Paige Bueckers has stepped up for UConn women’s basketball all season long. From the game-clinching off-balanced three against Tennessee to scoring every point for UConn in overtime to help get the win over then-No. 1 South Carolina, Bueckers has shined in big moments.
While Bueckers had plenty of highlights and collected more than a few accolades heading into the postseason, UConn players make their mark in March. In UConn’s nail-biting victory over Baylor on Monday night, Bueckers did just that.
“Paige can sense the moment. Like all great players, she can sense the moment, when it’s time, what’s needed in that time, what’s necessary,” head coach Geno Auriemma said after the win. “And she has the ability to fulfill that moment. Not everybody does.”
Bueckers absolutely fulfilled the moment, tallying 28 points and three steals in the victory. Despite being guarded by DiDi Richards, the reigning national defensive player of the year, Bueckers opened the game by knocking down a well contested jumper and scored nine points in the first quarter.
The defensive pressure of Richards and Dijonai Carrington — who switched on to Bueckers at times — slowly took its toll as the game continued, though. Bueckers score just nine points over the next 17 minutes.
Then with two minutes left in the third quarter and UConn down by 10 points, Bueckers kicked it into another gear. Given how physical of a game the matchup had been to that point, it was only a matter of time.
“Paige absolutely has another gear. The more physical the game and if she thinks she’s getting fouled, the higher gear comes quicker,” Chris Dailey said earlier in the tournament. “Paige has another gear and when she gets to that point, it’s tough to stop her”.
The next possession after the Huskies fell down by double digits, the ball ended up in Bueckers’ hands. She nailed a jumper in the paint, which finally created some momentum for UConn, who hadn’t hit a field goal in over five minutes at that point. After a Christyn Williams three-pointer, Bueckers came up with a steal on the other end and knocked down a transition three. A quick 8-0 run for the Huskies cut the Baylor lead to just two as the buzzer sounded to end the third period.
It didn’t stop there. UConn opened the fourth quarter with another 8-0 run, including five more points from Bueckers. In total, the freshman scored 10 points during the Huskies’ 19-0 run.
This Elite Eight matchup between UConn and Baylor had all the makings of an instant classic. Bueckers’ role in it, especially her 10 points during the critical stretch in the third and fourth quarter, will be cemented as the first part — though certainly not the last — of her March legacy as she led the Huskies to another Final Four.
“In the end, getting a tough win like that against one of the best teams in the country — it’s so rewarding to hear that final buzzer go off and you win and you make it to the Final Four,” Bueckers said. “It’s a really unexplainable the feeling that you get from it. It’s like a dream come true.”
UConn, of course, isn’t done. The Huskies will face Arizona on Friday night with a chance to advance to the national championship game and compete for the program’s 12th title. For as great as she was against Baylor, Bueckers can still add to her March legacy — especially if she continues to fulfill the moment.