NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Breanna Stewart picked up right where she left off as a freshman. Connecticut’s versatile star has had a stellar sophomore year.
The 6-foot-4 guard/forward earned The Associated Press Player of the Year award Saturday, becoming just the third sophomore to achieve the honor. Notre Dame’s Muffet McGraw was selected coach of the year for the second straight season.
The pair accepted their awards in front of a standing room only crowd that included the entire UConn and Notre Dame teams as well as Stewart’s family.
“It’s obviously a huge deal and I think the fact that being able to be named player of the year is awesome and I think it just shows how hard I’ve worked this season and the offseason,” Stewart said. “But it doesn’t compare to what could happen this weekend. I think this is nice, but it’s a team game and we want to win a national championship.”
Stewart, a unanimous All-American, got 20 votes from the 36-member national media panel that selects the weekly Top 25. Stanford’s Chiney Ogwumike received eight votes while Baylor’s Odyssey Sims had six. Kayla McBride of Notre Dame received the other two votes.
Stewart joined former UConn star Maya Moore and Oklahoma’s Courtney Paris as the only sophomores to win the award. Stewart helped the Huskies win the national championship as a freshman and has been a major reason why the Huskies are undefeated this season.
“I just think she grew up,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said of his young star. “She’s a year older it’s not easy to be that good when you’re that young and haven’t played a lot of college basketball. She has year’s more experience as to what it takes to go through a college basketball season and knowing her, I think she is going to get better and better each day each week and each month. I’m really happy for her.”
Like UConn, McGraw’s Irish squad hasn’t lost either, winning their first 36 games this season.
McGraw is only the second coach ever to win the award in consecutive years, joining Auriemma. West Virginia’s Mike Carey was second with eight votes. Auriemma was third and South Carolina’s Dawn Staley was fourth.
McGraw also was honored with the award in 2001. She didn’t know until she got on the team bus to head to the arena that the Irish would be coming to watch the ceremony.
“She has been the consistent piece at Notre Dame,” McBride said, “and is a big reason why we are where we are.”
Even McGraw, who is in her 27th season at the school, was surprised at the success her team has had this season. Joining a new conference and graduating Skylar Diggins left a few questions for Notre Dame. With McGraw at the helm, they answered every one of them.
“Going undefeated was not on the top of our goals for the season with what we lost,” said the 58-year-old McGraw. “We had a lot of good pieces back, but we lost Skylar. It wasn’t until we had the road wins over Tennessee, Maryland and Duke that I thought, wow we could have something really special here.”
With four starters back, including Stewart, UConn was a heavy preseason favorite to defend its title. Stewart is a major reason why they are still unbeaten. She lead the Huskies in scoring, averaging 19.4 points to go along with 8.1 rebounds and 2.8 blocks.
She is the eighth different Connecticut player to be selected as player of the year since the award began in 1995. Stewart will have her name hang high above the Gampel Pavilion court in Storrs, Conn., with past winners Rebecca Lobo, Kara Wolters, Diana Taurasi, Jennifer Rizzotti, Tina Charles, Moore, and Sue Bird.