Several firsts were established among this year's Specialty Award winners that were voted upon by the league's coaches, sports information directors and a select media panel. Five of the six individual honors went to four Universities for the first time in Conference USA history.
SMU junior KEENA MAYS swept the Player and Newcomer of the Year Awards, marking the second time this has happened in the league (Jareica Hughes, UTEP/2008). Mays, a transfer from Kansas, quickly established herself as a top contender for both accolades as she scored a career-high 33 points against Stephen F. Austin (Dec. 19) during her second game in a Mustang uniform. The All-C-USA first teamer closed out the regular season averaging 18.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.4 steals per game. She also scored in double digits in all but three games she played and had at least 20 points nine times. Mays ranks among the league's best in five categories, including No. 1 in 3-point field goal percentage (.410/59-114) and threes made per game (2.8). Her offensive production also ranked third-best in the conference as she was named C-USA Player of the Week four times (D23, J21, F4, F11).
East Carolina was picked to finish 11th in league play, but the Pirates captured the No. 2 seed in the upcoming C-USA Championship and Heather Macy was tabbed the Coach of the Year. The Pirates went 21-8 during the regular season and 11-5 in league action. ECU has recorded two 20-win seasons in 11 years in the league. Her team also won a program-best 14 home games.
Assisting Macy to these victories is C-USA's Sixth Player of the Year KRISTINE MIAL. The Springfield, Va., native came off the bench in 19 games after missing the first 10 with an injury. Mial contributes 9.3 ppg and 3.2 rebounds and had 19 steals. She led the Pirates in scoring three times and scored in double-figures on six occasions. Mial notched a career-best 20-point performance at Houston and recorded a double-double with 19 points and 12 rebounds against Southern Miss. Both the Coach and Sixth Player honors are a first for the East Carolina program as a member of C-USA.
Three-time All-C-USA first team and All-Defensive Team member JESSICA KUSTER of Rice picks up her first C-USA Defensive Player of the Year trophy. The San Antonio, Texas, native accounted for the league's only double-double average of the season as she posted 16.1 ppg and a league-leading 10.2 rpg. Kuster produced a C-USA best 14 double-doubles, six against league foes, to increase to career total to 41, eighth most in conference history. Kuster is one of two juniors in the NCAA to average a double-double the past three seasons. Middle Tennessee's Ebony Rowe is the other.
UCF's BRIAHANNA JACKSON was voted the league's Freshman of the Year after a stellar initial season. The 5-4 guard from Tampa, Fla., averaged 14.5 points per game, which ranked 11th in the league and topped the freshman class. Most impressively, Jackson broke a 15-year Conference USA freshman single-season steals record as she currently owns 98 on the season. The previous record of 94 was held by Dione Smith of USF (1997-98). She is one of nine players and the only freshman in the league to net a 30-point game this year as she scored a career-high 34-point against Missouri State. Jackson along with fellow All-C-USA Freshman team member Ariel Hearn were each named the league's rookie of the week three times.
The 2013 Conference USA Basketball Championships get underway on Wednesday, March 13. The women's first- and second-round games will be played at the Tulsa Convention Center while the men's games will take place at the BOK Center in downtown Tulsa. Fans can purchase tickets by calling 866-7-BOK-CTR (866-726-5287) or logging onto www.bokcenter.com.
2012-13 C-USA WOMEN'S BASKETBALL SPECIALTY AWARD WINNERS
Player of the Year
Keena Mays, Jr., G, SMU
Freshman of the Year
Briahanna Jackson, G, UCF
Defensive Player of the Year
Jessica Kuster, Jr., F, Rice
Sixth Player of the Year
Kristine Mial, Jr., F, East Carolina
Newcomer of the Year
Keena Mays, Jr., G, SMU
Coach of the Year
Heather Macy, East Carolina