On Wednesday, Paige Bueckers returned to team drills for the first time since undergoing left knee surgery to repair an anterior tibial plateau fracture and lateral meniscus tear in December.
“Today was the first day that she was able to get out on the court where there was some semblance of defense and that she could run up and down on the floor a couple times at two trips at a time for a few minutes,” Geno Auriemma said after practice on Wednesday.
In the last half hour open to media, Bueckers ran through a handful of half-court offensive plays with the team that involved moving around the perimeter and pulling up for jump shots. Previously, she had been limited to individual work, such as shooting or “mobility testing”, as the coach described it.
“We’ll see where we go from here,” Auriemma said. “Today was day one and who knows? We’ll see how she feels tomorrow.”
Bueckers also met with Dr. Robert A. Arciero — the chief of the Sports Medicine Division of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at UConn Health.
“I guess they’ll come up with a plan,” Auriemma said of Bueckers’ check-in with the doctor. “So far, everything they’ve done has been pretty much what they said it was going to be.”
While practicing, Bueckers sported the knee brace that she’s worn on the sidelines during games. However, it may not be a permanent fixture on her leg — especially if Auriemma has a choice.
“My interpretation was that she’s not going to be playing with that brace on. (She is) right now because she’s just getting out there and just getting a feel for it,” he said. “But I would feel better if she was going to play without the brace because if you still have the brace on, that means it’s still an issue.”
There’s still no clear timetable for when Bueckers will return to game action, though. Auriemma said she won’t be at a national player of the year level in two days — which should be obviously — but he also didn’t give a clear answer on when she could be ready.
“It’s gonna take time. You can’t just go from not playing for two and a half months — whatever — until all of a sudden going out there and running up and down the floor for 15 minutes and then think you’re going to be able to play in a game,” he said.
Bueckers went down with a non-contact left knee injury in the final seconds of UConn’s win over Notre Dame on Dec. 5 and needed to be carried off the court. She underwent surgery on Dec. 13 and has missed the Huskies’ last 16 games.
Ducharme, Nelson-Ododa progressing
Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Caroline Ducharme both practiced “a little bit” on Wednesday, according to Auriemma. Nelson-Ododa has missed the last three games with a groin injury while Ducharme has sat out four straight games with a head injury.
Ducharme is expected to participate more on Thursday, which will determine her status for Friday’s game at Xavier.
“We’ll probably know tomorrow whether she can go on Friday,” Auriemma said.
As for Nelson-Ododa, the coach mentioned that she looked rusty in practice on Wednesday but will continue to ramp up over the next couple of days. He implied Nelson-Ododa will have the final call on her status for Xavier.
“She’ll get today, tomorrow, and shoot-around on Friday and we’ll know whether or not she feels like she can go,” Auriemma said.
Mühl still ailing
Nika Mühl did not participate during the portion of practice open to media but she told reporters afterward that she was out there for “most of” the session. She’s still dealing with a lingering foot injury that kept her sidelined for nearly a month earlier in the season.
“It’s still kind of bothering me, especially after this week full of games and practices and everything,” Mühl said. “But it’s nothing crazy. Just bothering me a little bit. Trying to limit me as much as possible.”
Auriemma specified that Mühl practiced for about 45 minutes. He added that when players are dealing with nagging injuries, there’s only so much time they can reasonably play and the preference is to use that time during games as opposed to practices.
“You got a choice at this time of the year,” Auriemma said. “Do you want to use it up in practice or you want to save it for the games? So I know practice is important but at this time of the year, I think being healthy and trying to stay off your feet as much as possible is probably the most important thing.”