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.
The best-known Latvian in basketball, New York Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis, is scheduled to have knee surgery Tuesday. Left to carry the flag for that Baltic nation on the basketball court, Kitija Laksa took apart No. 13 Ohio State on Sunday with a jump shot every bit as precise as a scalpel. She didn't even bother with anesthetic.
Porzingis can hope he fares better than the Buckeyes.
A junior from Riga, Latvia, Laksa scored 41 points in South Florida's 84-65 win against Ohio State, hitting 15 of 27 shots from the field overall and 8 of 13 shots from beyond the 3-point line. She did what not even Louisville's Asia Durr, Michigan's Katelynn Flaherty or Iowa's Megan Gustafson managed. Those prolific scorers helped their respective teams beat Ohio State this season, but none doubled up Kelsey Mitchell, the nation's active career scoring leader, in the process.
After a starring role in the week's most significant upset, setting a conference single-game scoring record along the way, Laksa is espnW's player of the week.
And it was a good week for Laksa, not just a good Sunday. Entering the week on the heels of a monthlong stretch in which she shot just 29.5 percent from the field and reached 20 points just once in nine games, she scored 25 points on 10-of-17 shooting in a win Wednesday against East Carolina. That result allowed the Bulls to claim sole possession of second place in the American Athletic Conference. And in a league with Connecticut, a silver medal is meaningful.
For the week, Laksa shot 56.8 percent from the field and 54.2 percent from 3-point territory.
But as South Florida's leading scorer said in a television interview after Sunday's win, Ohio State was the game the Bulls waited all season to play. Other than the annual and inevitable loss against UConn, Sunday was the one chance South Florida had to host a national contender on its own court. It hadn't beaten a top-15 team on any court since 2013, but an opponent that ranked next-to-last in the Big Ten in 3-point defense offered an opportunity.
Laksa waited all of 14 seconds to seize it. Starting from the block, she set a screen, used a second to shake a defender, caught the ball and released a shot several steps behind the 3-point line that dropped through the net. By the time she came off two screens and hit a 3-pointer from almost the same spot with 17 seconds left in the first quarter, she had 18 points. Ohio State had 13. And South Florida had a 31-13 lead that grew as large as 28 points and was never fewer than 12.
"I think today showed what we are capable of doing," Laksa said.
Indeed, it was the second time this season Laksa reached 40 points, but with due respect to an 11-of-12 performance from the 3-point line against Southern, this was in a class of its own. The long-distance shooting aside, Laksa's seven two-point field goals on a mix of midrange jumpers and forays off the dribble were a season high.
Latvia might be down a "Unicorn" at the moment, but the Bull who remains was one of a kind last week.
Also nominated: Megan Gustafson, Iowa; Ruthy Hebard, Oregon; Kaylee Jensen, Oklahoma State; Victoria Vivians, Mississippi 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) | Stanford's McPhee (Jan. 1) | Houston's Harris (Jan. 8) | Louisville's Durr (Jan. 15) | Florida State's Thomas (Jan. 22) | Baylor's Kristy Wallace (Jan. 29) | Stanford's Brittany McPhee (Feb. 5)