Paige Bueckers has not taken anything for granted since she joined the UConn womenâ€™s basketball team last summer.
All her accolades coming here, being the nationâ€™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.
Itâ€™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.
â€śI look at everything as a challenge,â€ť Bueckers said earlier this month. â€śI 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.
â€śI just want to perform well and do whatever it takes for my team to win. So Iâ€™m not really worried about the outside pressure or anything like that. Obviously itâ€™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.â€ť
Bueckers received 21 votes from the 30-member national media panel. Louisvilleâ€™s Dana Evans was second with four followed by Kentuckyâ€™s Rhyne Howard with two. Iowaâ€™s Caitlin Clark, Texasâ€™ Charli Collier, and Michiganâ€™s Naz Hillmon got one vote apiece.
Marylandâ€™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 UConnâ€™s AP Player of the Year winners.
â€śSheâ€™s been so impressive on so many fronts,â€ť Taurasi said on Tuesday. â€śI mean itâ€™s just fun to watch her play basketball.
â€śIf you watch the games, you know how good she is. She has that it-factor.â€ť
Bueckers enters the Huskiesâ€™ 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 Huskiesâ€™ final four points of regulation and all nine of their overtime points in a 63-59 victory.
â€śSheâ€™s only a kid, sheâ€™s 19,â€ť Bird said. â€śSo sheâ€™s going to mature, sheâ€™s going to get stronger. Sheâ€™s only going to get better when that happens.â€ť
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 UConnâ€™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.
â€śWe know to be successful there are certain people that have to score, and sheâ€™s one of them,â€ť UConn junior Evina Westbrook said after the victory. â€śSheâ€™s going to knock down big shots and big threes. Thatâ€™s what she does. She makes plays for us every game and has been doing that throughout the season.â€ť
On Tuesday, the WBCA named Bueckers its Co-Freshman of the Year along with Iowaâ€™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 Stateâ€™s Wes Moore and Stanfordâ€™s Tara VanDerveer by one vote for the honor. Texas A&Mâ€™s Gary Blair and Georgiaâ€™s Joni Taylor each got three votes while UConnâ€™s Geno Auriemma received two.