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    Thursday, April 18, 2024

    Bueckers, Griffin, Auriemma all announce their return on an otherwise quiet night

    UConn guard Paige Bueckers (5) reaches for coach Geno Auriemma during Senior Night ceremonies on Friday after UConn defeated Georgetown in a game in Storrs. (Cloe Poisson/Hartford Courant via AP)

    Storrs — UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma swears that star Paige Bueckers never told him whether she was returning for next season.

    He found out when the rest of the 10,299 fans at sold-out Gampel Pavilion did Friday in the waning moments of an otherwise typical Senior Night.

    “I’m not being coy or anything. I’m telling you,” Auriemma said. “There was never a time and we were talking and she sat there or here or over there and talking and she said, ‘Coach, don’t worry, I’m coming back.’ Never. Never. No.

    “... I didn’t press her on it either. I just figured, she’s going to do what she’s going to do. The last thing I wanted to do was keep pushing that narrative in her head.”

    And that’s how a quiet 85-44 Big East Conference win over Georgetown, keeping No. 15 UConn undefeated in the league at 14-0, turned into bedlam.

    With the crowd chanting, “One more year, one more year,” to the seniors in general or maybe Bueckers in particular, graduate player Aubrey Griffin announced over the public address system that she was returning for her final year of eligibility and Bueckers followed suit, announcing “Unfortunately, this will not be my last Senior Night here at UConn.”

    The fans melted down in jubilation.

    Then, in the night’s ensuing press conference, Auriemma, the Hall of Famer who recently became the third coach in history to eclipse 1,200 wins and assured all those listening that he would never be the all-time wins leader, confirmed he was coming back for another season, too.

    The four players who participated in Senior Night, Bueckers, Aaliyah Edwards, Nika Muhl and Griffen, all have an additional year of eligibility due to injuries and also the extra year granted by the NCAA because of COVID interruptions during 2021.

    Bueckers, who missed all of 2022-23 with a knee injury, has two additional seasons should she choose to use them. She was the 2021 national player of a year as a freshman, has led the Huskies to a pair of Final Fours and is currently a finalist for the 2024 national player of the year honor.

    “I was (returning) until Paige’s announcement,” Auriemma said, drawing laughter. “No one was wondering whether I was coming back or not to the same extent they were wondering whether Paige was coming back or not. ... If it was the other way around, I don’t think they’d be happy. I think they got their wish. Yeah, I’ll be back.”

    “I thought he knew,” Bueckers said of Auriemma before turning things around on him when told he would be returning, as well. “Well, I had assumed that when I made my decision. So, he didn’t have that conversation with me.”

    Bueckers spoke of her injury-shortened career to date and her love for the program and the student section. It seems that the returning players went through Senior Night to be included along with their classmates, with whom they have spent the last four years.

    “I kind of wanted to do it in a way it made it sound like I wasn’t coming back and then, like, surprise them that I was coming back,” Bueckers said of why she used the word unfortunately in her announcement.

    “Just the overall reaction from the crowd is everything you dream of. Just the love and support is a great feeling, to be wanted is a great feeling, to have people that want to have you back. ... Just having the student section and everyone there supporting me and very excited about the announcement was a very cool thing to be a part of.”

    UConn next plays at noon Monday against Creighton at the XL Center.

    v.fulkerson@theday.com

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