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UConn WBB Weekly: One goal left for Paige Bueckers in sensational freshman season

Bueckers has won almost everything there is to win except a national championship.

Baylor v UConn Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

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Last week’s Weekly:

Only one goal left for Paige Bueckers in sensational freshman season

Geno Auriemma wasn’t sure what to expect from Paige Bueckers during her freshmen season. He obviously expected her to be a great player eventually, but you can never be sure.

Geno thought back to how some of his “most hyped” recruits fared as freshmen — Rebecca Lobo, Nykesha Sales, Shea Ralph, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore, Breanna Stewart — to try and figure out the best way to manage Bueckers.

“Sometimes it’s not bad for a kid in that situation to come off the bench,” Auriemma said. “It gives them a sense of, ‘Hey let me see the game’, a chance to defuse some of the pressure, let the air out a little bit. I was kind of prepared for whatever.”

Most of all, Auriemma didn’t want to set the bar too high. For example, even the great Diana Taurasi didn’t win Big East Freshman of the Year. Some of the best players this program has seen needed time to adjust to the college game, so maybe Bueckers would too.

It didn’t take long for Auriemma to realized he had it all wrong.

“Once practice started and once we were together for about a week and I saw the way she handled herself, the way she handled the things that were being thrown at her [...] that’s when it kind of went out the window and it was, you know, we’ve only been here two weeks but she’s the best player on our team,” he said.

Across her freshmen season, Bueckers has made plenty of history with individual accolades — the first freshman to sweep the Big East Weekly Awards in back-to-back weeks, the second freshman to win the Big East Freshman and Player of the Year, and the third freshman ever to be named an AP First-Team All-American.

Bueckers has started to rewrite the program records — shattered the freshman assist record (164 and counting), set a new mark for most assists in a game (14), and became the first Husky ever to score over 30 points in three straight games.

She’s also done things that go beyond the stat sheet, like hitting a game-clinching 3-pointer against Tennessee after twisting her ankle, or scoring all nine points — including another game-clinching 3-pointer — in overtime against South Carolina.

In the past week alone, Bueckers has somehow found new heights. Individually, she became the first freshman ever to win AP National Player of the Year. She helped lead UConn to its 13th straight Final Four by dropping 28 points on Baylor in the most competitive NCAA Tournament win for the Huskies in years.

That’s more than a career’s worth of accomplishments for most players yet Bueckers did it in a pandemic-shortened freshmen season. Auriemma knew she had the talent for all this, he just didn’t expect it would all come together so soon.

“Nothing that’s happened has surprised me,” he said. “How quickly it’s happened and how quickly it happened and how consistent it’s been throughout the year, that’s been quite surprising.”

A couple of players who know a little about succeeding not only at UConn but also at the next level in the WNBA and internationally have taken notice as well: Bird and Taurasi.

While Auriemma started to get a sense of just how good Bueckers would be after a week or two of practice, it took Taurasi all of 10 minutes to make an even more bold statement.

“The first game I watched her play, I watched the first quarter and I told Penny (Taylor, her wife) and after the game, I texted Coach Auriemma and I said ‘She’s the best player in (college) basketball already,” Taurasi told Togethxr.

Bird, meanwhile, raved Bueckers’ skillset and her ability to do anything on the court but also discussed the freshman’s success in a different light.

“She’s going to be the hunted, I think for the remainder of her career,” Bird said on Tuesday. “Kudos to her ‘cause she’s put herself on that pedestal. Everyone’s gonna want to take her down and that is where the challenge will lie.”

Still, the most impressive part about Bueckers can’t be represented in a stat or broken down on film. In fact, it actually has nothing to do with basketball itself. Bueckers’ best attribute is her unselfishness.

“This wouldn’t be possible without all the work that my teammates have done for me, all the work that the coaching staff has done with me and just making me the player I am today and just putting me in this position,” she said after winning national player of the year.

Though accolades are nice — and Auriemma certainly felt Bueckers deserves all the honors she gets — her best accomplishments, in his eyes, are the ones that don’t need any outside validation.

“Nobody voted for her to be in the Final Four but to get 28 the other night, she earned that on her own,” he said. “So there are things in life that people vote and they go here, take this. Great. And there are things you earn. So I think Paige earned everybody’s vote and then she earned — by the way she plays — the right to be here in this Final Four.”

During a freshman campaign in which Bueckers has won nearly everything there is to win, one goal is left: A national championship.

Back in 2016, nobody would have predicted that UConn would go four years without winning a title. After years of teams missing that edge to win big games, they can be confident Paige and the Huskies have what it takes to deliver.

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