October 5, 2022

The world of women’s college basketball suffered a loss before the season even started. UConn star Paige Bueckers suffered a torn ACL and is expected to be out for the entire 2022-23 season. That leaves the Huskies with plenty of uncertainty and gaps to fill.

Bueckers isn’t the only player worth watching in women’s basketball, but her power and impact on the game is undeniable. UConn has been an established power for a long time now with 11 national championships, but until earlier this year, the Huskies hadn’t reached the title game since 2016. Bueckers’ arrival in 2020 proved to be the push in the right direction that UConn needed. However, Bueckers’ injuries led to many what-ifs for her and her team.

Outstanding freshman season

The 6-foot-11 guard was a highly touted prospect coming out of high school and lived up to the hype as a freshman in 2020-21. He started 29 games and averaged 20 points and 4.9 rebounds, shooting 52.4% from the field and 46.4% from three. He was the Huskies’ leading scorer while leading the team in steals (66) and assists (5.8 per game). Bueckers set the UConn freshman record for assists with 168 total and also set the school record for assists in a game with 14 against Butler on February 27, 2021.

As expected, Bueckers received 11 major honors that season. She was the first freshman to win the Wooden Award, Naismith Trophy, AP Player of the Year and USBWA Player of the Year.

The Huskies finished that season with a 28-2 overall record after losing to Arizona in the semifinals of the 2021 NCAA Women’s Tournament. It wasn’t how UConn wanted to end its campaign, but the sky was the limit for program because of what Bueckers accomplished as a freshman and what she could do with another year of experience under her belt.

UConn’s only other loss that season came at No. 19 Arkansas in late January, which brings us to…

Roller coaster sophomore season, first major injury

The Huskies’ 2021-22 season opened against Arkansas, and this time UConn was able to reverse the win and win 95-80 against the Razorbacks. UConn’s first loss came at Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas last November, a 73-57 loss to South Carolina. It was no shame at all because the Gamecocks were — and still are — a great team.

Things seemed to be going mostly well for the Huskies — but then December 5th happened.

UConn, No. 2 at the time, earned a 73-54 victory against No. 24 Notre Dame and Bueckers’ 22-point performance led the way. With just seconds left in the game, Bueckers dribbled down the court, tripped and fell awkwardly. The severity of the injury was immediately apparent as he had to be carried off the field. The following week, Bueckers underwent surgery for a fractured anterior tibial plateau and a torn lateral meniscus in her left leg.

The Huskies clearly had to regroup after that, as they lost 57-44 to Georgia Tech in their first game without Bueckers. After the game, UConn coach Geno Auriemma he said the team felt “disorganized”.

Eventually, the Huskies were able to adjust as senior guard Christyn Williams stepped up as the leading scorer. Bueckers missed 19 games before returning in late February. In her first game back, Bueckers came off the bench and scored eight points on 4-for-5 shooting in 12 minutes.

It took her a few weeks to get back to the level she was before. Bueckers finally looked like her old self during UConn’s Elite Eight game against NC State. The Huskies walked away with a 91-87 victory after surviving double overtime — the first time in an Elite Eight game — against the No. 1-seeded Wolfpack. Bueckers had just four points in the first half, but finished the night with a game-high 27 points — 15 of them coming in regulation.

During her post-match press conference, Williams explained her victory in the simplest way possible.

“We have Paige Bueckers and they don’t.” he said.

UConn earned its 14th straight trip to the Final Four and finally reached the 2022 women’s national championship game against South Carolina. The Gamecocks dominated from the start though and took home the trophy with a 64-49 victory.

Bueckers had 14 points and six rebounds against the Gamecocks, but was the only UConn player to finish in double figures.

Still, it was a good learning experience for UConn.

“I like our chances,” Auriemma said after the game. “Provided we don’t have to go through a season like we did this year — knock on wood — if we stay healthy, I expect to be back here next year.”

But now…

Although UConn lost Nelson-Odada and Williams, a healthy Bueckers next to Fudd looked capable of lifting the team to similar heights in 2022-23. The Huskies were expected to be very competitive once again, but now the question is who will step up for Bueckers after her devastating injury.

Bueckers finished her sophomore year averaging 14.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.5 steals while shooting 54.4 percent from the field in 17 games. Those stats weren’t as strong as they were in her freshman season, but likely would have been the same or better if not for her midseason injury. Bueckers has an impact on both sides of the ball, and the Huskies will certainly miss that next season as they figure out their depth.

Without Nelson-Odada, a 6-foot-6 forward, the team is missing its leader in shooting percentage (59.5 percent) and rebounding (7.5 per game) from a season ago. He also had the most steals (55) and assists (116) on the team last season. Meanwhile, Williams left as the second leading scorer behind Bueckers as she averaged 14.2 points per game in 2021-22.

Thus, Fudt is now UConn’s only returning double-digit scorer. Last season, he averaged 12.1 points per game while shooting 45.7 percent from the field and a team-best 43.0 percent from 3-point range. The 5-foot-5 guard will enter her sophomore season with a bigger role than she probably expected.

Staying healthy will be more important than ever for the Huskies. Other players working on rehabs this offseason are Dorka Juhász (wrist), Caroline Ducharme (hip) and Aubrey Griffin (back). Griffin, a 6-foot-1 forward, dealt with several injuries and missed all of last season, having back surgery in January.

In terms of newcomers, the Huskies also have one of the top recruiting classes of 2022. That incoming class includes Ayanna Patterson and Ice Brady, ranked fourth and fifth, respectively, among ESPN’s 2022 outlook.

UConn likely won’t cruise into next season, but Auriemma’s record speaks for itself, so the Huskies shouldn’t be counted out anytime soon. As for Bueckers, she’s made it clear that she’s already working on what she believes it will be “one hell of a comeback.”

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.