No. 2 UConn women top No. 24 Notre Dame but suffer a potential blow with knee injury to Bueckers
Storrs — There was a roar in Gampel Pavilion that hadn't been there in quite some time, since pre-COVID. And then the place fell silent Sunday afternoon, all the air sucked from the room as UConn women's basketball star Paige Bueckers suddenly collapsed to the floor.
Bueckers, the reigning national player of the year, was dribbling the ball up the court when her left knee buckled under her. She fell to the ground with 38.5 seconds remaining in the 73-54 victory over No. 24 Notre Dame, having lifted the second-ranked Huskies on offense and defense with 22 points, five steals and four assists.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma said Bueckers' knee appeared to be hyperextended, which would be the "best-case scenario." Bueckers, who was carried to the Huskies' bench by teammates Evina Westbrook and Amari DeBerry, will undergo an MRI.
Auriemma is hoping for good news regarding the sophomore sensation, who is averaging 21.2 points, 6.2 assists and 2.7 steals per game for 5-1 UConn, which next plays Thursday at Georgia Tech.
"When you play enough and you coach enough and you've seen enough basketball, you've pretty much seen it all and we've certainly had our share here of unfortunate things happen," Auriemma said. "You just kind of shake your head, hope you didn't see it or what you saw wasn't as bad as what you think it might be.
"You immediately put yourself in that kid's shoes and what are they thinking? How are they feeling right now? What's going through their mind when something like that happens? That's the part I think really hits you in the pit of your stomach, you know?"
So much for celebrating a win over rival Notre Dame, which came before a sold-out crowd and with several of the program's all-time Olympians in the seats.
In addition to Bueckers, senior Olivia Nelson-Ododa had her first double-double of the season with 14 points and 13 rebounds before fouling out with 3:41 to play. Freshman Caroline Ducharme scored 14 points, all in the fourth quarter, in 14 minutes off the bench, shooting 5-for-9, 3-for-5 from 3-point range, and Aaliyah Edwards added 10 points.
Freshman Sonia Citron had 19 points and freshman point guard Olivia Miles had eight points, eight rebounds and eight assists for Notre Dame (7-2), which trailed by just seven starting the fourth quarter at 51-44 following a pair of free throws by Citron.
UConn responded by scoring the first 13 points of the fourth quarter to push the margin to 64-44, getting 3s during that span from Bueckers and Ducharme.
It was also during that time that Bueckers engineered a steal and was fouled hard by Citron on the breakaway. The majority of the 10,167 fans at Gampel began booing, an indication that this was, in fact, a game against a rival in Notre Dame.
UConn finished the game with a season-high 21 turnovers, which was not to Auriemma's liking, but he credited the Huskies for the finish — "We came out in the second half with a sense of purpose," he said. "The fact we came out and played the way we played in the fourth quarter, that's a good sign that we're making progress."
Bueckers, averaging 36.3 minute per game, had yet to come out of the game when she was injured.
The Huskies are already down two members of their rotation with injuries to freshman Azzi Fudd, the former national high school player of the year, and junior Aubrey Griffin, who has yet to play this season. In addition, several UConn players are mired in shooting slumps, such as senior Christyn Williams, who scored just four points Sunday.
"She never comes out. She never wants to come out," Auriemma said, asked why Bueckers was still in the game with less than a minute to play with a comfortable lead. "You're right. I don't have an answer for why she was in the game. I don't like our team without her on the court. I mean, I might have to like it if she misses any time, but I don't like the way our team looks when she's not on the floor."
• Prior to the game a monument was unveiled outside Gampel Pavilion to honor UConn athletes and coaches who have participated in the Olympic Games in all sports throughout history.
Former UConn women's basketball players Rebecca Lobo, Kara Wolters, Sue Bird, Swin Cash and Asjha Jones, all gold medal winners during their careers, attended the dedication, as did program alum Jen Rizzotti, who was an assistant coach in the 2020 Games in Tokyo.
The Olympians were heralded again at halftime of the UConn-Notre Dame game, joined by UConn sophomore Aaliyah Edwards, who played in Tokyo for Team Canada, and by Auriemma, who was the head coach of the U.S. Women's National Team during two gold medal runs.
"It's really cool," said Lobo, a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame whose jersey No. 50 is retired and hangs in the rafters at Gampel. "I think a lot of people know the history of UConn men's and women's basketball but you don't know about the Olympic athletes because their stage when they're here at UConn might not be as big. It's great that we're recognizing that."