Believe it or not, there once was a time when Paige Bueckers was not a member of the UConn Women’s Basketball Program. But those days felt like a distant memory during Monday night’s instant classic battle with the No. 2 seed Baylor Bears that saw the fearless freshman score 28 of UConn’s 69 points to carry her team to a two-point victory. Head coach Geno Auriemma and the Huskies are now set to make their 13th straight Final Four appearance.
At the age of 19, Bueckers would have been forgiven for deferring to some of UConn’s more-than-capable upperclassmen in the biggest game of her life. Instead, with the entire country watching, she took the game by force and dominated from start to finish. Without ever leaving the game, Bueckers poured in a game-high 28 points on strong 10-22 shooting, with three steals added in for good measure. She was the best player on the floor
, and she earned her shining moment. “As a kid, I’d be outside shooting hoops envisioning these opportunities… you kind of dream of them,” she said.
After her performance against Baylor, Paige is now averaging 22.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.5 steals per-game through her first four tournament games. Her average points, rebounds and steals are all up from her regular season marks, and she is shooting 31-66 (47%) from the field and 7-18 (39%) from 3-point range thus far in the tournament.
What makes Bueckers’ performance so unusual is not that she led the team in scoring (she did that all season), but rather that for the first time in her 28-game career, she failed to register an assist. Prior to Monday’s game, Bueckers was averaging 6 assists-per-game in the tournament, identical to her team-leading season’s average. This game doesn’t mean that she sacrifices distribution for scoring, though. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Prior to Monday night, in the 13 career games Bueckers scored 20 or more points, she averaged an even better 7.1 assists per-game, with 5.1 in games when she scored fewer than 20 points.
According to Auriemma, Paige gave the team precisely what they needed. “Paige can sense the moment, like all great players. When it’s time, what’s needed in that time. What’s necessary. And she has the ability to fill that moment. Not everybody does,” he said.
Yet, despite already being so good, the most exciting thing about Bueckers’ career is how there’s so much of it left. And now, with Baylor in the rearview mirror, Paige and the Huskies will shift their focus to the two games of basketball still left to win. She hasn’t failed to deliver yet. Let’s see if she can keep it up.