UConn freshman Bueckers wins Wooden Award

UConn’s Paige Bueckers won the John R. Wooden Award on Monday, becoming the first freshman to win the honor, which is given annually to the top women’s college basketball player in the country.

The 5-foot-11 guard had one of the greatest rookie seasons in UConn history, leading the Huskies in points (20.0), assists (5.8) and steals (2.3) per game in 2020-21. She also averaged 4.9 rebounds, shot 52.4% from the field, 46.4% from 3-point range and 86.9% from the free throw line.

“It’s a blessing. It means everything to me to win these individual awards, but it’s a true testament to our whole team and everything that they’ve done for me,” Bueckers said. “The coaching staff, for them to put me in this position, I’m just extremely thankful.”

Bueckers is just the second underclassman to win the Wooden Award, which was first handed out in women’s college basketball in 2003-04. Then-sophomore Maya Moore of UConn won the first of two Wooden Awards in 2009. Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu was a back-to-back Wooden Award winner the past two seasons.

Like Ionescu and Moore, LSU’s Seimone Augustus, Tennessee’s Candace Parker, Baylor’s Brittney Griner and UConn’s Breanna Stewart each also won the Wooden Award two times.

Also this season, Bueckers won Associated Press and ESPN.com player of the year honors. On Saturday, she became the first freshman to win the Naismith Trophy since the award debuted in 1983, and also was named to the 10-member Women’s Basketball Coaches Association All-America team.

No. 1 seed UConn reached its 13th consecutive Final Four, where the Huskies were upset Friday by Arizona in the national semifinals.

“It’s been hurting every day since (we lost) and it’s going to hurt until we win one,” Bueckers said. “So I’m just looking forward to getting back to work.”

Bueckers became the fifth freshman to score 100 points in a single women’s NCAA tournament. Her 24 points in UConn’s 102-59 first-round victory were the most by a UConn player in her NCAA tournament debut. And she became the first Division I player to average at least 20 PPG and 5.0 APG and shoot at least 50% from the field since 2003-04.

In late March, Bueckers was named one of five finalists for the Wooden Award, along with South Carolina sophomore Aliyah Boston, Louisville senior guard Dana Evans, Kentucky junior guard Rhyne Howard and Baylor junior forward NaLyssa Smith.

Smith won the Wade Trophy, the oldest women’s college basketball player of the year award, dating to 1978.

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