March 29, 2022 

How Paige Bueckers and UConn advanced to another Final Four

'We have Paige Bueckers and they don't'

“We have Paige Bueckers and they don’t,” UConn senior Christyn Williams said after her team’s thrilling 91-87 double-overtime Elite Eight win over NC State.

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Bueckers, the reigning national player of the year, took over to advance Connecticut past top seed in Bridgeport, NC to its 14th consecutive Final Four. The sophomore scored 27 points on 10-15 shooting, with 15 of those points coming in the overtime periods.

“Paige is different,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “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.”

With the victory, the Huskies punched a ticket to the Final Four, where they will face off against the defending national champion Stanford Cardinal (9:30 p.m. ET on Friday) in Minneapolis’ Target Center. Bueckers is from Hopkins, Minnesota, mere miles away from the Target Center.

“Two days ago I said, ‘Win or go home,’ but we won and I’m still going home,” Bueckers said. “This is crazy. I’m just so excited no matter the location, no matter where it is.”

Do it for Dorka

When UConn’s 6’5 forward Dorka Juhász went down with serious wrist injury in the second quarter, the Huskies rallied for their teammate.

“Coach got us together and basically just told us the biggest thing we could do for [Dorka] was win the game and win it for her,” Christyn Williams said. “I guess that was just our mentality for the rest of the game.”

With tears in their eyes, the Connecticut players stepped back on the court and regrouped after watching Juhász struggle in pain on the floor for several minutes before being helped to the locker room by UConn’s training staff.

In her absence, UConn’s other bigs Aaliyah Edwards (10 points, six rebounds) and Olivia Nelson-Ododa (six points, seven rebounds) would keep up the defensive intensity and clean up the boards for the Huskies. Williams (21 points) and freshman Azzi Fudd (19 points) would contribute steady offense throughout the game. Paige Bueckers’ huge fourth quarter and clutch performance in the overtimes sealed the deal.

Like they have all season, the Huskies executed a “next one up” mentality when Juhász left the game.

“[The injury] impacted this game a lot. It’s very sad for Dorka, but I feel like the way our season has gone all year, we were well prepared for this game and for something like that to happen,” said Christyn Williams. “Like you said, a lot of us have gone down at one point or another in the season, so we’ve kind of learned how to sub in and just keep rolling with the punches. That’s exactly what happened today. Yeah, we always find a way to get it done.”

History is written

Monday’s epic game between the Huskies and Wolfpack in Bridgeport was the first double-overtime game in the Elite Eight or later in women’s NCAA basketball tournament history. With the victory, UConn advances to a record 14th consecutive Final Four. Head coach Geno Auriemma and associate head coach Chris Dailey have now led Connecticut to 22 Final Fours in their 37 seasons at the helm of the program.

“It’s one of the best games I’ve ever been a part of since I’ve been at UConn,” said Auriemma. “It was just amazing the way the 10 kids that are on the court are playing for their lives. Nobody wants to lose, and everybody is making big play after big play, and nobody backed down from the moment. It’s a shame one of us had to lose, right? It would be great if both of us could go.”

This season was NC State’s second appearance in the Elite Eight in program history. Last time they reached the Elite Eight, the Kay Yow-led Wolfpack defeated (who else?) UConn 60-52 to advance to the program’s first and only Final Four appearance.

Connecticut avenged that loss on Monday, and will get the chance to keep dancing.

“I take it one game at a time, our whole team takes it one game at a time. We’re not looking into the future,” Paige Bueckers said. “We’re being where our feet are and staying in the present. It’s obviously extra motivation just to go back home [to Minnesota] and have the Final Four there and be a part of that experience. But honestly wherever the location, what gym, what court, I’m just excited to be out there with my sisters and play another game.”

Written by Tee Baker

Tee has been a contributor to The Next since March Madness 2021 and is currently a contributing editor, BIG EAST beat reporter and curator of historical deep dives.

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