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    Thursday, April 18, 2024

    Bueckers, No. 15 UConn pull away from No. 20 Creighton with a third-quarter run

    Hartford — Creighton head coach Jim Flanery referred to the third quarter Monday afternoon as “catastrophic,” and he wasn’t necessarily talking about anything his team did wrong as much as what UConn was doing right.

    “I’ve watched enough film on them to know that the St. John’s game was 60-53 with eight minutes to go. The Villanova game was super tight through three quarters,” Flanery said of UConn’s resume as the only team with an unbeaten record in the Big East Conference.

    “Paige (Bueckers of UConn) is really good. So when you get a close game and she makes two or three baskets that nobody else in the league can make, that kind of separation, that gives them a mental edge, too. Now you’re down six or eight.”

    No. 15 UConn turned a game that was tied at halftime against No. 20 Creighton into a 73-53 victory before a sold-out crowd of 15,684 at the XL Center, using a 17-0 run in the third quarter. That earned the Huskies at least a share of the Big East regular-season title and guaranteed them the top seed in the upcoming Big East tournament.

    UConn (23-5, 15-0) has won 30 regular-season conference championships under head coach Geno Auriemma and 11 straight in the Big East and the American Athletic Conference combined.

    Bueckers had 24 points, Aaliyah Edwards 20 points and eight rebounds and freshman Ashlynn Shade 15 points, nine rebounds and three assists.

    “I thought today was one of our more gratifying wins,” Auriemma said. “After yesterday’s practice, I could see that we looked a little bit drained. We looked tired. We looked mentally and physically tired and this is what happens at this time of the year.

    “And that first half was a real slog. It was really, really, really difficult to get anything going and it was everybody on our team and you could feel it, just like a cloud hanging over us.”

    UConn led by eight on a three-point play by Bueckers with 3 minutes, 21 seconds remaining in the second quarter, when Creighton erupted for the final eight points of the half to tie things at 31-31.

    Emma Ronsiek responded with a three-point play to make it 31-26. Then, with 1:55 to go in the half, there was a no-call after UConn’s Edwards was knocked to the ground, causing Auriemma to chase the nearest official down the floor, receiving a technical foul.

    Creighton’s Morgan Maly made one of two free throws, then hit a jump shot on the next play as the Bluejays retained possession. Molly Mogensen hit a layup that evened things at 31-all.

    Creighton then scored the first two baskets of the second half on shots by Lauren Jensen and a 3-pointer by Maly.

    Bueckers, who shot 3-for-8 in the first half for eight points, began UConn’s game-altering run with a spin move and a jump shot and struck again on an inbounds play from teammate Nika Muhl (11 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists). Shade gave UConn the led back at 37-36 and Edwards followed with nine of the 17 points in the sequence.

    The Huskies led 58-41 after three quarters.

    “It certainly is getting harder and harder every year (to dominate the Big East),” said Auriemma, who registered career win No. 1,203 to surpass former Duke men’s coach Mike Krzyzewski (1,202) and put him second in history in Division I men’s or women’s basketball behind Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer (1,209).

    “I do think with the teams in our league, the more times you play us, the more you get to know how to play us.”

    Bueckers, the former national player of the year who missed all of last season due to injury, announced during Friday’s Senior Night festivities that she will return next year to UConn. Bueckers is averaging 20.1 points per game, shooting 53.1%.

    Muhl, Bueckers’ classmate and friend since they arrived at UConn for the 2020-21 season, leading the team to the Final Four in San Antonio, was told of Flanery’s comment that Bueckers can make plays no one else in the league can.

    “I feel like sometimes we take it for granted,” Muhl said. “Just, she’s so consistent with her game, so efficient with her game, that after awhile you’re like ‘That’s what she’s going to do. That’s what were used to.’

    “But then you just step back and look at her game and you’re just amazed with how talented she is. ... Being able to come back from injury and still stay focused, even more efficient than what you were before, I feel like today’s game was a perfect testament to who she is. She delivers every time because she knows that we need her; that’s how unselfish she is, how great she is.”

    Jensen had 18 points for Creighton (21-4, 12-3) and Maly had 16.

    v.fulkerson@theday.com

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