Paige Bueckers made history as a freshman and is poised for an even better sophomore season.
UConn's sensational guard was the latest Huskies player to be honored as a preseason Associated Press All-America on Tuesday. She was a unanimous choice from the 29-member national media panel that selects the AP Top 25 each week.
Bueckers was joined on the five-player team by fellow sophomore Caitlin Clark of Iowa, junior Aliyah Boston of South Carolina, and seniors NaLyssa Smith of Baylor and Rhyne Howard of Kentucky. Boston and Howard were on the preseason team last year.
Bueckers became the first freshman ever to win the AP's Player of the Year award last March as she helped UConn reach the Final Four. She averaged 20 points, 5.8 assists and 4.9 rebounds last season.
“Paige is Paige,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “Paige is better than she was last year. Paige is a little more comfortable than she was last year. She’s not as hesitant to take shots as she was last year.”
While Bueckers is the latest Huskies great to be honored as a preseason All-America, Clark is the first in Iowa's history. She averaged an NCAA-best 26.6 points to go along with seven assists and six rebounds a game. Clark is a big reason the Hawkeyes are ranked ninth, its highest preseason ranking since 1996.
“I’m really happy for Caitlin to be recognized as one of the top basketball players in the nation,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “I’m excited to see where her journey will take her as her enthusiasm for learning and improving has never waned.”
Boston has South Carolina back in a familiar position: No. 1 in the preseason AP Top 25 for a second consecutive year. She helped the Gamecocks reach the Final Four last year, averaging 13.7 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.6 blocks.
“Aliyah Boston is one of those highly ranked recruits who came in as a good player and immediately set her mind to do what it would take to become a great player," South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “She has committed to the game like a pro would, adding layers every year – mid-range and 3-point shot came last season, and this season she will take advantage of the way she has changed her body to leverage her footwork and agility even more than before.”
Howard spent a lot of the offseason working on her strength and fitness. She averaged 20.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists for the Wildcats last year.
Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy said Howard “is in the best shape of her life. Her fitness has gone to another level as she has committed to the weight room this offseason.”
“I am so proud of her because she has taken on a vocal leadership role with this team and it is starting to show,” she said.
Smith has continued to develop her game under the guidance of new Baylor coach Nicki Collen. Smith averaged 18 points, 8.9 rebounds and shot 56% from the field last season.
“There’s a fearlessness about how she plays,” said Collen, who takes over the Big 12 powerhouse for Kim Mulkey. “I think she’s not afraid of the spotlight. I think she’s also someone that, you know, if you don’t run actions to her or through her that she’s going to get touches anyway because she’s going to find a way to get to the boards, and so I think that that’s the biggest part of it.”
All five players were honored last spring on the AP All-America teams. Bueckers, Boston, Howard and Smith were all on the first team while Clark made second team.
The AP started choosing a preseason All-America team before the 1994-95 season.
The Associated Press’ 2021-22 preseason All-America women’s basketball team, with school, height, year and votes from a 30-member national media panel (key 2020-21 statistics in parentheses):
Paige Bueckers, UConn, 5-foot-11, sophomore, 29 of 29 votes (20.0 ppg, 5.8 apg, 4.9 rpg)
Aliyah Boston, South Carolina, 6-5, junior, 26 of 29 votes (13.7 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 2.6 bpg.)
NaLyssa Smith, Baylor, 6-2, senior, 24 of 29 votes (18.0 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 56.1 fg%)
Caitlin Clark, Iowa, 6-0, sophomore, 21 of 29 votes (26.6 ppg, 7.1 apg, 5.9 rpg)
Rhyne Howard, Kentucky, 6-2, senior, 18 of 29 votes (20.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg 3.8 apg.)
Others receiving votes: Elissa Cunane, N.C. State; Haley Jones, Stanford; Naz Hillmon, Michigan; Ashley Owusu, Maryland, Ashley Joens, Iowa State; Kierstan Bell, Florida Gulf Coast; Sam Thomas, Arizona.
AP Sports Writers Stephen Hawkins and Pat Eaton-Robb contributed to this story.
More AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25