mid-major opponent.

As architect of her program's first win against a ranked opponent, totaling 26 points, five steals and four assists in 40 minutes, Emily Clemens is the perfect person to break the major conference hold on espnW player of the week. She is the first mid-major honoree this season.

A senior listed at 5 feet, 4 inches, four inches shorter than anyone on the Stanford roster, Clemens has been putting up big numbers for quite some time. She was among the nation's leaders in combined points and assists a season ago, and she led Western Illinois in each statistic en route to the school's first NCAA tournament appearance in more than two decades.

Yet while she set a Summit League single-season record for assists a season ago, she seems even more intent this season to leave matters in good hands long before she walks off the court for the final time. Taking fewer shots and scoring fewer points, Clemens arrived at Christmas ranked third nationally in assists per game and near pace to break her own conference record.

She is comfortable setting up others to score. But to get perhaps the biggest win in program history, she had to put the ball in the best hands -- her own.

Clemens scored 10 points in the opening quarter at Stanford as Western Illinois jumped to a surprising 21-14 lead. But the Cardinal answered with a 19-3 run to take comfortable lead at the half. The game could have followed the script of hundreds like it, an upstart quietly fading into the night. Instead, the Leathernecks retook the lead with seven minutes to play in the fourth quarter. And with Clemens scoring half of the team's final 18 points, they never relinquished it.

The only other players to score at least 25 points against Stanford this season? Baylor's Kalani Brown, Ohio State's Kelsey Mitchell and Tennessee's Jaime Nared. Not bad company for a kid from Muscatine, Iowa.

The week wasn't perfect. Days after stunning Stanford, Western Illinois lost at Gonzaga, a program that knows a few things about punching above its weight. Though she had nine assists and just two turnovers in 39 more minutes in that game, Clemens couldn't find her touch.

But when it mattered most in one of the biggest wins of the season, one of the nation's best point guards did what she does so well. She made sure the right person took the shots.

Also nominated: Lexie Brown, Duke; Shay Colley, Michigan State; Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon; Victoria Vivians, Mississippi State; Chelsea Welch, Wright 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)