By UConn women’s basketball standards, this was a rough season. They finished the regular season at 22-5, the most regular-season losses for the program since 2004-05.
But the second-seeded Huskies defeated No. 1-seed NC State in two overtimes Monday night, 91-87, to reach the Final Four for the 14th consecutive NCAA Tournament. The instant classic was the first double-overtime game in the Elite Eight or later in the history of the women’s NCAA Tournament, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Paige Bueckers was the catalyst for UConn, as she led all scorers with 27 points. The sophomore had just four points at halftime, but then hit eight of her next nine shots and sank all six of her free throws.
It was a breakout performance of sorts for Bueckers, who missed 19 games earlier this season with a knee injury. She hadn’t topped 20 points since Dec. 5, the game in which she got injured, and she hasn’t recovered 100 percent from her injury. But on Monday, she reminded everyone why she was the national player of the year last season.
“You know, Paige is different,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said in the postgame press conference. “Those players, if they were commonplace, we would know exactly who they are and we’d be able to rattle them off, but they’re not. They’re few and far in between, and she was made for these moments.”
Also in the postgame press conference, Bueckers was asked if she thought she’d be able to get back to this level this season after her injury.
“You never know what the future holds, I just to try to stay where my feet are, just stay in the present, live in the moment,” she said. “But I don’t know. I can’t dream a lot of the stuff that happens to me, which is why I thank God so much because it’s just with huge faith, the things I’ve done in my life. I’m just super happy to be here.”
— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessWBB) March 29, 2022
A year ago, Bueckers was also crucial in helping her team to the national semifinals. After reaching her first Final Four, she was asked in that postgame press conference if it was anything like what she envisioned as a kid growing up in Hopkins, Minnesota. She again took the opportunity to praise God.
“As a little kid, I would be outside at the park shooting hoops, envisioning these moments but you never really know if you’re going to get those chances and opportunities. And that’s where God kicks in,” she said. “I know I wouldn’t be here without Him and just the confidence and experiences and opportunities He’s given me. I’ve just tried to shine and sort of make Him famous and use my light that He’s given me to shine on Him.
“So these opportunities, you dream of them as a kid, but you can get there with strong work ethic and faith and just trust in God.”
Bueckers’ work ethic and faith journey began while she was growing up in Minnesota, and she said last year that her faith really grew during the pandemic.
“That was a really hard time for me, the start of the shutdown of the whole country,” she said. “That’s when I really started connecting with my faith and with God, knowing He always has a plan for me through the ups and the downs, just always keeping that faith and that trust that everything’s going to work out and everything happens for a reason.”
Next up for Bueckers and the Huskies is the reigning national champion, Stanford. They’ll meet Friday at 9:30 p.m. ET at Target Center in Minneapolis — about 15 minutes east of where Bueckers grew up.
While Bueckers is looking for her first national title, the Huskies overall are seeking their 12th. They already own more than any other women’s program, but haven’t won since 2016, a title that marked a record fourth in a row.
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