March Madness is the last chance for draft-eligible players to really make a splash for WNBA executives. And with the majority of this year’s projected lottery picks bowing out early in the tournament, the Final Four became an opportunity for other eligible players to prove their cases in front of the college game’s biggest audience.
Let’s take a look at three 2022 graduates whose performances in Minneapolis may have bumped them up a few draft spots.
Destanni Henderson, University of South Carolina
Henderson saved her biggest collegiate game for her last, leading the South Carolina Gamecocks to their second NCAA championship while recording a career-best 26 points. The point guard from Fort Myers, FL also excelled defensively, tallying a game-high three steals and limiting Paige Bueckers’ impact on offense. It was clear from the jump that Henderson came to play, setting the pace for the Gamecocks and kicking off all scoring with a beautiful corner three. Henderson finished the game 9-of-20 from the floor, and her 26 points was the highest individual tally across all games played in Minneapolis. She connected from outside and wasn’t afraid of taking it to the hoop herself. She came out confident and poised in the biggest game of her career, and as a spectator, I could feel that she was on a mission to lead South Carolina to a national championship.
While the 2023 way-too-early-first-pick Aliyah Boston delivered a legendary performance for South Carolina this season, teammate Henderson was equally vital to the Gamecocks’ success. Henderson—who measures in at just 5’7”—uses her size to her advantage. With her quick reaction time and low defensive stance, the speedy defender is able to steal off the dribble and immediately initiate on offense. Henderson has also proved to be a true court leader who oozes confidence. No matter the situation, Henderson masterfully ran South Carolina’s offense and made sure the team played according to coach Dawn Staley’s vision.
If WNBA teams weren’t already seriously considering Henderson, her stunning showing in the championship game certainly has them looking at the crafty playmaker now. Find highlights from Henderson’s championship-clinching performance below:
Emily Engstler, University of Louisville
Coming in to the season, Engstler, who played her first three seasons at Syracuse, intended to use her time at Louisville to polish her already impressive skills and make sure her game is pro-ready. The 6’1” forward from New York City put up a performance against eventual national champion South Carolina that showcased her potential to make an impact on both sides of the ball at the next level.
Doing her trademark little bit of everything in the loss, Engstler once again stuffed the box score and finished with 18 points (8-of-17 from the floor), nine rebounds, four steals, one blocked shot, and one assist. In a particularly impressive first-half performance, the 6’1” Engstler was leading all players in total rebounds until late in the first half. She used her athleticism to win rebounds over taller players, like 6’5” Aliyah Boston, 6’2” Victaria Saxton, and 6’3” teammate Olivia Cochran. With Louisville’s top-tournament-scorer Hailey Van Lith locked down by Brea Beal, Engstler—who was averaging 13.5 ppg on 17-of-45 shooting up to that point in the tournament—had to take on a larger role. Engstler’s presence and constant energy at both ends of the court kept Louisville in the game, maintaining the Cardinals’ hopes until she eventually fouled out with 4:56 remaining.
With size, speed, and skill, Engstler is a true match-up nightmare, a tweener able to effectively guard players of any size. And Engstler is equally pesky on offense, shooting 37.6 percent from three (32-of-85) over the course of the season and possessing the ability to score inside. A well-rounded forward with length and the skill to defend inside and out, Engstler—even in the loss—showed her hustle and versatility, which are characteristics that WNBA GMs value.
Evina Westbrook, University of Connecticut
Once touted as a possible lottery pick in the 2021 draft, Evina Westbrook chose to return to UConn for the 2022 season. After injuries to Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd and the emergence of Caroline Ducharme, UConn’s starting lineups restructured at the start of January. This moved Westbrook to a role off the bench. After this change, discussion around Westbrook’s draft stock stalled, but in the Final Four matchup against Stanford, she showed that she has the skills to contribute at the next level even when coming off the bench.
On the season, Westbrook shot 30.5 percent from behind the arc, but when UConn faced Stanford in the Final Four, she finished 3-of-5 from three-point land. Most notably, Westbrook scored all of her threes in the second quarter, two of them coming on consecutive possessions. Her exciting play almost single-handedly changed the tone of the game. Westbrook finished the night with 12 points, six rebounds, two assists, and a block. While a tweaked ankle in the championship game limited Westbrook’s impact against South Carolina, the lasting impression from the weekend was her ability to light it up against Stanford.
When entering the WNBA, many rookies have to adjust to no longer being the top playmaker on their team. In the Final Four matchup against Stanford, Westbrook showed that she already has that skill—the ability to transition from a starter to a bench player on a top team while maintaining similar productivity. During her time as a starter, Westbrook averaged 9.4 ppg, and that average dipped only slightly to 9.0 ppg when she served as a bench player. Additionally, Westbrook shot an improved 34.7 percent from behind the arc as a bench player opposed to 22.8 percent as a starter. Considering that WNBA rookies need to be ready to contribute in whichever capacity serves their team best, Westbrook’s ability to enter the game and make an impact whenever needed could raise her draft stock.
The 2022 WNBA Draft will be held on Monday, April 11 and will be televised live on ESPN. Be sure to tune in to see where Henderson, Engstler, Westbrook, and other top players land.