STORRS, Conn. -- The target on the back of the University of Connecticut women's basketball team is always there and always seems to be growing.
But with returning WBCA All-Americans Gabby Williams, Napheesa Collier, and Katie Lou Samuelson taking up three of the five spots on the Associated Press preseason All-America team announced Tuesday, has that target extended to the backs of the Huskies' trio?
"I would yes, but being here at UConn ... Every player on this team has a target on their back," Samuelson said. "Every player wants to beat you. Every fan, but ours, wants to see us lose. It comes with being here. But if you're a competitor like I am you want to embrace that. I'm excited to see what this team can do. I know my teammates have my back so I don't worry about that stuff."
It's the first time in AP history that the five-player preseason team has three from one school. Collier and Samuelson were first-team picks last March following their sophomore seasons while Williams was a second-team selection as a junior.
Rounding out the preseason team were South Carolina senior A'ja Wilson, a two-time AP first-team All-American, and Ohio State senior Kelsey Mitchell, a second-team choice last season.
"I don't really try to think about that stuff because it doesn't mean anything if I'm not performing," Collier said. "I try to work on team stuff rather than focusing on accolades."
Wilson was the only unanimous selection. Mitchell was on 31-of-32 ballots, while Samuelson was on 30, Collier 26, and Williams 17.
UConn redshirt junior Azura Stevens received one vote. Also getting votes were Lexie Brown (Duke) 6; Victoria Vivians (Mississippi State) 5; Kalani Brown (Baylor) 4; Kristine Anigwe (California) 3; Jordin Canada (UCLA) 2; Brooke McCarty (Texas) 1; Morgan William (Mississippi State) 1; and Shakayla Thomas (Florida State) 1.
Last year's preseason team included Wilson, Mitchell, Washington's Kelsey Plum, Notre Dame's Brianna Turner, and Baylor's Nina Davis. Plum ended up being the consensus national Player of the Year as a senior. Turner, who is out this season after having knee surgery last spring, was a second-team pick last season while Davis was not named to any of three AP postseason teams.
Not only were none of the three UConn All-American chosen for preseason honors a year ago, only Samuelson was a preseason first-team pick in the American Athletic Conference. Collier and Williams were voted to the all-league second team.
"One of the things that came up (Saturday) about being a preseason All-American is that they're perfect examples of how little it means because none of them were last year," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "Yet at the end of the season they were. So somebody that was picked at the beginning of the season wasn't at the end. I think they understand that a lot of things that are done are done on your reputation and then you have to earn it again that year. I think they will.
"They all want to get better. They want to be better. Whether that leads to another All-American season or not ... Whatever happens, the three of them know that they're good, they know what they're good at, and I don't think -- and this may sound funny -- that the three of them are going to be the reason whether or not we ultimately win a national championship. They're going to do what they do. But it's probably going to be what we get from the other places that will determine it. I'm confident that the three of them are going to be there every night. That's what they do."
Williams averaged career bests of 14.3 points, 8.4 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 2.7 steals, and 1.4 blocked shots as a junior. The Sparks, Nevada, native shot 57.7 percent from the floor and recorded the fifth triple-double in Huskies' history against East Carolina on Jan. 24. She reached the 1,000-point plateau against Temple Feb. 22. She was honored by the AAC and the WBCA as their Defensive Player of the Year. She was the only UConn player named to the all-tournament teams at the AAC tournament, the NCAA Bridgeport Regional, and the Final Four.
Samuelson, a native of Huntington Beach, California, shared the 2017 AAC Co-Player of the Year honor with Collier as she averaged 20.2 points on 48.6 percent shooting from the floor, 3.9 rebounds, and 3.2 assists as a sophomore. She reached 1,000 points on Feb. 27 against USF and on March 6 in the AAC tournament final against the Bulls, set a NCAA record by going 10-for-10 from 3-point land in a career high 40-point performance that earned her Most Outstanding Player honors.
In being named the 2017 AAC Co-Player of the Year, Collier led the league in scoring (20.4), field-goal percentage (67.8), and blocked shots (2.1) while also ranking third in rebounds (9.1). The St. Charles, Missouri, resident recorded 16 double-doubles and joined UConn's 1,000-point club on March 27 in its win over Oregon when she was named the NCAA Bridgeport Regional Most Outstanding Player. She had a career high 39 points against South Florida on Feb. 27. In October, she was chosen as the AAC Preseason Player of the Year.
"I feel honored to get picked as an All-American," Collier said. "But you have to prove it throughout the year so I work on the things that I need to work on to get better and help the team get better."
Wilson was the Most Outstanding Player of the 2017 Final Four in Dallas as she led South Carolina to victories over Stanford and Mississippi State for its first national championship. She averaged 17.9 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.6 blocked shots as a junior.
Mitchell averaged 22.6 points and 3.9 assists as a junior as Ohio State reached the NCAA Sweet 16. She enters her final season with 2,553 points and with 368 career 3-pointers is 30 short of matching the NCAA record for threes held by former UConn All-American Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis.
UConn was a unanimous choice by the AP voting board as the nation's No. 1 team. The Huskies return four starters -- Williams, Collier, Samuelson, and Kia Nurse -- and top reserve Crystal Dangerfield. Stevens and Batouly Camara are eligible after sitting out last year due to NCAA transfer rules. They've also added a top-three recruiting class led by 2017 high school Player of the Year Megan Walker.
Their regular season opener is Sunday against No. 10 Stanford at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, part of the Countdown to Columbus event.