Mount Rushmore, a list that would include Maya Moore, Breanna Stewart, and Diana Taurasi.— It has taken Paige Bueckers less than a season compared to some of the greatest players in Connecticut women’s basketball history. After scoring 24 points Sunday night during a victory over High Point — a team record for a Tournament game — associate head coach Chris Dailey I compared her to former Husky All-American guard Sue Bird. The bird would be a slam-dunk pick tn UConn’s
Bueckers (pronounced Beckers) is so talented inshe often appears to be playing effortlessly. Hitting 9 of her 13 shots from the field, primarily mid-range jumpers, there is little wonder she entered the season as the most heralded freshman in the game. “Her pull-up reminds me of Sue Bird,” said Dailey, filling in while head coach Geno Auriemma was out for . “Sue was automatic. She never missed. It’s the same for Paige. When she takes it, I feel pretty confident.”
Some questioned whether UConn (25-1) might stumble this season because its 12-player roster includes seven first-year students. The starting backcourt consists of Bueckers and fellow freshman Nika Muhl while freshman Aaliyah Edwards averages 21 minutes a game. Yet, the Huskies cruised into the Sweet 16 with ease. Bueckers (20 points, five rebounds, four assists) and Edwards (19 points, five rebounds, four assists) had nearly identical lines in UConn’s 83-47 rout of No 8 Syracuse in the Tuesday night. “We us,” Bueckers said, referring to the first-year students. “There’s seven of us, so we know we must step up for the . That’s been an ongoing story for us all year.”
UConn has enough good pieces to make a run for its 12th NCAA championship, but all eyes have been on Bueckers for a good reason. A 5-foot-11 point guard, she in three main categories: 19.9 points per game, 5.7 assists, and 2.3 steals. Bueckers’ season has already been rewarded. She has been named Big East player and freshman of the year and was named a first-team All-American by the Associated Press last week. She is on the shortlist for AP Player of the Year. “Absolutely,” basketball analyst Debbie Antonelli told the Hartford Courant. “She’ll win one or two or three.”
After his team won theago, Auriemma commented interestingly when asked what qualities Bueckers has to make her worthy of individual honors. “Name one player that’s done more. Let’s put it this way. Name one player that’s taken a team this young to where we are today,” said Auriemma. “Who’s done more than her? And if you can give me a better argument, then I’d say I’ll vote for them, too. But I don’t think you can.” The seeds of greatness were planted when Bueckers became a star in her hometown of Minnetonka, Minn. (population: 53,953), eight miles west of Minneapolis. She played on the high school’s junior varsity team when she was still in seventh grade. She grew four inches in the and earned a spot on the Hopkins High varsity team, averaging 9 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 2.1 assists. She was named to the Class 4A All-Tournament team after her team finished second in the state.
At UConn, Bueckers played some of her bestmost formidable opponents. In games against teams such as No. 1 seed , No. 3 seed Tennessee and No. 4 seed Arkansas, she averaged 22.3 points on 49% shooting (33.3 percent on 3s), 4.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 2.3 turnovers, and 3threesteals. “Paige aas another gear (when playing good teams),” Dailey said. “The more physical the game —and if she thinks she’s being fouled — the gear comes up quicker. When she reaches that gear, she’s hard to stop.” Auriemma has often said that Bueckers is too unselfish, passing up open shots to get her teammates more involved.
In one of her many outstanding plays on Sunday, Bueckers wdribbledthemidcourt when she fired a zip pass to junior guard Christyn Williams. The pass split between two High Point defenders, and Williams turned it into an easy layup. Bueckers raised her arms in triumph after Williams made the bucket. Williams pointed to her freshman teammate as they got back on defense. “I get nervous before every because this means so much to me,” Bueckers said. “I want to play well for my team. It or goes home. Our attitude all year is that we’re trying to win.” UConn has carried that attitude for a generation.