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Game Preview: Paige Bueckers is just getting started
The sophomore still isn't 100 percent, but that didn't stop her from being one of UConn’s most impactful players in the Huskies’ win over Georgetown.
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How to watch
Date: Sunday, March 6
Time: 3:00 p.m. EST
Location: Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, CT
Radio: UConn Sports Network (97.9 ESPN and affiliates)
Marquette Golden Eagles
Record: 21-9 (13-7 Big East)
Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Head coach: Megan Duffy (third season)
Paige Bueckers is just getting started
When UConn went through its penultimate warmup session before tip-off against Georgetown on Saturday, Bueckers came out with her game shorts on backwards. When she eventually realized her mistake, she looked down and laughed.
“It’s been a while,” Bueckers said.
But aside from the minor mishap with her shorts, Bueckers didn’t look like someone in just her third game back from a knee injury that sidelined her nearly three months in the Huskies’ 84-38 win over Georgetown in the Big East Tournament Quarterfinals. The sophomore led the Huskies with 16 points on 6-9 shooting (and 4-5 from three) to go with five rebounds and four assists — all in just 18 minutes.
“Paige is still Paige,” Christyn Williams said postgame. “You saw today.”
But if the last week is any indication, Bueckers’ performance on Saturday is only the beginning for her. Although she’s in the early stages of her return and remains on an unofficial minutes restriction, Bueckers still managed to be one of UConn’s most effective players in the win.
“It's hard to say exactly where she is on that timeline,” Geno Auriemma said. “On a scale of 1-to-10, last year she was at a 10 most of the season. So I really don't know how close she is. I know she's not there yet.”
After starting in the regular season finale last Sunday, Bueckers came off the bench in the Big East Tournament opener — though that probably won’t be anything permanent.
“It's probably something different for her coming off the bench — not that that's going to be how we're going to do it going forward,” Auriemma said.
Bueckers entered the game with 4:48 in the first quarter and picked up a pair of assists and a steal. But she only took one shot before she returned to the sidelines after roughly three minutes. The coach didn’t like what he saw from the sophomore.
“I just think that when Paige doesn't score, doesn't shoot, doesn't get involved in a game, it’s her choice. I don’t think the defense is doing anything to keep her from doing that. So it's a choice that she's making,” Auriemma said.
“Most of the time, I don't agree with it. I let her know about it. That’s why sometimes I'll put her in there and I'll watch for about two or three minutes and I’ll get her out. I’m like, ‘The wrong Paige showed up today.’ So I need to remind her we need the other Paige.”
Auriemma got his wish. In the second quarter, the “other Paige” arrived. Though she missed her next two shots, Bueckers quickly found her groove and nailed a pair of 3-pointers before the half — her first triples since returning from injury. After the break, she caught fire and scored 10 of her 16 points while hitting all four shots she took — including a pair from beyond the arc — during the second half.
In case anyone forgot, Bueckers reminded the world why she won national player of the year last season.
“You look at a game like today, she makes threes, she rebounds the ball, she has four assist, gets a couple of steals,” Auriemma said. “She impacts the game in so many different ways.”
Bueckers is still in the early stages of her comeback. So if she can perform at the level she did on Saturday without being 100 percent, what will she look like on Monday? At the start of the NCAA Tournament? In the Elite Eight?
The potential impact of a fully-healthy Bueckers down the road is tantalizing for UConn — and Auriemma can’t stop thinking about it.
“To be able to add somebody like that to your team, I think that's pretty significant,” he said. “Not very many people are going to be able to do that at this time of year.”
UConn and Marquette twice in the span of 10 days in February this season. On Feb. 13 in Milwaukee, the Huskies trailed by two entering the fourth quarter but out-scored the Golden Eagles 27-11 over the final 10 minutes to earn a 72-58 win. When they faced off again at Gampel Pavilion, UConn cruised to a 69-38 win to claim the Big East regular season title.
Scouting the Golden Eagles
By the numbers
91.5 — Her Hoop Stats gives UConn a 91.5 percent chance to beat Marquette and advance to the Big East championship game.
15.7 — The Huskies are projected to win by 15.7 points with a final score of 69.9-54.1.
25 — UConn has won its last 25 conference tournament games dating back to the 2013 Big East Tournament final.