With 1:28 remaining in the first quarter, redshirt junior guard Paige Bueckers momentarily exited the game after accidentally getting poked in the eye. Bueckers returned 160 seconds into the second quarter but picked up an apparent technical foul when she tangled with Shyanne Sellers on a rebound. From the moment Sellers buried two free throws with 4:58 left in the second quarter until halftime, the No. 8 UConn women’s basketball team nearly doubled their point total behind a 20-2 run.
That stretch pushed the Huskies from down three to up 15 by the break and set the tone in their 80-48 victory over the No. 20 Maryland Terrapins at Gampel Pavilion. UConn’s defense surrendered almost half as many points as they did in their loss against the now No. 14 NC State on Sunday without junior guard Azzi Fudd, who, earlier in the week, suffered a knee injury during practice and sat out Thursday night’s marquee matchup.
“Nobody is going to be Azzi [Fudd], but we can all do stuff that contributes to filling her void,” Bueckers said about the team stepping up despite their latest injury woe. “We have had it [that next man up mentality] throughout all my years here at UConn.”
Senior guard Nika Mühl started the scoring with a three-pointer from the left side, and even with Aaliyah Edwards picking up an offensive foul less than a minute in, the Huskies held their ground with a game-opening 7-0 run. Despite the early advantage, UConn’s missed several layups that prevented them from crossing double figures until the five-minute mark of the first quarter.
Those offensive struggles carried into the ensuing three minutes out of the media timeout, momentarily getting worse once Bueckers checked out with 88 seconds left on the clock. Graduate forward Aubrey Griffin ended the Huskies’ four-minute scoring drought on a jumper, but Maryland got the last word in the first quarter when Sellers knocked down the second-chance triple. Bueckers returned with her team down three early in the second, a deficit Connecticut faced until Edwards made two buckets in the paint that pulled the Huskies within one heading into the second quarter’s media timeout.
The referees gave Bueckers a technical foul in addition to Sellers’ second foul, but when Maryland could not capitalize on their extra possession, Edwards’ free throws and Ice Brady’s layup in the paint gave the Huskies the lead back. Those free throws sparked that explosive run with three freshmen on the court, putting the Terps in serious foul trouble and giving Connecticut a 42-27 lead at the break.
“[Bueckers] became that lightning rod that started the whole thing,” head coach Geno Auriemma noted about that first-half streak. “We had a lot of young guys that benefitted from the way Paige took over the game.”
Maryland guard Jakia Brown-Turner exceeded her team’s point totals from that nearly five-minute span from beyond the arc out of the gates in intermission, but even with Sellers’ one free throw, Connecticut remained ahead by double digits. Scoring the Huskies’ first points of the frame, Bueckers kept doing it all on both ends of the floor between a ferocious swat and a seamless assist on Griffin’s floater.
The Terrapin defense tightened up following a string of two media timeouts, gaining further momentum when Mühl collected her third foul in seven minutes and keeping UConn off the board across a three-minute window. Freshman guard Ashlynn Shade ended that drought before the end of the third quarter, putting the Huskies ahead 21 heading into the final frame.
Freshman guard KK Arnold continued her torrid second half with eight more points in the fourth, but outside of a Bueckers corner triple, the Huskies finished the job as they improved to 8-1 over Maryland all-time. Starting last year’s contest in College Park at the one, sophomore Ines Bettencourt got 105 seconds of game action as the Terrapins lost their second straight contest by 30+ points.
“I think we became a little bit better today,” Auriemma expressed after the game when assessing his team’s performance.
Scoring 10 points in the first half, Sellers finished with 16 overall on 4-13 shooting while Brown-Turner dropped 13 at a 4-17 clip despite hauling in seven boards. As a team, Maryland shot 25.9% from the field and got rejected at the rim nine times.
Despite their offensive struggles, which included shooting 37.5% from the field in the first quarter, UConn capitalized on Maryland’s 27 turnovers with 23 points off of them and 16 steals. The Huskies lost the rebound battle for the second straight game, but with no force like Saniya Rivers down the middle for the Terps, the frontcourt crashed the glass. Despite getting outrebounded 36-35 overall, Connecticut held the defensive edge 26-20 with 46 points in the paint compared to Maryland’s 18.
Griffin alone had a game-best 13 boards on top of her nine points and two assists. Three Huskies beyond Bueckers finished in double figures, each with 12 points collected in different fashion. The redshirt junior guard had 27 points in Connecticut’s loss against the Wolfpack on Sunday, but dropping 24 in front of a sold-out Gampel Pavilion crowd with six steals and two blocks left their opponent impressed.
“Paige [Bueckers] did what All-Americans do,” Maryland head coach Brenda Freese commented.
UConn goes from a home game in Storrs to Bueckers’ homecoming contest in Minnesota, when they face the Minnesota Golden Gophers (3-0) on Sunday. Although she played 63 combined minutes between the Final Four and national championship game in Minneapolis two seasons ago, the redshirt junior guard hopes to make the most of her time in her old stomping grounds.
“It is like a surreal feeling for me,” Bueckers explained. “I am so grateful for the program to be doing this for their seniors.”
Tip-off is at 5 p.m. EST on FS1.