UConn's Paige Bueckers wins Naismith College Player of the Year

Paige Buecker’s magical freshman season came to an abrupt end when UConn was upset by Arizona in the national semifinals Friday night.

But even as the Huskies go home, the national spotlight continues to shine on Bueckers. On Saturday, Bueckers won the Naismith College Player of the Year. She is the first freshman to win the award, which was first handed out in 1983.

It’s the second player of the year award for Bueckers, who is also the first freshman to win the Associated Press Player of the Year. The Wooden Award for most outstanding player will be announced Monday and Bueckers — a member of the Wooden All-American team — is the favorite.

This is the 11th time a UConn player has won the Naismith Award. Rebecca Lobo won in 1995, Sue Bird in 2002, Diana Taurasi in 2003 and 2004, Maya Moore in 2009 and 2011, Tina Charles in 2010, and Breanna Stewart in 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Bueckers, a 5-foot-11 guard from Minnesota, was named AP First Team All-America, becoming just the third freshman (Oklahoma’s Courtney Paris in 2006 and UConn’s Moore in 2008) to earn the honor.

She averaged 20 points, 5.8 assists and 2.3 steals while shooting 46.4% from 3-point range this season, leading UConn (28-2) to the program’s 13th consecutive Final Four. She had 18 points in a 69-59 los to Arizona in the national semifinals Friday night.

Also Saturday, Bueckers was named to the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Division I Coaches’ All-America team. UConn has placed 24 players on the WBCA All-America team. Bueckers and Moore are the only freshmen to earn the honor.

What did Bueckers take from her first season?

“I learned a lot on the court, off the court,” she said. “Just the details of the game, little thing in the game I never thought about in high school. Just how to play the game the right way. I mean, it's a lot harder in college so it’s just getting under Coach Geno’s wing and learning all the little details of what makes a great player. I feel like I sort of took steps in sort of seeing what it takes to be great. And obviously we're just pushing forward to continue to get better on and off the court.”

UConn coach Geno Auriemma said after Friday’s loss that Bueckers is still evolving as a player.

“As good as Paige was this year — and she carried our team through most of the season — that's not how you win championships, with one player having to do everything,” Auriemma said. “She needs to get a lot better. As good as you all think she is, and she's really good, if we're going to be here the next couple years with her at Connecticut, she needs to get a lot better.”

On Friday, Bueckers was named USBWA Tamika Catchings Co-Freshman of the Year with Iowa’s Caitlin Clark. The award was announced by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association. Bueckers and Clark also shared the WBCA Freshmen of the Year earlier in the week.

Other awards for Bueckers: Big East Player and Freshman of the Year, Big East Tournament Most Outstanding Player, espnW’s Player and Freshman of the Year, and River Walk Region Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA Tournament.

The men’s Naismith winner is Iowa senior Luka Garza, who was asked to evaluated Buecker’s game while he was presented with the award on CBS Sports Network.

“It’s been amazing to watch,” Garza said. “Her ability to read the floor, especially as a freshman. I remember what I was like as a freshman, it was nowhere near this level. So for her to be able to accomplish this this year is terrific. And I’m so proud for her. She’s definitely awesome.

“And to think she’s only a freshman. She’s got four more years to go. And I know Caitlin Clark at Iowa is going to give her some competition through the years. But it’s going to be fun to see them compete for player of the year, every single year.”