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    Thursday, June 20, 2024

    Bueckers discusses a possible return as No. 13 UConn prepares to face Providence

    UConn's Paige Bueckers (5) looks to pass the ball around North Carolina State's Aziaha James (10) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023, in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Karl B. DeBlaker)
    UConn guard Paige Bueckers drives to the basket as North Carolina guard Lexi Donarski (20) defends in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023, in Uncasville, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

    There was no news Tuesday about UConn graduate student Aubrey Griffin’s injured left knee, but as it often does, the topic turned to redshirt junior Paige Bueckers, with coach Geno Auriemma giving an appraisal of Bueckers’ leadership capabilities.

    “I’m proud of her,” Auriemma said of Bueckers’ evolution as a leader, before deadpanning. “She’s probably one more college year from really, really getting it.”

    Bueckers, the consensus national player of the year for UConn as a freshman, is eligible for this year’s WNBA Draft. She could also return to play for the Huskies for one or two more seasons due to her injuries in recent years — she missed all of last season — and also due to a free COVID year allowed each player by the NCAA.

    With Azzi Fudd, Jana El Alfy, Ayanna Patterson and now perhaps Griffin set to return to UConn next year, is that something Bueckers would consider? Coming back?

    She was asked Tuesday, as the No. 13 Huskies (12-3, 4-0 Big East Conference) prepare to face Providence (8-8, 2-1) at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the XL Center (SNY).

    “Sometimes, at the beginning of the season, he didn’t want me back. Now he wants me back. So it depends with the ebbs and the flows of the season, but it’s still a conversation we’re having,” Buecker said, smiling before turning serious.

    “Yeah. I think that’s what it’s all about. It’s not about teams in the (WNBA) Draft, who’s got what pick. It’s all about me loving playing here, me loving my teammates and wanting to get more experiences and more time with them and more time in the program.

    “That’s, I think, the deciding factor, just wanting to be here longer.”

    UConn has an eight-game winning streak and Auriemma said Tuesday that he feels like the team has finally found an identity with its four-guard starting lineup, with Bueckers, Nika Muhl and freshmen Ashlynn Shade and KK Arnold starting along with senior forward Aaliyah Edwards.

    The Huskies have scored 80-or-more points seven times during the current streak and 90-or-more four times.

    Bueckers leads the way with 19.3 points per game, scoring 20-or-more points eight times. Edwards is second with 17.0 points and 8.5 rebounds and Shade averages 10.6 points. Shade, Arnold and fellow freshman Qadence Samuels have combined to win eight of nine Big East Freshman of the Week honors.

    “There was a time when we were smaller and we were scrappier and we played like underdogs all the time and we pushed the pace and we shot a lot of 3s,” Auriemma said, calling this team “a throwback” to that time.

    “So we know who we are now. Does that mean who we are is going to be good enough to win every game the rest of the season? I don’t care about that. I just like the fact we know who we are.”

    Bueckers said that enduring a third straight season of devastating injuries, the Huskies are playing with chips on their shoulders.

    “We know that not a lot of people believe in us. They think, ‘Oh, they’re an injury-riddled team’ and they don’t expect much out of us,” Bueckers said. “I think it makes us band together even more and want to defy the odds even more.

    “We continue to stay together, stay strong and count on each other and use each other for strength.”

    Auriemma said Griffin was still undergoing tests on her knee as of Tuesday but he wasn’t expecting anything but the news she will be lost for the season.

    He called his team’s composure “remarkable” in the wake of the loss of Griffin from the lineup. Griffin was averaging 9.5 points and 6.0 rebounds per game.

    “I don’t know but if they’re feeling it, which I’m sure they are,” Auriemma said, “they’ve learned how to put it aside and play and that’s kind of quite remarkable. I think they’ve handled it way better than I have in most of these instances, for sure.”

    Providence is led by 6-foot-3 junior forward Olivia Olsen with14.7 points and 8.7 rebounds per game.


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