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UConn's Bueckers sweeps Big East Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year honors

Of the 15 UConn women's basketball players who have previously won league player of the year awards, none of them have ever been quite the same as Paige Bueckers.

Bueckers, a freshman guard, has been counted on to lead a team with seven freshmen and eight newcomers in all, one which ascended to the top spot in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll, nevertheless, all while juggling the perils of a pandemic.

On Thursday morning, it was announced that Bueckers had swept the Big East Conference Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year awards, making her the second player in program history to do so after UConn great Maya Moore (2008).

"I don't think I've ever had two players that were exactly alike," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "I don't think I've ever had two national players of the year that were exactly alike or two Naismith winners that were exactly alike or two Olympians that were exactly alike.

"They're all different. They all have their own characteristics that make them who they are. Paige just happens to be right right now for this team because she has the right temperament and the right skill level to help make this team better. If Paige had a different mindset, if she had a different temperament and still had all the skills that she has, it might not work.

"She has the skills you need to be a really good player, she has the temperament to handle all of the things that she needs to handle for our team and she has enough composure to deal with all the off-the-court stuff that's out there these days."

In addition to Bueckers, UConn junior Christyn Williams was named to the All-Big East First Team.

Olivia Nelson-Ododa, a junior, was named the league's Co-Defensive Player of the Year and was a second team all-star and Aaliyah Edwards, a freshman, was the Big East Sixth-Woman of the Year. Bueckers and Edwards were honored on the All-Freshman Team.

Auriemma was named Coach of the Year for the 17th time in his career either in the Big East or the American Athletic Conference, where UConn spent the last seven seasons.

Bueckers leads UConn with 19.8 points, 6.2 assists and 2.4 steals per game and is ranked fifth in the country with a 3-point field goal percentage of .476. Earlier this week she was named as one of 11 semifinalist for the Naismith Trophy, awarded to the national player of the year.

Bueckers, who grew up in Hopkins, Minnesota, was a fan of the Minnesota Lynx, which chose UConn's Moore with the first pick in the 2011 WNBA Draft. Moore won four WNBA titles with the Lynx.

"I'm in elite company, the best of the best, really," Bueckers said of Moore. "I grew up watching her, her and Lindsay Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson and players like that. I looked up to them. I was a really big fan. I had all the gear and stuff like that.

"Just for me to be in the same position that (Moore) was in when she was here ... that's really why I came here because they get pushed to be the best. I'm really grateful to be in this position."

Top-ranked UConn finished the Big East regular season 18-0, 21-1 overall. The Huskies will be the No. 1 seed in the Big East tournament, which begins Friday at Mohegan Sun Arena. UConn will meet either No. 8 St. John's or No. 9 Xavier in the quarterfinals at noon Saturday.

Auriemma said he hasn't had the chance to address Bueckers specifically since she was honored Thursday, but said he will stress to her to just keep doing what she's doing.

"Basically I'm just going to remind her that she just needs to help our team win, whatever that entails," Auriemma said. "Whatever that is, I'm not going to tell her she has to prove she's the player of the year. I'm not going to have to tell her she has to live up to some outside expectations or she's gotta do superhuman stuff.

"I'm just going to remind her: when it's all said and done you've just got to help us figure out how to win this game. And then say it again for the next game and hopefully the next game and leave it at that."

Bueckers was named Big East Freshman of the Week eight times and Player of the Week twice this season. She became the first UConn player in program history to score 30-or-more points in three straight games (Feb. 3-8) and she set the program's single-game record with 14 assists (Feb. 27).

UConn's previous league players of the year are Kerry Bascom (1989-91), Rebecca Lobo (1994-95), Jen Rizzotti (1996), Kara Wolters (1997), Nykesha Sales (1998), Svetlana Abrosimova (1999), Shea Ralph (2000), Sue Bird (2002), Diana Taurasi (2003-04), Moore (2008-09, 2011), Tina Charles (2010), Breanna Stewart (2014-16), Napheesa Collier (2017, 2019), Katie Lou Samuelson (2017-18) and Megan Walker (2020).

v.fulkerson@theday.com

 

Big East women's basketball awards

*-unanimous

Player of the Year 

Paige Bueckers, UConn, Fr., G 

Freshman of the Year 

Paige Bueckers, UConn, Fr., G* 

Coach of the Year 

Geno Auriemma, UConn 

Co-Defensive Players of the Year 

Olivia Nelson-Ododa, UConn, Jr., F 

Selena Lott, Marquette, Sr., G 

Most Improved Player 

Lauren Park-Lane, Seton Hall, So., G 

Sixth Woman of the Year 

Aaliyah Edwards, UConn, Fr., F 

Sportsmanship Award 

Lauren Van Kleunen, Marquette, R-Sr., F 

Scholar-Athlete of the Year 

Lexi Held, DePaul, Jr., G 

First Team 

Paige Bueckers, UConn, Fr., G* 

Christyn Williams, UConn, Jr., G* 

Lexi Held, DePaul, Jr., G 

Sonya Morris, DePaul, Jr., G* 

Selena Lott, Marquette, Sr., G* 

Leilani Correa, St. John’s, So., G 

Desiree Elmore, Seton Hall, Sr., G/F 

Andra Espinoza-Hunter, Seton Hall, Grad., G 

Lauren Park-Lane, Seton Hall, So., G 

Madison Siegrist, Villanova, So., F* 

Second Team 

Olivia Nelson-Ododa, UConn, Jr., F 

Temi Carda, Creighton, Sr., G 

Lauren Van Kleunen, Marquette, R-Sr., F 

Mary Baskerville, Providence, Jr., F 

Brianna Herlihy, Villanova, Sr., F  

Honorable Mention 

Dee Bekelja, DePaul, Sr., G 

Camryn Taylor, Marquette, So., F  

All-Freshman Team 

Paige Bueckers, UConn, Fr., G* 

Aaliyah Edwards, UConn, Fr., F* 

Emma Ronsiek, Creighton, Fr., F 

Darrione Rogers, DePaul, Fr., G 

Kelsey Ransom, Georgetown, Fr., G

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