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UConn WBB Weekly: How Paige Bueckers stacks up to Husky greats in Geno’s own words

The Huskies’ head coach has heaped a mountain of praise on his star freshman, but how does that compare up to what he said about program greats?

NCAA Womens Basketball: DePaul at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the UConn WBB Weekly, a recap of everything that happened in the world of UConn women’s basketball over the past week.

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In the news

First NET rankings unveiled

The first-ever women’s basketball NET rankings were released on Monday with UConn coming in at No. 2. The NET (NCAA Evaluation Tool) replaced RPI as a way for the NCAA Tournament selection committee to rank teams. From The Next:

Unlike its predecessor, NET places its weight on specifics including adjusted net efficiency and team value index, figures that work in tandem in order to determine a team’s overall performance in relation to other teams. It also considers factors such as game location, wherein a team will be more highly rated if it beats the same team on the road or at a neutral site versus at home.

Stanford came in at No. 1 while Baylor, Oregon and South Carolina rounded out the top five.

Huskies sweep weekly awards

UConn continues to dominate the Big East’s weekly honors. Olivia Nelson-Ododa claimed the conference Player of the Week award thanks to her 16-point, 14-rebound effort against DePaul while Paige Bueckers was named Freshman of the Week for the third time with 18 points, six rebounds and four steals in the win.


How Paige Bueckers stacks up to Husky greats in Geno’s own words

Paige Bueckers is the best freshman in the country. That much has been obvious from watching her play in UConn’s first six games and is underscored by her stat line of 18.2 points, 5.2 assists, 6.0 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game.

“Listen, I’m not boasting. But if I talked to every single coach in America and they told you, they’d rather have their freshmen than Paige, I would tell you they’re only saying that to be nice to their own players,” Auriemma said. “Because there’s things that they’ve seen Paige do that no other freshmen can do.”

Arguably the most impressive features of Bueckers’ game can’t be quantified by a stat, though. Despite only being in the earliest stages of her UConn career, Bueckers plays like a seasoned veteran. Very little rattles her on the court and any mistakes she does make don’t seem to affect her play at all.

She plays with such confidence — yet very little ego — that Auriemma doesn’t even think of her as a freshman anymore. In fact, he’s not afraid to put the weight of the entire team on her shoulders.

“[I tell her], ‘Paige, if you play like a freshman, we’re gonna lose. So, no pressure or anything and I don’t want you to, like, not sleep good at night. But I’m telling you right now, if you play like a freshman, we’re gonna lose. So how do you feel? You okay with that?’ And the look on her face is like, ‘Well, why would I expect anything different.?’ So with some freshmen, you can treat them like juniors and seniors. And that’s how I treat Paige. So, in my mind, there isn’t anything Paige can’t do on the court.”

The scariest part — at least for the rest of the country — is that Bueckers is still only scratching the surface of her vast, vast potential. Though she’s already won the Big East Freshman of the Week three times and made the the Wooden Award Midseason Watch List, Auriemma knows Bueckers has the talent to be the best player in the country — and he expects it won’t take long for her to reach that level.

“If Paige practices every practice like it’s a game and there’s five minutes left and it’s tied, then I would tell you she’d win National Player of the Year. But she’s not there yet,” he said. “She doesn’t know how to do that yet. So there’s a lot of growing that she has to do in terms of how to sustain something for two hours. How to sustain something for 40 minutes. How to keep that concentration level at that level for 40 minutes — not just in a close game, not just in a tight spot. And that will happen soon. And when it does...”

Auriemma trailed off, but further underlining his message. While none of those ideas were out of left field — Bueckers was the No. 1 recruit in her class, after all and was also regarded as one of the best high school prospects in recent memory — it was a bit surprising to hear it from Auriemma himself, especially this early in her career.

The coach is better known for his sharp tongue and sarcasm-laced comments instead of glowing endorsements like these. That’s not to say Auriemma never praises his players — he does when the time and occasion call for it — but it’s rare for him to speak this highly of a freshmen.

However, when it’s come to Bueckers, that praise has been closer to the norm than the exception. Before she’d even arrived on campus, Auriemma was asked what he’d say about her at the end of her freshman year.

“I am going to be saying, ‘You know what, we wouldn’t have won the national championship without her,’” he said. “That is what I am going to say. By herself she can’t win anything. But with the people I think we are going to surround her with, I think we can do great things.”

Since Bueckers has joined the team, Auriemma’s highlighted her down-to-earth personality, described her as a five-tool player, pressed her to shoot more and taken every possible opportunity to tell people that she’s “really good.”

Because of that mountain of praise, we dug through the archives to look back at how Auriemma talked about some of the other great freshmen that have come through the program:

Breanna Stewart

Prior to the season: “I don’t know what to expect from Breanna...I just know Breanna is going to be really good. How good, I don’t know. But she is going to be really good. If she plays like I believe she is capable.

“...I don’t want Breanna to think that she needs to be the one to get us over the hump to win the national championship. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t...But I just think she has the opportunity to be a good as anyone we’ve ever brought here. And that in itself says a lot.” (Source)

Ahead of UConn’s matchup with Stanford: “She doesn’t even know how she scores. So it’s probably best to let her figure it out. She takes a lot of shots, and she makes a lot of them. And guys who shoot a lot, make a lot and score a lot of points.” (Source)

Maya Moore

After an exhibition game against Team USA: “What she doesn’t know are things that can be taught. What she already does well you can’t teach. She has a nose for the ball and she has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. She wants to shoot and she can get her own shot. Every possession she wants to be involved. You can’t teach that. We saw enough to see that it’s only going to get better and better.” (Source)

After Moore scored 31 points in her first career game: “She just has the knack for being around the ball. It doesn’t really matter what position she plays, she’s always in the right position to make a play. She just has that gift. I think in that respect that I’m not entirely surprised. The only thing we can be surprised at is how quickly it happened; in just one half of a basketball game she can create that many opportunities. It’s hard to do.”

I don’t think it’s that hard to get the ball to someone who’s open all the time. Even if they aren’t looking for her, they have to give it to her because she’s always open. And she never misses. Other players out there miss easy lay-ups. That’s what drives me nuts about women’s basketball: these guys miss lay-ups. She never misses those easy shots.” (Source)

In late November: “I think Maya Moore can be an All-American this year.” (Source)

Tina Charles

After UConn’s second game: “She tries hard and you can’t fault her for that. She gets a lot of opportunities. I hate to think how many points she will start making when she stops making mistakes. I thought she did well for playing in only her second game. She was good. I don’t think she had to rebound for much. It’s only her second college game. To expect her to play like that every night is a little unrealistic. It’s a good game for her early in the season. She’s determined to be a really good player. Her goal is to get a double-double every night. Tonight she made that goal.” (Source)

In mid-January: “I just think it’s important for Tina to play well each and every time that she goes out there....Tina Charles needs to play well every game because she needs to keep getting better for the games that come in March.” (Source)

Diana Taurasi

In early November: “I’m blessed that I have two kids like that, two kids whose personalities are such that they’re OK with it (the sarcasm),”Auriemma said. “I’ve had a lot of fun coaching Svet for these four years because her personality allows me to do and say whatever I want with her. And she understands and enjoys it...Diana Taurasi has the exact same kind of personality. I can do and say anything involving Diana, and she understands exactly where I’m coming from, why I’m doing something, and she sees the humor in it when there is humor in it. That makes my life a lot easier.” (Source)

After UConn beat Tennessee during a snowstorm: “Diana is not a mature player in the strict sense that she understands what play to make all the time. I think she just makes whatever play enters her mind. That’s probably why she took the 3. She wasn’t mature enough to think, ‘If I miss this, he’s going to kill me.’ When she matures, I hope she holds on to her freewheeling style, because it’s kind of fun to watch.’’ (Source)

Plus a bonus quote from Pat Summitt: “Four years of that, imagine. I don’t want to think about it.’’


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Scoreboard

Thursday, Dec. 31

No. 3 NC State 84, Georgia Tech 75

Georgetown 56, Butler 45

Xavier 64, Providence 50

Friday, Jan. 1

No. 1 Stanford 81, No. 6 Arizona 54

No. 2 Louisville 74, Northern Kentucky 64

Saturday, Jan. 2

No. 7 Baylor 74, TCU 50

Sunday, Jan. 3

No. 1 Stanford 68, Arizona State 60

No. 11 UCLA 73, No. 8 Oregon 71

Seton Hall 77, Providence 71

Creighton 53, Xavier 50

Monday, Jan. 4

No. 20 DePaul 94, Villanova 82

Wednesday, Jan. 6

Villanova 78, Seton Hall 71

AP Poll

1. Stanford (—)

2. Louisville (—)

3. NC State (—)

3. UConn (+1)

5. South Carolina (—)

Notables:

  • UConn moved up to No. 3 after its win over No. 18 DePaul last week. The Huskies tied with NC State as both schools received 680 points in the poll.
  • DePaul dropped two spots to No. 20.
  • Tennessee received 10 votes.