February 25, 2022 

How will Paige Bueckers help Huskies’ post-season chances?

Sophomore sensation returns to court today against St. John's

Reigning national player of the year Paige Bueckers will return to the court Friday against St. John’s. The sophomore has been cleared to play for the first time since sustaining an anterior tibial plateau fracture and lateral meniscus tear in the final minute of a 73-54 win over Notre Dame on Dec. 5.

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Prior to the injury, Bueckers averaged 21.2 points, 6.2 assists and 5.5 rebounds in six games played. The Huskies (20-5) have gone 15-4 in her absence.

With just two games remaining in the regular season, Connecticut doesn’t have much time to work Bueckers back into the rotation. Fortunately, in her absence, several of her teammates have stepped up off the bench to replace her missing productivity.

Heralded freshman Azzi Fudd has started seven of Connecticut’s last 10 games, averaging 14.8 points in 30.1 minutes per game. Throughout the course of the season, she has begun to develop confidence on the court.

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“I’m trying to break [Azzi] of having to be perfect and getting down on herself when it’s not,” head coach Geno Auriemma said. “She’s pretty special when it comes to playing basketball. So I don’t ever want her to doubt herself.”

In addition to Fudd, freshman Caroline Ducharme has also had an opportunity to step into an elevated role while Bueckers has rehabbed her injury. The freshman has started in 11 games this season for UConn. She averages 12.1 points per game and posted a career-high 28 points last time the Huskies took on St. John’s. The 6’2 guard has demonstrated an ability to add depth to the Huskies with her shooting ability and versatility.

Seniors Christyn Williams and Evina Westbrook have also shined as of late. Williams is averaging 15.8 points per game dating back to UConn’s loss to Villanova on February 6. Though she has had periods of inconsistency throughout her career, she appears to be peaking at an important moment for Connecticut. Westbrook has been putting up consistent minutes and has proven to be a solid off-the-bench spark for the Huskies since being shifted out of the starting line-up mid-season.

UConn has just two games remaining before postseason play begins. With several players learning to step up in Bueckers’ absence, the BIG EAST regular season champs look to make a deep postseason run with a more balanced rotation.

Their first test starts Friday at 7 p.m. at the XL Center in Hartford.

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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