Bueckers, No. 2 UConn will get back to work Wednesday vs. Seton Hall
Storrs — Every day, UConn coach Geno Auriemma is asked about freshman Paige Bueckers and every time, Auriemma comes up with a different way to frame it.
On Monday night, after she wrote the ending to the second-ranked Huskies' 63-59 overtime win over No. 1 South Carolina, Auriemma compared Bueckers to entertainer extraordinaire Billy Joel.
"Paige is a good piano player," he said, by way of analogy.
UConn (14-1 overall, 11-0 in the Big East Conference) gets back to work beginning at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday against league opponent Seton Hall at Gampel Pavilion (SNY).
And for now, there will continue to be Paige Bueckers questions as she builds on the legacy of the storied UConn program, as well as accomplishing a few things that have never been done, all with a sense of joy that makes it fresh.
Bueckers scored the game's final 13 points Monday, all nine of UConn's points in overtime, including a dramatic fall-away 3-pointer with 10.8 seconds remaining that hit the back of the rim and flew high in the air before coming down through the net to seal the victory.
She finished with 31 points, making her the first UConn player in history, the only one among all the greats, to score 30-or-more points in three straight games.
The performance likely will lead to UConn's ascension into the top spot in the Associated Press Top 25 poll when it is released next week, a team with seven freshman which nevertheless plays with the requisite amount of seriousness and hustle all the while occasionally giggling through Zoom video conferences.
"I think the most impressive thing about Paige is she plays at the same pace the entire game," Auriemma said. "She goes at a pace that allows her to use her skill. ... That usually comes to you a little later. She's got it at such a young age that she's able to get the game to slow down for her and make the play that has to be made.
"She played all 45 minutes and there's a lot of pressure on her. We need to help alleviate some of that pressure."
Bueckers is averaging 21.1 points per game and shooting .556 from 3-point range, leading the nation, despite going an uncharacteristic 1-for-6 from 3 against South Carolina.
"I'm always surprised when she shoots and the ball doesn't go in," Auriemma said.
Monday marked the first time Bueckers' dad, Bob, had ever seen her play in person — "I heard him a lot of times. He's a really loud guy," she said. Her mom, Amy, and younger brother Drew also made the trip to Gampel Pavilion.
"I would say it was a very physical and draining game," Bueckers said. "You had to give it your all on both sides of the floor, very fast-paced. A very long game. Overtime, yeah, it was a pretty long game."
Obviously there were contributions from other members of the UConn roster. The ever-evolving defense — which gave up 90 points in the Huskies only loss of the season against Arkansas — held a fast-paced South Carolina team to zero fast break points after Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said beforehand the game plan would be to run.
Fellow freshman Nika Muhl, who has earned a starting role the last three games, scored eight points and continued to bring the next-level energy on defense she is known for and sophomore Aubrey Griffin helped with rebounding (team-high seven) and momentum (three blocked shots).
Olivia Nelson-Ododa played tough defense on South Carolina star Aliyah Boston and facilitated the UConn offense with six assists.
And yet this stage belonged to Billy Joel.
"Just knowing the work that I put in. It kind of gives me confidence just to know how hard I worked for these moments," Bueckers said later, almost an hour after the game ended. In close and tight games, I really worked hard to sort of shine in those moments.
"It's just the confidence that my teammates give me, my coaches give me; when you have teammates that screen for you, pass the ball to you when you're open, they really leave you no choice but to be confident and hit those shots. ... It's all just so crazy to me that I'm just here, just playing at my dream school in huge games like this with an amazing team and coaching staff. Every single day I'm blessed and thankful for the opportunities I've been given."
Seton Hall (9-3, 7-2) is led by graduate guard Andra Espinoza-Hunter with 21.1 points per game. Espinoza-Hunter played in seven games as a freshman at UConn and later played at Mississippi State before landing at Seton Hall.
The Pirates have won six straight games for the first time since the 2015-16 season.
UConn defeated Seton Hall 92-65 on Dec. 15.
• Bueckers and juniors Christyn Williams and Nelson-Ododa were named Monday to the 30-player Naismith Trophy Midseason Team, an award which will eventually go to the national player of the year. UConn is the only team with three selections.