Every time it was spoken or written that the UConn women’s basketball team had an eight-man roster during last week’s Big East tournament, Heather Buck felt a twinge of emotion.
“It was the worst time. I wanted to take my phone and hurl it against the wall,” Heather said Monday at Gampel Pavilion.
Nothing against the phone. Or anyone who called or texted to wish her well with a stress reaction in her left ankle that has sidelined her since Feb. 22, including the three-games-in-three-days toil of the Big East.
Buck, still wearing the protective boot on her foot that she has matched so well with several different high heels the last few weeks, said following the NCAA tournament selection show that she hopes to begin practicing today with the two-time defending national champion Huskies.
UConn (32-1), the top seed in the Philadelphia Region, begins play Sunday against No. 16 Hartford at Gampel Pavilion (noon, ESPN2). Buck is a redshirt sophomore, a 6-foot-3 post player and former Stonington High School star who is capable of providing some rest for freshman center Stefanie Dolson. Dolson, the only other true post player on the team, played 40 minutes in the Big East final against Notre Dame.
“I guess we’ll know by the end of the week,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said of the possibility of Buck’s return to the team for the NCAA tournament. “… It’s all going to depend on Heather.”
Buck was adamant about contributing to the team during the upcoming weeks. She said she almost ran out on the court with the team by accident once during the Big East tournament, just out of habit and out of desire to join the other players.
Buck said she’s done some jogging and some cutting to see how her ankle feels. She was diagnosed with a stress reaction on Feb. 25, a day after she felt a sharp pain during practice. She originally thought it was minor, she said, but the more tests trainer Rosemary Ragle applied to the ankle, the more she determined something bigger was going on.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Heather said, asked by a few members of the media whether she thought she’d return this season. “I’m going to get things right from the start, be ready, be ready when coach calls on me.”
It’s been difficult privately, Buck said, but she has been the consummate team player, leaping up on her boot during games in celebration. She baked a cake for Maya Moore and Lorin Dixon on senior night.
Buck averages just 9.3 minutes per game, contributing 2.3 points and 2.1 rebounds.
She got some air time on the ESPN broadcast of Monday’s selection show, however. One of Buck’s finest moments this season came in defending 6-8 Baylor phenom Brittney Griner during UConn’s 65-64 victory over the Bears in November. It was a win that helped propel the Huskies to their 90-game winning streak, setting the NCAA Division I basketball record for consecutive wins. ESPN broadcast a few clips of Buck defending Griner in sort of a “how-to” video. At the same time, a huge cheer could be heard coming from the UConn locker room.
“That feels good,” Heather said. “That was the game where I really made a contribution.”