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UConn WBB Weekly: Could Paige Bueckers’ absence help the Huskies long-term?

With Bueckers out injured, UConn will have a chance to become a great team instead of only being a good team with a great player.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

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Could Paige Bueckers’ absence help the Huskies’ long-term?

A dark cloud has hung over the UConn women’s basketball program this week. On Sunday, Paige Bueckers went down with a non-contact left knee injury in the final seconds of the team’s win over Notre Dame.

The team waited for the diagnosis with bated breath and when it came — a tibial plateau fracture that will keep her out 6-8 weeks — the news stung.

“I would say probably as difficult as any days that I can remember,” Geno Auriemma said. “The last couple of days have been really, really difficult on the entire program.”

Bueckers’ teammates have done their best to keep her spirits high such as Williams, who lives with the sophomore, baking chocolate chip cookies for her. But behind the strong facade, the injury weighs on them.

“I’m hurt,” Williams said. “Paige is one of our leaders on the floor. She’s my point guard. She’s my friend. She’s my sister. So I’m very sad for her but I know she’s strong and she’ll be back.”

Of course, nobody is affected more than Bueckers herself. The injury is especially devastating considering how much basketball means to her. Just last Friday at Seton Hall, Bueckers spoke about how much she enjoys playing — “I’m going to do that until I die.”

The next few months won’t be easy on the sophomore.

“For a kid that loves the game so much and loves to play, I don’t think there’s anything that you can do that’s more heartbreaking for a kid like that than to take the game away from her — regardless of how long,” Auriemma said. “Whether it’s a week, a month — especially after she spent the whole summer, pretty much, rehabbing an ankle surgery that she had to have.”

As much as the injury hurts for both Bueckers herself and the Huskies, there could be a silver lining to it. Through six games, UConn has been over-reliant on the sophomore. She’s scored 21.2 points per game — higher than her average last season — and is responsible for 28.4 percent of the team’s scoring.

In the opener, Bueckers needed a career-high 34 points to lead the Huskies to a 15-point win over Arkansas and at Seton Hall last Friday, came up with clutch shots that ended scoring droughts and stopped runs from the Pirates time and time again.

With how much UConn’s supporting cast has struggled this season, so one of the only positives of Bueckers’ absence is that the rest of the team will have to figure out how to win on its own. While that could’ve happened on its own, Auriemma prefers to do it the hard way.

“There’s something to be learned by being thrown into the fire,” he said at Big East Media Day in October. “There’s something to be learned by watching and waiting, but if you’re not careful, you know what you learn? You learn how to watch and wait. I’m not a watch and wait kind of guy.”

Now, Williams has no choice but to become UConn’s go-to player. Westbrook will need to be a more reliable scorer. Caroline Ducharme’s fourth quarter performance against Notre Dame has to be how she plays every game. Olivia Nelson-Ododa, Dorka Juhász and Aaliyah Edwards will all have to take on more prominent roles.

Everyone on the Huskies’ roster is entering uncharted territory and none of them have ever been asked to do this much in a UConn uniform. But just because they haven’t doesn’t mean they can’t. Sometimes, the pressure can help players take their game to the next level. That’s what Auriemma is hoping for, at least.

“Maybe this is one of those blessings in disguise where now all of a sudden guys are gonna be asked to do more and feel like, ‘I have to do more,’” he said. “I’m sure they’re all capable of doing it. It just hasn’t happened yet.”

UConn certainly would’ve preferred to improve with Bueckers still healthy and playing but that’s not the situation it’s faced with. Instead, the Huskies have a massive opportunity to develop into a great team over the next 6-8 weeks after being a team with a great player to this point. If they can do that and then add Bueckers back in January or February, there’s no limit to their potential.


Best of social media

Paige Bueckers’ message after her injury diagnosis:

From Bueckers’ dad:

A few notable members of the women’s basketball world sent their support to the sophomore:

A rare moment where Muffet McGraw is likable:

UConn honored its Olympians on Sunday:

Christyn Williams would probably be UConn’s football’s best quarterback:

UConn’s annual holiday video is always great and this year’s features guest appearances from Geno Auriemma and Paige Bueckers:

Quotables

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Photo of the week

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog