SAN ANTONIO — Tina Charles sat next to Maya Moore at the AP Awards ceremony Saturday fully expecting to congratulate her teammate on winning another trophy.
UConn’s star center was completely shocked when she ended up being the one picking up the award.
“I loved her reaction because it was so genuine,” Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said. “Now she’s going into this weekend thinking I’m getting recognized for what I’ve done.”
Charles got 33 of the votes from the 40-member national media panel that selects the weekly Top 25 to earn The Associated Press player of the year honor. Nebraska’s Connie Yori was voted the AP’s coach of the year.
Charles, who holds both the career scoring and rebounding record for Connecticut’s powerhouse program, has been the anchor in the middle for the Huskies during their NCAA record 76-game winning streak. However, her low expectations were understandable. Moore won this award as a sophomore last season and, earlier Saturday, Moore picked up her second straight Wade Trophy as the top player in women’s college basketball.
“For this day to end the way it did for Tina is absolutely perfect,” Auriemma said. “No one deserves it more.”
Auriemma brought the entire team to the ceremony without saying why they were there. The surprise and being surrounded by her teammates made the honor even more special for Charles.
“I want to thank all the individuals who pushed me, all the individuals who told me to keep doing it,” said a beaming Charles.
Moore finished second in the balloting with four votes. She said she’s seen Charles grow since the NCAA tournament last year, “the way she dominated and the way she played with that attitude.”
“She’s relentless and got us really excited and I was confident what she was going to do for us,” Moore said. “She came through 100 percent and then some.”
Charles credits Moore with her success this season.
“When you see someone succeeding that’s something you want to be part of,” Charles said. “That’s even more rewarding. She’s outstanding at practice and pushes me, always challenging me and teaching me what it is to compete.”
Charles is the seventh UConn player to win award. She averaged 18.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, and shot 63.5 percent from the field to help UConn move within two victories of becoming the first team ever to go undefeated in consecutive seasons.
UConn’s stellar senior will have her name hang high above the Gampel Pavilion court in Storrs, Conn., with past winners Rebecca Lobo, Kara Wolters, Diana Taurasi, Jennifer Rizzotti, Moore, and Sue Bird.
Yori guided Nebraska on one of the biggest turnarounds in NCAA history, going from 15-16 last season to winning their first 30 games before losing in the Big 12 tournament semifinals, then reached the regional semifinals for the first time in school history.
“This season has been a perfect storm,” Yori said. “You’ve got a lot of things that fell into place for us.”
Her team went from being picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 to having a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
“It’s more than just about the season,” she added. “This has been the culmination of a lot of hard work by a lot of people — the coaching staff, players past and present. They deserve all the accolades that have come their direction as well.”
Yori became the first Big 12 coach to win the award, which has been given out since 1995. She received 28 votes while Auriemma got 10. Pat Summitt of Tennessee and Rizzotti of Hartford each got a vote.