Paige Bueckers returns to the court 584 days later, 'grateful' for another chance with No. 2 UConn (2024)

Paige Bueckers returns to the court 584 days later, 'grateful' for another chance with No. 2 UConn (1)

In Paige Bueckers’ opinion, her performance in No. 2 Connecticut’s season-opening victory Wednesday wasn’t good.

“But I’m grateful to have a bad game right now,” the 2021 Naismith and Wooden Player of the Year winner told reporters after the 102-58 drubbing of Dayton at the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut.

Bueckers played her first regular-season minutes in 584 days after missing the 2022-23 season while rehabbing a torn ACL in her left knee. Her return was much anticipated for both the immediate boost to the Huskies, who have a roster ready to compete for a championship again, and college hoops in general, as it continues to grow on the women’s side. Nearly 10 million watched the 2023 title game, a record-breaking number that came despite the game’s biggest star — at least of the prior two seasons — sitting on the bench every game.

The day prior to the 2023 tipoff, Bueckers said she was more excited for this season opener, her third in a Huskies jersey, than her freshman year because this time, she had experienced the game being taken from her. With the smallest smile and possibly some nerves, she was introduced to loud cheers to start her first game since the 2022 national championship loss down the street from her high school in Minneapolis.

At the time, she was one of if not the most popular and well-known collegiate players. Reporters flooded any area around her table during those Final Four interviews, and her highlights tore through social media and text threads. There was talk of if the WNBA Draft rules should change so that Bueckers could enter the professional ranks earlier than her junior year. Within the rules, she could have opted in last spring.

Instead, she opened her redshirt junior season scoring total with a drive to her right after juking a defender near the elbow in the second minute. The 5-foot-11 guard scored six of her game-total eight points in nine minutes of the first quarter. She played 21 minutes in all — more than her 10 in an exhibition contest — with seven rebounds, four assists and one steal. She was 3-of-9, a performance falling below her career 53% clip and a likely reason, given her lofty standards, that she viewed it as a bad game.

“She’s so far ahead of herself,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “She wants to get it all back on each possession. I want to get the whole year back on each possession. You saw her in the first half trying so hard.”

Bueckers came to UConn as the nation’s No. 1 recruit, a heralded, generational talent who was already on magazine covers when they were even more rare for women’s players than they are today. She was every bit as anticipated in her freshman year, averaging 20 points (52.4 FG%, 46.6 3FG%), 4.9 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 2.3 steals en route to a Player of the Year award sweep. She was the first freshman to win any of the AP, Naismith and Wooden Awards and only the third freshman in history to win AP First Team All-America.

After UConn's Final Four appearance, she underwent ankle surgery but was ready for her sophom*ore year. In December, she sustained a fracture in her knee that kept her out until the NCAA tournament. She played 17 games as a sophom*ore but returned to lead the Huskies in a loss in the title game. And in August heading into her junior season, she sustained the torn ACL while playing pickup.

More than a year later, she said she’s learning how to give herself grace and is grateful for a bad game because it means at least she was out there on the court, instead of with crutches on the bench.

“I’m not ignorant enough to think that it’s going to be a linear trajectory this whole time and I’m just going to be on the up-and-up and be the old Paige and have a great game every game,” she said. “This is a process coming back from a major injury, getting my legs under me, getting the rhythm and flow back of playing basketball again. But it’s hard.”

Paige Bueckers ➡️ Azzi Fudd

We missed this 🥲

— UConn Women’s Basketball (@UConnWBB) November 9, 2023

The landscape changed while she rehabbed. South Carolina went undefeated with its Naismith winner, Aliyah Boston. Iowa upset the Gameco*cks in the Final Four behind its reigning Naismith winner, Caitlin Clark. LSU, led by Angel Reese, won its first title over Iowa nights later in front of a record-breaking TV audience. Freshmen stepped up into leading roles, as the current freshmen are already doing now. More stars emerged all over the country.

In Connecticut, Bueckers watched from a full bench as UConn struggled with injuries, even postponing a game because it didn’t have the minimum to play. Azzi Fudd, the No. 1 recruit in the 2021 class, missed time, and the duo that was supposed to bring the Huskies back to their historic, title-winning ways rarely played together. But she’s healthy now, as is top 2022 recruit Ice Brady, who made her collegiate debut Wednesday after a dislocated patella in her right knee kept her out of last season.

The Huskies missed the Final Four last season, snapping a record 14-year streak that might never be matched. The powerhouse hasn’t won a title since Breanna Stewart led them to a fourth straight and 11th overall in 2016.

It will take time for Bueckers to get back to form. She has committed to extensive pre-hab, a healthier lifestyle and the science behind preventing more injuries. Stronger than she was as a freshman, she is an early Player of the Year contender and the key cog to a loaded UConn team that hopes to stay healthier than the previous two campaigns. It’s a team built so that an array of stars can lead the scoring column any night. But Bueckers, even on “bad” nights, makes the Huskies exceptionally better.

Paige Bueckers returns to the court 584 days later, 'grateful' for another chance with No. 2 UConn (2)

“The game doesn’t all of a sudden leave you when you haven’t played, but it doesn’t automatically come back that fast, either,” Auriemma said. “I think given that it was the first game, I thought she was what I thought she would be. And she’ll be better on Sunday, and she’ll be better on next Thursday.”

Those two matchups will be the first significant tests for No. 2-ranked UConn and Bueckers. They travel to play NC State on Sunday and host Top 25-ranked Maryland on Thursday. A good showing this weekend could put them back into the No. 1 spot in the Associated Press Top 25 poll on Monday, after No. 1 LSU was upset by Colorado in a double-digit loss on opening night. UConn has not been No. 1 since a five-week stint to end the 2020-21 season. South Carolina opened 2021-22 as the preseason poll’s top team.

The Huskies received one of 36 first-place AP preseason votes and three of 32 first-place votes in the USA Today/WBCA Coaches poll. Behind them in the AP poll is Iowa (vs. No. 8 Virginia Tech on Thursday, at Northern Iowa on Sunday), UCLA (vs. UC Riverside on Thursday, Bellarmine on Sunday) and Utah (vs. South Carolina State on Thursday).

The process Bueckers talked about in regard to her return and the one UConn faces in returning to the Final Four are intertwined. And they have little to do with a ranking next week or the week after that.

“We only care about being No. 1 in April,” Bueckers said. “And we have yet to do that since we’ve been here in school.”

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Paige Bueckers returns to the court 584 days later, 'grateful' for another chance with No. 2 UConn (2024)


Paige Bueckers returns to the court 584 days later, 'grateful' for another chance with No. 2 UConn? ›

More than a year later, she said she's learning how to give herself grace and is grateful for a bad game because it means at least she was out there on the court, instead of with crutches on the bench.

What is Paige Bueckers GPA? ›

Bueckers holds a 3.497 cumulative grade point average, according to UConn. She has been named to the UConn Dean's list four times and is a six-time member of the Director of Athletics' Honor Roll. She also earned a 3.930 GPA in the 2023 fall semester.

Is Paige Bueckers adopted? ›

The point guard was born to Bob Bueckers and Amy Fuller in October 2001. Her parents divorced when she was 3 years old and both later remarried and had more children. Paige has a brother, Drew, on her dad's side, and a brother, Ryan, and a sister, Lauren, from her mom.

What religion is Paige Bueckers? ›

Bueckers has another younger brother, Ryan, and a younger sister, Lauren. She is a Christian and attributes her confidence and success on the basketball court to God. She has hosted a charity basketball clinic called "Buckets with Bueckers" for young athletes in Minnesota and Montana.

Will Paige Bueckers go to the WNBA? ›

The former Hopkins star will return to the Huskies for another season.

How many gold medals does Paige Bueckers have? ›

Gold Medals: 2019 FIBA U19 World Cup, 2018 Youth Olympic Games, 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup, 2017 FIBA Americas U16 Championship.

How much does Paige Bueckers average? ›

As a Sophom*ore (2021-22): Played in 17 games with 13 starts ... averaged 14.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game ... had 14 points and six rebounds in NCAA Championship game vs. South Carolina (4/3) ... scored 14 points and added five assists vs.

Is Paige Bueckers black? ›

Instead of focusing on herself, the then-19-year-old sophom*ore chose to celebrate the accomplishments of Black women in the sport. “With the light that I have now as a White woman who leads a Black-led sport and celebrated here, I want to shed a light on Black women,” Bueckers said.

Are Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd friends? ›

Longtime friends Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd dreamed of playing together and UConn and winning championships. Injuries has derailed what they envisioned.

Is Paige Bueckers good? ›

She racked up some impressive awards as only a freshman.

In 2021, she became the first freshman to win the Naismith Player of the Year Award, a prize largely considered the top honor for NCAA basketball. It was a repeat of sorts for Bueckers: She was awarded the high school equivalent the previous year.

Where is Paige Bueckers going to college? ›

UConn star to return for 2024-25 college season. After two seasons marred by injury, UConn guard Paige Bueckers returned to the floor in 2023-24 and reminding the basketball world of how special she is.

Are Jalen Suggs and Paige Bueckers friends? ›

What's more, they're all tight friends. Holmgren and Suggs were teammates at Minnehaha Academy before each starred for one season with the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Jalen Suggs and Paige Bueckers have known each other since fourth grade when Buecker's brother played alongside Suggs in the youth team.

Will Paige Bueckers go pro? ›

Paige Bueckers isn't going pro quite yet, will play 2024-25 season for UConn. On Friday night, University of Connecticut guard Paige Bueckers announced she's returning to school for the 2024-25 season and forgoing entering the 2024 WNBA draft.

Will Paige Bueckers transfer? ›

Paige Bueckers has made her decision on the 2024 WNBA Draft – and it's a big one. She's returning to UConn next season, she announced Friday night.

Did Paige Bueckers play AAU? ›

And she was doing this in seventh grade.” In eighth grade, Bueckers was the first player off the bench for Cosgriff's varsity team. Starks built her AAU program around Bueckers after first watching her play in fifth grade. But Starks quickly became more than just a coach to Bueckers.

What is Caitlin Clark's GPA? ›

This past week, Clark was named the 2023-24 Academic All-America Team Member of the Year — marking the second year in a row she's received the honor. Clark, a marketing major, boasts an impressive 3.64 GPA.

What is the GPA of Azzi Fudd? ›

Academic Achievement

Fudd has maintained a 3.68 GPA in the classroom. She will begin her junior year of high school this fall.

What GPA do I need to be competitive? ›

For even mildly selective schools (think 60-80 percent acceptance), you should have at least a 3.0 unweighted GPA. Once you start thinking about even more selective colleges (less than 60 percent acceptance), GPA standards are usually around a 3.5 or higher.

What GPA makes you competitive? ›

It indicates that you've gotten grades between B+ and B- for the majority of your classes, giving you a percentile between 83% and 86%. A 3.0 GPA is considered a straight “B” average and makes you a competitive applicant for a number of colleges and universities.

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