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Thursday, March 28
Bird named AP's top player; Oldfield top coach

Associated Press

SAN ANTONIO -- Sue Bird, the cool, clever point guard who has helped bring Connecticut within two games of a perfect season, was honored Thursday as The Associated Press player of the year in women's basketball and also won the Wade Trophy for national player of the year.

Oldfield Named Coach of Year

Brenda Oldfield was picked as coach of the year after leading a remarkable turnaround in her first year at Minnesota, which had its first winning season since 1993-94.

Oldfield took the Minnesota job last spring after two seasons at Ball State, found a group of players who wanted to win and helped them do just that.

The Gophers finished 22-8 and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament. They were 11-5 in the Big Ten. Last season, Minnesota went 8-20 overall and 1-15 in the league. The Gophers' 11 Big Ten victories this season were three more than Minnesota had in the previous six years combined.

"Obviously, it's an exciting honor," Oldfield said."But the great thing about these honors is that it's a reflection of your team and staff. You don't receive awards without a commitment from your players, and I feel this is one of the most outstanding coaching staffs in the country."

Minnesota showed how far it had come under Oldfield when it defeated then-No. 5 Wisconsin at Madison on Jan. 20. The following day, Minnesota appeared in the Top 25 for the first time in almost 10 years. In their next home game, the Gophers drew a record crowd of 11,389.

Fans were buzzing about Minnesota women's basketball from then on.

"It really was one of the most special teams and seasons we've coached," Oldfield said."I'll always remember how hungry the players were to listen, to be coached, to be disciplined.

"They themselves had to bring so much to the table. They really made themselves accountable and worked hard."

Bird, a senior, was an overwhelming choice as AP Player of the Year by the 44-member national media panel that votes in the AP poll. Minnesota coach Brenda Oldfield edged Connecticut's Geno Auriemma, a three-time winner, for the coaching award

Bird, who averages 14.4 points and 6.0 assists per game for the Huskies, became UConnís third recipient of the Wade Trophy, which debuted in 1978 as the first-ever women's national player of the year award and is voted upon by the WBCA. Rebecca Lobo claimed the honor in 1994-95 while Jennifer Rizzotti was the Wade Trophy winner for 1995-96.

Bird is the fourth Connecticut player to earn AP player of the year, an award that started in 1995. UConn's Rebecca Lobo won it that first year and was followed by two more Connecticut players, Jennifer Rizzotti in 1996 and Kara Wolters in 1997.

Connecticut, which plays Tennessee in the Final Four on Friday night, has built a 37-0 record with near flawless offensive execution and relentless defense, and Bird is the one who gets it all started.

It's just that she'd prefer to do it without getting so much attention.

"Our team is more than one player," said Bird, also the leading vote getter on the AP All-America team."It's a team. That's why I have some trouble accepting individual awards."

Bird is a do-whatever-is-needed point guard, whether it's driving to the basket, hitting a 3-pointer, finding the teammate with the hot hand or guarding the opponent's best perimeter player.

"I'm the president of her fan club," Old Dominion coach Wendy Larry said. "She is such a great competitor. She wants the ball in her hands. She'll break your back if you're not paying attention to her."

Connecticut's victory over Old Dominion in the Mideast Regional final was Bird at her best. In the first 16 minutes, Bird scored 14 points and had eight of her team's 17 assists as the Huskies made 19 of their first 21 shots. She finished with a career-high 26 points and 11 assists.

In the three full seasons Bird has played, Connecticut reached the Final Four every year. In her one season cut short by a torn ACL, the Huskies were eliminated in the regional semifinals.

Connecticut has lost only nine games since Bird joined the team. Five of those losses came when she was out of the lineup.

"Every time I start to worry," Auriemma said,"I think to myself, 'Sue Bird is not going to let us lose.' "

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