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UConn women’s basketball downs Arkansas, 95-80

Paige Bueckers scored a career-high 34 points in the season opening win.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

New season, same old Paige Bueckers. UConn women’s basketball opened the 2021-22 campaign with a 95-80 win over the Arkansas Razorbacks thanks to a career-high 34 points from Paige Bueckers on 15-19 shooting despite a scoreless first quarter. The sophomore played the entire game, didn’t hit a 3-pointer and also tallied four assists and six rebounds.

UConn took a 17-2 lead in the opening five minutes but the two teams played even — 78-78 — over the remaining 35 minutes.

Christyn Williams (18 points) and Evina Westbrook (15 points) finished in double-figures while Westbrook also added eight rebounds. Olivia Nelson-Ododa totaled nine points and eight rebounds while Aaliyah Edwards had nine points, four rebounds and three assists.

UConn started out the game in classic fashion. The Huskies jumped out to a 17-2 lead and held Arkansas to 1-11 shooting in the first five minutes. But as Auriemma went to his bench, subbing off all the starters but Bueckers at one point, the defense began to slip.

The two teams traded runs over the final half of the first quarter. The Razorbacks scored six-straight points followed by four in a row from UConn before the visitors grabbed eight of last 11 points in the opening period.

Arkansas scored seven straight points early in the second quarter to pull within three points. At that point, Auriemma put Williams back in the game and Bueckers — after taking one shot and being held scoreless in the first — came alive. The sophomore hit back-to-back baskets followed by a layup from Williams to give the Huskies some breathing room.

UConn continued to struggle defensively and the Razorbacks fought back to get within four points. From there, Bueckers and Nelson-Ododa combined to widen the margin. The two players combined for the Huskies’ next 11 points — and dished a few assists to each other — to help build a 10-point lead entering the half.

Out of the locker room, UConn ripped off a 7-0 run thanks to a pair of baskets from Bueckers and Edwards’ first career 3-pointer, which forced Arkansas to take a timeout. The sophomore reached the 20-point mark midway through the third quarter and helped the Huskies maintain a comfortable, albeit it narrower than expected, 17-point lead.

When Edwards picked up her fourth foul, Auriemma went with a five-guard lineup of Bueckers, Fudd, Mühl, Westbrook and Williams. The experiment didn’t last long as Edwards re-entered the game with 8:31 left to play.

Regardless of the lineup, Bueckers continued to dominate. She scored UConn’s first nine points of the fourth and had 11 in the quarter overall. Her play kept the Razorbacks at an arms-length and never allowed them to mount a serious comeback effort. The Huskies ultimately came away with a 15-point victory.

Next, UConn will head to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis. It will open the tournament with Minnesota on Saturday, Nov. 20 at noon.