COLUMBUS, Ohio - Gabby Williams has never been concerned with receiving individual honors during a four-year run with the UConn women’s basketball team.
But the Senior CLASS Award she got on Thursday figures to find a special place in the trophy case of her Sparks, Nevada, home.
“It means a lot to me because it’s something that’s beyond basketball, which we don’t always get recognized for,” Williams said. “It’s too bad it gets lost because there are so many athletes doing so many good things. Sometimes athletes struggle with showing that they’re more than athletes in a world that perceives them as just athletes. They’re capable of more and should be allowed to be capable of so much more. That needs to be recognized more.”
An acronym for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School, the Senior CLASS Award encourages students to use their platform in athletics to make a positive impact as leaders in their communities. To be eligible for the award, a student-athlete must have notable achievements in four areas of excellence: classroom, community, character and competition.
Williams is the fifth player from UConn to win the award, joining Breanna Stewart (2016), Stefanie Dolson (2014), Maya Moore (2011), and Sue Bird (2002).
“The University of Connecticut has done more for me than I’ve done for the University of Connecticut,” Williams said. “It has opened so many doors for me in the community and has enlightened me on all the ways I can have an impact on this world. I’ve just tried to represent it well by my actions.”
Williams to go out with her third national championship in four years. The unbeaten Huskies (36-0) take on Notre Dame in a NCAA Final Four semifinal game tonight at Nationwide Arena.
In 35 games this season - she missed one with a left hip injury - Williams is averaging 11.1 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.2, and 2.5 steals. A two-time All-American and a finalist for the Naismith Trophy and Wooden Award as national Player of the Year, she was named to the American Athletic Conference all-tournament team and was the Most Outstanding Player of the Albany Regional.
Her impact is felt in many ways.
“Gabby has had a huge influence on me,” UConn All-American Katie Lou Samuelson said. “She’s the person I go to when I’m down or need to talk to someone or just need some advice. She’s been great with me.
“One thing about Gabby that I appreciate is that she won’t shy away from telling you what you need to hear, even if it sometimes not the nicest or sweetest thing. It’s what you need. Like if I’m not outgoing or loud in practice she’ll tell me to cut it out. Of course, she’ll put it in other words.”
Voting for the award was done by coaches, national media, and fans.
Nurse never rests
When Kia Nurse arrived at UConn, she believed she would get good minutes by being a good defender. After 4,237 minutes in a Huskies’ uniform, the senior guard is considered the best in the country.
Nurse was named the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Defensive Player of the Year on Thursday. Earlier this month, she was named the AAC Defensive Player of the Year which made her eligible for national honors.
“She’s obviously deserving of it,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “She works exceptionally hard at it. And Kia works hard at it every day in practice, not just on game days. I couldn’t be happier for her.”
Nurse is the fourth UConn player in five years to win the honor that was first handed out in 2007, joining Williams (2017), Moriah Jefferson (2016), and Dolson (2014).
“Kia Nurse has been a consistent defensive force for her UConn team and has earned the highest respect from opposing coaches and players,” WBCA executive director Danielle Donehew said in a statement. “She is a gifted and hard-working student-athlete who has demonstrated determination, intensity, effort and teamwork at the highest level. We celebrate Kia and appreciate her contribution to her team as well as to the game of women’s basketball.”
For the second straight year, Williams and Samuelson were named to the WBCA All-America team.
It’s the sixth straight year that UConn has had at least two players honored but the first since 2013 it did not get three players on the squad.
Samuelson is averaging 17.5 points - shooting 53.1 percent from the floor, 47.4 percent from 3-point land, and 83.5 percent from the foul line, along with career highs of 4.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.0. She had her season high of 33 points against Duquesne on Dec. 22 and recorded her first career double-double with 18 points and 10 assists in UConn’s NCAA first-round win over Saint Francis of Pennsylvania. She was named the AAC Player of the Year and is a finalist for the Naismith Trophy and the Wooden Award as the national Player of the Year.
Rounding out the WBCA team are Teaira McCowan and Victoria Vivians of Mississippi State, Kalani Brown (Baylor), Asia Durr (Louisville), Sabrina Ionescu (Oregon), Kelsey Mitchell (Ohio State), Arike Ogunbowale (Notre Dame), and A’ja Wilson (South Carolina).
Wilson was named the Wade Trophy winner as WBCA Player of the Year and was also selected as the Associated Press Player of the Year.