UConn’s Collier named AAC Player of the Year; Williams and Auriemma also grab honors
STORRS — Napheesa Collier was caught off-guard when she learned Friday morning that she had won American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year.
“I was a little bit surprised,” Collier admitted before practice at the Werth Center. “But it’s a really nice honor. I worked really hard on my defense these last four years.”
It’s safe to say the UConn senior was somewhat less shocked by the other award she received — AAC Player of the Year.
“She deserves it, definitely 100 percent,” sophomore Megan Walker said. “We’ve just got to keep pushing for our seniors.”
Collier previously shared the award with Katie Lou Samuelson as a sophomore. It’s the sixth straight year a Husky has taken the conference’s top honor, dating to Breanna Stewart in 2014.
“I would want to find out which player had more of an impact on their team in every game and was more consistent on both ends of the floor than Pheesa was this year,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “That’s what kind of year she had.”
AAC Regular-Season Awards
Player of the Year
Napheesa Collier, UConn
Freshman of the Year
Christyn Williams, UConn
Coach of the Year
Geno Auriemma, UConn
Defensive Player of the Year
Most Improved Player of the Year
Krystal Freeman, Tulane
Newcomer of the Year
Florence Sifa, Cincinnati
Sixth Player of the Year
Kayla Thigpen, UCF
Sierra Cheatham, Tulane
Collier, who leads the conference in both scoring (20.2) and rebounding (10.2), was also named to the All-AAC First Team alongside Samuelson and Crystal Dangerfield, as well as Kay Kay Wright (UCF), Ilmar’l Thomas (Cincinnati) and Mia Davis (Temple). Walker was placed on the Third Team.
“I’m glad Pheesa got those awards,” Auriemma said. “I think kids who work that hard, kids who are that committed, kids who have that sense of, ‘I know what I want to do; I have a certain obligation every night to give it my best,’ kids who are like that take it to heart. They deserve everything they get, everything.
“There’s no award you could give Napheesa this year and I would say, ‘Maybe that’s a little too much.’ No, I hope she gets every single one.”
Christyn Williams was named Freshman of the Year, while Auriemma won Coach of the Year for the 15th time in his 34-year Hall of Fame career.
Auriemma, who’s led the Huskies to a 28-2 record (16-0 AAC), admitted he was surprised he won considering what USF’s Jose Fernandez has accomplished (17-14) after losing four starters.
“I was surprised, I really was,” he said. “I do think Jose did a phenomenal job with what he had to endure. I told him so after our game Monday night. He did an exceptional job.”
The top-seeded Huskies will play ECU in the AAC quarterfinals on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville.