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UConn's loses Bueckers for 6-8 weeks with tibial plateau fracture

UConn sophomore Paige Bueckers, the reigning national player of the year in women's basketball, has been diagnosed with a tibial plateau fracture in her left leg and will be sidelined for 6-8 weeks, the school's athletic department announced Tuesday.

Bueckers suffered the injury with 38.5 seconds remaining in the third-ranked Huskies' 73-54 victory Sunday over No. 22 Notre Dame at a sold-out Gampel Pavilion, with Bueckers crumbling to the floor in front of the UConn bench. She was carried off by teammates Evina Westbrook and Amari DeBerry.

According to a press release, Bueckers underwent an MRI and a CT scan, revealing the fracture. A tibial plateau fracture is a break in the top of the shin bone, just below the knee. According to the web site healthline.com, the recovery time for this type of injury could last from 3-6 months, depending on the severity.

"Obviously, we're all extremely disappointed for Paige and that she suffered this injury," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said in the release. "It would be really hard to describe how much basketball means to Paige and how much her teammates mean to her. Not being able to do the thing that she loves to do, to be there for her teammates, is really difficult for her.

"We've had players get injured in the past and my philosophy here is, I'm not interested in how fast we can get someone back; I'm interested in what's best for them long term. Every decision made will prioritize what's best for Paige and her career. Everyone involved with this program will be there to support Paige through her healing process."

UConn's dynamic point guard, Bueckers is leading UConn (5-1) with 21.2 points, 6.2 assists and 2.7 steals per game in addition to averaging 5.5 rebounds per game, second only to 6-foot-5 senior forward Olivia Nelson-Ododa.

Last season, Bueckers led UConn to its 13th straight Final Four, averaging 20.0 points and 5.8 assists per game. The former national player of the year at Hopkins (Minn.) High School, Bueckers earned the Associated Press Player of the Year honor, the Wooden Award, the Naismith Trophy, the Nancy Lieberman Award and was named a WBCA, AP and U.S. Basketball Writers' Association All-American.

She was the Big East Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year and the Big East tournament Most Outstanding Player. She set UConn's single-game assist record with 14 on Feb. 27 at Butler.

With this UConn team expected to have ample depth this season with 14 players, with every player returning from the Final Four run plus the second-ranked recruiting class in the nation, that has yet to manifest itself. Freshman Azzi Fudd, last year's national high school player of the year, is out with a foot injury and junior Aubrey Griffin has yet to play due to injury.

Instead, Bueckers has carried the team, averaging 36.3 minutes per game.

She scored a career-high 34 points in UConn's season-opening victory over Arkansas on 15 of 19 shooting. In Friday's Big East opener at Seton Hall, Bueckers had 23 points, seven assists and no turnovers and a career-high nine rebounds, all while taking a hit to the face and playing part of the game with her nose stuffed with padding to stop it from bleeding. She had 22 points and five steals against Notre Dame.

The Huskies, minus the two most recent high school players of the year, are now down to four healthy guards with Westbrook, a redshirt senior; senior Christyn Williams; sophomore Nika Muhl and freshman Caroline Ducharme.

Westbrook (9.5 ppg) is a proven leader within the program and a team captain with Nelson-Ododa and Williams, having passed up a sure spot as a WNBA lottery pick after last season to return to UConn. She and Muhl, who hit a pair of 3-point field goals in the win over Notre Dame, are the most likely candidates to take over at point guard.

Williams, meanwhile, averages 15.0 points per game and Ducharme finished with 14 points against Notre Dame, all in the fourth quarter.

UConn plays its next game Thursday night against Georgia Tech in Atlanta, a homecoming game for Nelson-Ododa, who is from Winder, Ga., followed by a matchup Saturday vs. UCLA in the Never Forget Tribute Classic at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.

Georgia Tech and UCLA are both receiving votes in the AP Top 25 poll and will serve as a test for the Huskies going forward. UConn meets No. 7 Lousville on Dec. 19 at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Auriemma is scheduled to address the media via a Zoom conference Wednesday prior to the team leaving for its two-game road trip.

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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