Women’s Basketball: No. 8 Huskies struggle to victory in Bueckers’ homecoming

UConn forward Aaliyah Edwards (3) goes up for a shot during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Minnesota, Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

Aside from the numerous championships and accolades, one of the special things about being a UConn women’s basketball player is having the opportunity to play one game close to home as a senior. Coach Geno Auriemma specially organizes one away matchup for every senior near their hometown so that they can play in front of their family. On Sunday, it was Paige Bueckers’ turn.

The guard came into UConn in 2020, touted as a generational prospect who would take the Huskies out of their four-year title drought. Thanks to injuries and a number of other factors, things haven’t quite turned out the way she envisioned. Regardless, it was a special moment for Bueckers to come back home, playing against undefeated, yet overmatched, Minnesota.

The Huskies didn’t bring their A-game, only winning 62-44. They played just one complete quarter, letting the Golden Gophers hang around the rest of the time. UConn’s offense left much to be desired, with nothing clicking consistently. The two teams combined for nine three pointers and 25 turnovers. Sunday’s effort won’t be enough to keep up with the nation’s elite, but it was a win nonetheless.

Connecticut got off to a sloppy start, but fortunately for them, so did Minnesota. Neither team was able to get anything going on the scoreboard. It was partially the result of solid defense, but much more poor offense.

Aaliyah Edwards dropped a couple of passes from her point guards, as she had trouble producing her typical output. While Bueckers scored a few early buckets, there was largely a lid on both cups. Minnesota airballed threes on consecutive possessions, a perfect encapsulation of how the quarter went. Connecticut led 11-9 at the end of the frame, not exactly what the analysts predicted.

Edwards’ game was a mixed bag, with her sputtering out of the gate. She had two of UConn’s 11 first quarter points, a stretch that was not one to remember for anyone. The 10 she scored in the middle two periods were better, and she tacked on nine boards to her final total of 16. Edwards didn’t feast on Minnesota’s frontcourt as many may have expected, but she still put together a decent game on the statsheet.

There was slightly more scoring in the second, as Edwards started to wake up offensively. The Gophers began to hit a few more of their triples, including a pair from Grace Grocholski, but Bueckers kept the Huskies ahead with some tough midrange makes.

Minnesota guard Janay Sanders, center, works toward the basket as UConn guard Caroline Ducharme (33) and guard Paige Bueckers, right, defend during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

Bueckers, playing in her homecoming game, had a solid effort. She recorded 12 points, eight rebounds and four assists, missing many of the attempts she normally converts on. The shooting line for her was unusually dismal, going 4-12 and 0-5 from downtown. The encouraging thing about games like these is that it likely won’t get worse, a good omen for this weekend’s tougher slate.

UConn was the better team, but the number of bunnies they missed kept Minnesota within striking range. Connecticut was only up three going into the locker room, their second-straight disappointing away half.

Minnesota’s Amaya Battle, who is also Bueckers’ former high school teammate, began to find her aggression, hitting a pair from the elbow. Battle’s success was short-lived, as Edwards and Nika Mühl extended the Husky advantage to eight early in the half.

This all came as Caroline Ducharme continued her mighty struggles, with a few missed layups and a free throw. She hasn’t had the start that anyone imagined, looking like a completely different player than the one that thrived her freshman year. It could be a result of the set of hits to the head she sustained last year, but it’s been unfortunate for all involved to not have her reaching her potential.

Ice Brady nailed a jumper from the free throw line and Mühl converted on UConn’s first three-pointer of the game, helping add to a 14-0 run over a six minute span. After showing signs of life in the second period, the Golden Gophers’ offense went radio silent in the third. They managed just six points in the period.

Adding insult to injury, KK Arnold grabbed a steal with three seconds left, covered the length of the floor and drilled a three-point floater as time expired. It was a great momentum play for the Huskies going into the break to cap off a dominant frame.

Qadence Samuels checked into the game at the start of the fourth and it made many wonder what took so long. She made some hustle plays and looked like she belongs firmly in the rotation. A low-scoring conclusion with a few really poor misses gave the Huskies an 18 point win, as the contest stumbled to the finish line.

Up next for Connecticut is the Cayman Islands Classic, where they’ll face off against No. 3 UCLA and Kansas.

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