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PROVIDENCE, R.I. – University of Connecticut junior guard Kia Nurse (Hamilton, Ont.) was named the American Athletic Conference Preseason Player of the Year as announced by the conference Monday. Sophomore Katie Lou Samuelson (Huntington Beach, Calif.) joins Nurse on the Preseason All-Conference First Team, while junior Gabby Williams (Sparks, Nev.) and sophomore Napheesa Collier (O’Fallon, Mo.) both claimed a spot on the Preseason All-Conference Second Team.
At the helm of 32-year head coach Geno Auriemma, the Huskies were unanimously chosen as the 2016-17 conference favorite, receiving 100 points and 10 first place votes in the Preseason Coaches’ Poll.
A 2015-16 All-Conference Third Team selection, Nurse was the only Husky to start in every game for UConn last season. She finished fifth on the team last year with 9.3 points per game and was one of four Huskies to accumulate at least 100 assists, finishing fourth on the team with 104 helpers. The Hamilton, Ont. native boasted double figures on 15 occasions last season, including a season-high and career-best tying 20 points against East Carolina on Feb. 6. Nurse, who predominantly shined last season against ranked opponents, competed for Team Canada in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Nurse was named to the 2017 Nancy Lieberman Award preseason watch list as announced by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Monday. Now in its seventeenth year, the award recognizes the top point guard in women’s NCAA Division I college Basketball. Nurse is one of 20 watch list candidates, who exhibit the leadership, play-making and ball-handling skills of Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman. The list of 20 will be narrowed to 10 mid-February and then to five finalists in March. The winner of the 2017 Lieberman Award will be announced at the NCAA Women’s Final Four in Dallas.
The 2015-16 ESPNw National Freshman of the Year, Samuelson played in 37 of UConn’s 38 games, starting in 21 of her last 22 appearances as a freshman. A 2015-16 American Athletic Conference All-Freshman Team selection, Samuelson led the team with 78 three-point field goals made, which marked the second-most three-point field goals made by UConn freshman. She finished fourth overall on the team, averaging 11.0 points per contest.
Williams saw action in all 38 contests and earned 12 starting assignments as a sophomore. She finished sixth on the team last season with 8.8 points per game and third in rebounds, averaging 5.6 per game. The Sparks, Nev. native shot a team-best 63.6 percent from the field and 75 percent from the free-throw line as a sophomore. Williams, who finished four double-doubles last year, started the 2015-16 season off with back-to-back double-doubles and was the first Husky to do since Rebecca Lobo in the 1994-95 season.
Collier joined Samuelson on the 2015-16 American Athletic Conference All-Freshman Team, appearing in all 38 games last season and earning nine starts in her rookie year. She finished seventh on the squad with 6.8 points per game, was fourth with 5.2 rebounds per game and tied Nurse for the fourth-most steals on the team with 50. The O’Fallon, Mo. native shot a solid 53.3 percent from the floor and a nearly-automatic 91.7 percent from the free-throw line.
Preseason Player of the Year
Kia Nurse, Jr., G, UConn
Preseason All-Conference First Team
Katie Lou Samuelson, So., G/F, UConn
Kia Nurse, Jr., G, UConn
Kitija Laska, So., F, USF
Alliya Butts, Jr., G, Temple*
Feyonda Fitzgerald, Sr., G, Temple
Kolby Morgan, Jr., G, Tulane
2016-17 Preseason Coaches’ Poll
UConn (10*) 100
USF (1) 86
East Carolina 49
* Denotes unanimous pick
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