Kentucky's Rhyne Howard, four UConn players highlight women's preseason Wooden Award candidates

Four UConn players, including two who have yet to make their NCAA debut for the Huskies, highlight the list of 30 women's college basketball preseason candidates for the 2021 Wooden Award that was announced Tuesday.

Juniors Christyn Williams and Olivia Nelson-Ododa, redshirt junior Evina Westbrook, a transfer who sat out 2019-20 after two seasons at Tennessee, and freshman Paige Bueckers lead a UConn team that is ranked No. 3 in this week's AP Top 25 and looks to extend its NCAA-record streak of 12 consecutive Final Four appearances.

The Huskies are in a 14-day quarantine and haven't played a game yet, canceling the first three contests on their schedule after someone affiliated with the program tested positive for COVID-19. UConn's first game is expected to be Dec. 15 against Butler at Gampel Pavilion.

Kentucky junior Rhyne Howard, one of five finalists for the 2020 award, also headlines the list, but is waiting to play her first game of the season. The Wildcats are 2-0 but Howard missed both games, suspended for "not upholding the standards of the program." An Associated Press first-team All-American and ESPN's pick as the front-runner for national player of the year, Howard is expected to make her debut Thursday when Kentucky travels to Kansas State.

No. 1 South Carolina, which is 3-0, put two players on the list: sophomores Aliyah Boston and Zia Cooke. Twenty-five of the 30 players on the preseason list are juniors or seniors; Mississippi State's Rickea Jackson and Kansas State's Ayoka Lee were the only other sophomores. Bueckers is the lone freshman on the list.

Arkansas (seniors Chelsea Dungee and Destiny Slocum), Stanford (junior Lexie Hull and senior Kiana Williams) and Syracuse (seniors Kiara Lewis and Tiana Mangakahia) were the only other schools with multiple players on the initial Wooden list. Mangakahia is back on the court this season after being diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in June 2019.

Oregon's Sabrina Ionescu won the Wooden Award in 2019 and 2020. She was selected No. 1 by the New York Liberty in April's WNBA draft.

The Wooden award preseason top 30 list:

  • Aliyah Boston, South Carolina, 6-5, sophomore, forward

  • Paige Bueckers, UConn, 5-11, freshman, guard

  • Charli Collier, Texas, 6-5, junior, forward/center

  • Zia Cooke, South Carolina, 5-9, sophomore, guard

  • Elissa Cunane, NC State, 6-5, junior, center

  • Rennia Davis, Tennessee, 6-2, senior, guard/forward

  • Chelsea Dungee, Arkansas, 5-11, senior, guard

  • Dana Evans, Louisville, 5-6, senior, guard

  • Vivian Gray, Texas Tech, 6-1, senior, guard

  • Arella Guirantes, 5-11, senior, guard

  • Naz Hillmon, Michigan, 6-2, junior, forward

  • Rhyne Howard, Kentucky, 6-2, junior, guard

  • Lexie Hull, Stanford, 6-0, junior, guard

  • Rickea Jackson, Mississippi State, 6-2, sophomore, forward

  • Ashley Joens, Iowa State, 6-0, junior, guard/forward

  • N'dea Jones, Texas A&M, 6-2, senior, forward

  • Ayoka Lee, Kansas State, 6-6, sophomore, center

  • Kiara Lewis, Syracuse, 5-8, senior, guard

  • Tiana Mangakahia, Syracuse, 5-6, senior, guard

  • Aari McDonald, Arizona, 5-6, senior, guard

  • Olivia Nelson-Ododa, UConn, 6-5, junior, forward

  • Michaela Onyenwere, UCLA, 6-0, senior, forward

  • Ali Patberg, Indiana, 5-11, senior, guard

  • Lindsey Pulliam, Northwestern, 5-10, senior, guard

  • Destiny Slocum, Arkansas, 5-7, senior, guard

  • NaLyssa Smith, Baylor, 6-2, junior, forward

  • Unique Thompson, Auburn, 6-3, senior, forward

  • Evina Westbrook, UConn, 6-0, junior, guard

  • Christyn Williams, UConn, 5-11, junior, guard

  • Kiana Williams, Stanford, 5-8, senior, guard