Women’s Basketball Preview: Huskies set for Big East Tournament after sweeping regular-season awards

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It’s almost hard to imagine the 2020-21 season going any better for the No. 1 seeded UConn Huskies (21-1, 18-0 Big East), who are waiting to find out who they’ll be playing on Saturday, March 6 in the Big East Tournament. They put together a dominant season and finished undefeated in conference play. On Thursday, they were rewarded for their efforts, winning nearly every major Big East regular season award.  

At the top, freshman guard Paige Bueckers was named both the Big East Freshman and Player of the Year. She is the second player to ever do so. In 21 games, Bueckers averaged 19.8 points while shooting 53.6% from the field and an incredible 47.6% from 3-point range. Her efficiency was exceeded only by her playmaking. Buecker’s 131 assists (6.2 per-game) this season were the most ever by a UConn player and the seventh-most in a single season in women’s college basketball history. She was unanimously named to the All-Big East First Team along with her teammate, junior Christyn Williams (15.4 points-per-game, second on team).  

On the other side of the court, junior forward Olivia Nelson-Ododa was named the Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year alongside Marquette’s Selena Lott. At 6-foot-5, Nelson-Ododa used her large frame effectively, collecting 169 rebounds (7.7 per-game, led UConn), 40 blocks (1.8 per-game, led the Big East) and 13 steals in 22 games. She was the signature rim protector on a UConn team that allowed only 50.6 points-per-contest, which is why she was named to the All-Big East Second Team. Head coach Geno Auriemma, however, thought that Nelson-Ododa’s effort may have even still gone underappreciated. “I think Olivia should’ve been on the [All-Big East] first team,” he said. “When you look at her production, look at what she’s done all year long, you would say, ‘Wow, there’s nine other players that had a better year than she did and contributed to a team as good as ours?’” 

Freshman forward Aaliyah Edwards was also rewarded for her strong campaign, earning Big East Sixth Woman of the Year honors. Ewards, UConn’s second leading rebounder (5.4 per-game), led the entire conference with a 70.4% field-goal percentage. She scored in double digits in 12 of her 21 games this season, two of which were double-doubles, and came away with an average of 10.7 points-per-game. If not for Bueckers’ super-human rookie season, Edwards would have certainly been in consideration for Big East Freshman of the Year.  

The Huskies’ excellence this year wasn’t all on the court either. Hall-of-Fame head coach Geno Auriemma was named the Big East Coach of the Year, marking the 17th time in his illustrious career that he was named coach of the year in UConn’s conference. When asked what makes Geno special, Bueckers said, “He pushes us so hard in practice and makes sure that he’s our toughest opponent … The confidence he instills that if we can win practice and if we can beat him in practice, nobody can beat us in a game.” 

Though she was not recognized formally with any awards, junior forward Evina Westbrook’s impact on the Huskies’ season cannot be understated. Westbrook, who averaged 9.5 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists per-game to go along with quality defense, is considered by many in the UConn locker room to be the team’s emotional leader. When asked about Westbrook’s overall impact on winning, Bueckers said, “She’s our MVP, our do-everything person … on and off the court.”  

According to Auriemma, sophomore guard Anna Makurat will be available to play in the tournament. Makurat started six games before being sidelined with an ankle injury, when freshman Nika Muhl took her spot in the starting lineup. 

On Saturday, the No. 1 ranked Huskies will play either the No. 8 St. John’s Red Storm (7-14, 4-12 Big East) or the No. 9 Xavier Musketeers (5-9, 2-8 Big East) in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals. The game will tip off at 12 p.m. Eastern at the Mohegan Sun Arena.  

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