Griffin named Big 12 Player of the Year

Lincoln - Nebraska senior Kelsey Griffin became the first Husker to win Big 12 Player-of-the-Year honors when the league announced the coaches' selection for the conference's top award on Monday afternoon.

Griffin, a 6-2 power forward from Eagle River, Alaska, has produced one of the best senior seasons in Nebraska history in 2009-10, averaging 20.4 points and a Big 12-leading 10.4 rebounds per game. She has led No. 3 Nebraska to the first perfect regular season by a Big 12 men's or women's team since the inception of the league in 1996-97, powering the Huskers to a 29-0 overall record and a 16-0 conference mark.

The Wade, Naismith and Wooden Award candidate is also a finalist for the 2010 Lowe's Senior CLASS Award has continued to improve throughout her career at Nebraska because of her tireless work ethic and her infectious team-first attitude.

"It's a great honor to be selected by the coaches as the Big 12 Player of the Year," Griffin said. "The Big 12 is one of the best conferences in the country, so to be named the player of the year in a conference is filled with so many great players is really an extraordinary honor.

"I know it's an individual award, but to me, this award is more about my teammates. I could not have achieved this award without the players on this team. There are so many great players around me that have delivered the ball to me in great positions all year along. Vonnie (Turner) and Cory (Montgomery) have spaced the floor so well for us this year, because they are such great players. Nicole (Neals) and Kala (Kuhlmann) have gotten me the ball all season long, and Dominique (Kelley) and Lindsey (Moore) are great players who have made our team so much better in so many ways this year."

The three-time first-team All-Big 12 selection was at her best in conference action, averaging 21.4 points and 10.6 rebounds in 30 minutes per game, while adding 29 steals and 15 blocked shots. She also dished out 35 assists while committing just 28 turnovers in league play, despite facing constant double and triple teams by opponents.

On Monday, Griffin also became the first player in Big 12 history to win four consecutive Big 12 Player-of-the-Week honors. She was named the Big 12 Player of the Week six times this season, including awards on Feb. 15, Feb. 22, March 1 and March 8.

Griffin leads the Big 12 with 17 double-doubles on the season, and she also leads the Huskers with 23 charges drawn on the year, while adding 54 steals and 21 blocked shots to go along with 205 defensive rebounds. Her efforts on defense this season earned Griffin one of five spots on the Big 12's All-Defensive Team.

"I have said for a couple of years that Kelsey Griffin is the best offensive player I have ever coached," Nebraska Coach Connie Yori said. "This year I can say that Kelsey is the best player I have ever coached because she has put in the work to make herself one of the best defensive players in the country as well. She doesn't just block shots, or doesn't just get steals, she does both of those things and she rebounds and has the knowledge and talent to get into position to take charges."

Yori said Griffin's work ethic from her first day on campus, set Griffin apart from most players and allowed the lightly recruited Alaskan to turn into a legitimate candidate for national player of the year.

"There is no one more deserving of Big 12 Player-of-the-Year honors than Kelsey Griffin, and I think it is terrific that the outstanding coaches in our league recognize how valuable Kelsey is to our team and how great of a player she is," Yori said. "Great example of why recruiting is not an exact science. From the moment she walked on campus, she has set herself apart in her work ethic to make herself the best player that she can be, and that has been a daily process for her."

Griffin credits Yori and the Husker staff for her improvement throughout her five-year career in Lincoln.

"I am so thankful to have had so many great coaches working with me every day for the last five years, who not only care about me as a player, but that genuinely care about me as a person and want me to get better every day not only as a player, but also off the court to be the best person I can become."

Griffin, who is a candidate the Wade and Naismith trophies and the Wooden Award, is also a finalist for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award and is a three-time first-team academic All-Big 12 candidate.

"Kelsey not only represents our program well on the court, but she also does an incredible job of representing our program in a positive fashion," Yori said. "It is great to see someone who is not only a great player, but who is also a great person win the award."

Griffin said earning Big 12 Player-of-the-Year honors was the farthest thing from her mind when she arrived at Nebraska as a freshman in the summer of 2005.

"Coming to Nebraska out of high school from Alaska five years ago, I never imagined this would be possible," Griffin said. "Actually, I never even imagined that I would be All-Big 12, let alone a player-of-the-year candidate. There have been so many great players in the conference during my time here, from Sophia Young to Courtney Paris over the past few years, and then this year with Danielle McCray at Kansas, Andrea Riley at Oklahoma State, Alison Lacey at Iowa State and even Brittney Griner at Baylor. They are all amazing players and just to be mentioned on the same team with them is an honor for me.

"This award though is less about me, and more about what the players around me have done to make us all better this year. My teammates have put me in position to succeed and they have put our team in a position to win every game."

Griffin was joined in Nebraska's Big 12 hardware haul on Monday by senior teammates Cory Montgomery and Yvonne Turner, who both claimed first-team All-Big 12 honors for the first times in their careers. Turner was also named the Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year while earned a spot on the Big 12 All-Defensive Team for the third straight season.

Junior guard Dominique Kelley earned honorable-mention All-Big 12 accolades, while point guard Lindsey Moore claimed a spot on the Big 12 All-Freshman Team.

Griffin, who ranks among the top 20 players in the nation in scoring, rebounding and field goal percentage, has climbed to No. 4 on Nebraska's career scoring list (1,939 points) and No. 3 in career rebounding (967). She enters this week's Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City, Mo., on the brink of becoming one of fewer than 125 players in NCAA history to reach 2,000 points and 1,000 career rebounds. She would join 1993 Wade Trophy winner Karen Jennings as the only Huskers to ever accomplish the feat.

"I do believe that I have played a role in our success. I have worked really hard every practice and every offseason to improve. This year, I really focused on my perimeter shooting to help stretch the defense away from the basket," Griffin said. "But a lot of my teammates made huge improvements this year. Whether I was on this team or not, they were going to be better this year than last year because they have all worked so hard and taken the offseason to heart. The reason we have been successful is that we all know we are better than we have ever been, and our confidence has grown because of our commitment and love for one another."

Nebraska will continue its season in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals on Friday, March 12, at 11 a.m. The top-seeded Huskers will play the winner of the first-round game between No. 8 seed Texas Tech and No. 9 seed Kansas State. Nebraska's game will be televised live nationally by FSN from Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo.

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