Bueckers becomes first freshman to win AP Player of the Year

Published on Wednesday, 31 March 2021 20:03
Written by CARL ADAMEC

Journal Inquirer

Paige Bueckers has not taken anything for granted since she joined the UConn women’s basketball team last summer.

All her accolades coming here, being the nation’s No. 1 recruit and a multi-gold medal winner playing for USA Basketball, meant nothing. She worked to prove herself day after day and be the best she can be.

It’s allowed her to become the best player in the country.

Bueckers made history today as she was named the Associated Press Player of the Year, the first freshman so honored. She is also the ninth UConn player to win the award since it was first given out in 1995.

“I look at everything as a challenge,” Bueckers said earlier this month. “I love challenges. I think a huge part of it is that nobody can put more pressure on me than I put on myself. I have really high expectations for myself, and I know everybody around me feels the same way.

“I just want to perform well and do whatever it takes for my team to win. So I’m not really worried about the outside pressure or anything like that. Obviously it’s always going to be there. There are always going to be voices in the back of my head telling me that I have do this and that to perform. But I really just lean on the people around me and my teammates and coaches. I think that was a huge part in helping me tune out all the pressure and the outside noise.”

Bueckers received 21 votes from the 30-member national media panel. Louisville’s Dana Evans was second with four followed by Kentucky’s Rhyne Howard with two. Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, Texas’ Charli Collier, and Michigan’s Naz Hillmon got one vote apiece.

Maryland’s Brenda Frese was named the AP Coach of the Year.

Bueckers joins Rebecca Lobo (1995), Jen Rizzotti (1996), Kara Wolters (1997), Sue Bird (2002), Diana Taurasi (2003), Maya Moore (2009, 2011), Tina Charles (2010), and Breanna Stewart (2014-16) as UConn’s AP Player of the Year winners.

“She’s been so impressive on so many fronts,” Taurasi said on Tuesday. “I mean it’s just fun to watch her play basketball.

“If you watch the games, you know how good she is. She has that it-factor.”

Bueckers enters the Huskies’ NCAA Final Four semifinal game with Arizona on Friday averaging 20.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 2.3 steals. She is shooting 52.8 percent from the floor, 45.9 percent from 3-point land, and 85.9 percent from the foul line. The Minnesota native set a UConn freshman single-season record with 164 assists and set the program single-game mark with 14 assists against Butler on Feb. 27.

She became the first UConn player to score 30 points in three consecutive games. In the third game of that streak on Feb. 8 against then-No. 1 South Carolina, she scored the Huskies’ final four points of regulation and all nine of their overtime points in a 63-59 victory.

“She’s only a kid, she’s 19,” Bird said. “So she’s going to mature, she’s going to get stronger. She’s only going to get better when that happens.”

Bueckers became the second player to Moore to sweep the Big East Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year honors and then became the first to add the Big East Tournament Most Outstanding Player award.

She was the third freshman to be voted to the AP All-American team and was named the NCAA River Walk Regional MOP after leading UConn’s rally - she had 10 points in a 19-0 run that erased a 10-point deficit - in a 69-67 win over Baylor Monday that sent the Huskies (28-1) to their 13th consecutive Final Four.

“We know to be successful there are certain people that have to score, and she’s one of them,” UConn junior Evina Westbrook said after the victory. “She’s going to knock down big shots and big threes. That’s what she does. She makes plays for us every game and has been doing that throughout the season.”

On Tuesday, the WBCA named Bueckers its Co-Freshman of the Year along with Iowa’s Clark.

Frese led Maryland to a sweep of the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles. The Terrapins were a No. 2 seed in the Hemisfair Regional but were stunned by Texas in the Sweet 16 Sunday.

She received eight votes from the media panel to edge out North Carolina State’s Wes Moore and Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer by one vote for the honor. Texas A&M’s Gary Blair and Georgia’s Joni Taylor each got three votes while UConn’s Geno Auriemma received two.

Posted in Newington Town Crier, UConn on Wednesday, 31 March 2021 20:03. Updated: Wednesday, 31 March 2021 20:05.