BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
Arkansas senior basketball star Erynn Barnum may be the quiet type, but her play on the court this season is speaking volumes as she leads the Razorbacks in both points and rebounds.
Barnum, coming off a career-high 37 points in a 76-73 home overtime loss to Ole Miss on Monday night, was named as one of the 10 mid-season finalists for the Katrina McClain Award.
That award is for the nation’s top collegiate power forward and presented by the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association.
It is an honor richly-deserved according to Arkansas head coach Mike Neighbors, whose Razorbacks (17-7, 4-5) will try to break a four-game losing streak Sunday in a 2 p.m. game at Auburn.
“It is a tribute to how hard she had continued to work at it,” Neighbors said. “She has done it the right way…was comfortable with her role as a freshman and sophomore and then went after changing it these last two years.”
Barnum, the 6-2 former Little Rock Central standout, is the team leader in both points (16.8) and rebounds (6.8) per game this season and has dished out 51 assists with 35 steals and 25 blocks.
She is shooting an SEC-best 59.1 percent from the field and is also second in SEC in free throw attempts (142), seventh in scoring, 11th in rebounding and 14th in blocks in the league.
Barnum, who had never averaged over seven points in a campaign before this season, did not have a single 20-point game in her three previous years of action, but has eight of those already this year.
“She was on her way to that last year before she got hurt.” Neighbors said. “She was playing this well at the point she got hurt last year. She just didn’t get to finish the year.
“She took the summer, worked in our office and I think she has matured…She is just in a good spot in all aspects of her life. She handles her business and as a result it has transferred over to the court.”
Barnum’s 37 points and 6 rebounds against Ole Miss came on a night when she went 13 of 21 for the field, made 3 off her 5 3-pointers and 8 of her 13 free throws.
Neighbors bemoans the fact that Barnum’s big night came in a defeat.
“She is coming off a career game, one of her better performances,” Neighbors said. “I just hate that it will always be remembered as happening in a loss, but I just think a lot of people could learn from Erynn.
“She didn’t go out when she wasn’t starting as a freshman or playing as many minutes. Rather than transferring she got to work and has earned the number of times we try to throw it tp her, has earned her teammates confidence to throw it to her when we need a basket or get fouled.”
The McClain Award is named after two-time Georgia All-American and 1987 National Player of the Year Katrina McClain.
The other nominees are LSU rebounding sensation Angel Reese, Arizona duo of Esmery Martinez and Cate Reese, BYU’s Lauren Gustin, DePaul’s Annesah Morrow, Stanford’s Caneron Brink, UConn’s Aaliyah Edwards, Utah’s Alissa Pili and Villanova’s Maddy Sirgrist.
It is presented along with four other awards – Nancy Lieberman Award (point guard), Ann Meyers Drysdale Award (shooting guard), Cheryl Miller Award (small forward) and the Lisa Leslie Award (center).
Fans can support their favorite players in the remaining rounds by participating in Fan Voting, presented by Dell Technologies, starting Friday, February 3 on hoophallawards.com. The Fan Vote will count as one committee vote during the finalist selection process.
In March the five finalists will be presented to McClain and the Hall of Fame’s selection committee, which is composed of top women’s college basketball personnel including media members, head coaches, sports information directors and Hall of Famers.
“As far as the national list, there are some players on that list that are nationally known and they’ll be some people who will have to look Erynn up,” Neighbors said. “I kind of think Erynn likes being that person. She likes the chip on her shoulder mentality and we are going to keep making sure it stays on there.
“She has definitely earned the award (nomination). It was not given to her.”
Photo by John D. James