TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Breanna Stewart has joined another exclusive club, and she is only a junior.
Connecticut’s versatile star is the winner of The Associated Press Player of the Year award for the second consecutive year, becoming just the fifth player to accomplish the feat. Florida State’s Sue Semrau was selected as coach of the year for the first time.
The pair accepted their awards at the women’s Final Four on Saturday in front of a crowd that included the entire UConn team and her parents. Stewart was honored to receive the award with Semrau, who coached her on the USA Basketball under-19 world championship team in 2011.
Stewart, a unanimous All-American for the second straight season, got 20 votes from the 35-member national media panel that selects the weekly Top 25. Notre Dame’s Jewell Loyd received the other 15 votes. It was the closest race since 2007, when Courtney Paris edged Candace Parker and Lindsey Harding by two votes.
Stewart joined Brittney Griner, Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus and Chamique Holdsclaw as the only two-time winners. No player has won the award three times.
“It means a lot and when you name those names and to be put in that category it’s an unbelievable honor and accomplishment,” Stewart said. “It goes to show how hard I worked. I want to be named in a category with other great players.”
Stewart helped the Huskies win the national championship in her first two years at the school and has UConn two victories away from a third straight title. The 6-foot-4 guard/forward averaged 17.6 points and 7.6 rebounds while helping UConn to a 36-1 record this season and an eighth straight trip to the Final Four.
“People are under the impression that because Stewie doesn’t get 30 every night that she can’t,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “If Stewie wanted to … she could do it every night. If we didn’t have the balanced team that we have, she’d be doing it every night. They’d be talking about her as the best player by far in America. Because she’s content to just play, and not worry about the numbers part of it, people forget how good she really is.”
While this is somewhat old hat for Stewart, Semrau earned her first AP coach of the year honor.
Semrau guided the Seminoles to their best season ever. Florida State made it to the regional finals of the NCAA Tournament before losing to South Carolina. It also won a school-record 32 games, including 14 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and reached the conference tournament final for the first time in school history.
Semrau deftly handled a roster that featured five Division I transfers. All the new faces could have resulted in very little team cohesion, but under her leadership the group became the best team in Florida State history.
“It’s really remarkable how these players were determined to take the initiative to develop into a team,” Semrau said. “They were a great group of individuals, but them becoming a team was really the difference in the season.”
Semrau said there was so much uncertainty coming into the season she wasn’t sure how they would do.
“I just didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “For those kids to come together and have the year they had in that conference, that was really special.”
She received 10 votes, edging Princeton’s Courtney Banghart, who guided the Tigers to the first undefeated regular season in school history and their first NCAA Tournament win. Banghart got nine votes.
Final Four participants Brenda Frese of Maryland, Geno Auriemma of UConn and Dawn Staley of South Carolina also received votes.
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