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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Prior to this performance, Paige Bueckers had already performed in Minneapolis

Paige Bueckers was in the second grade when Brian Cosgriff first saw her play, during a scrimmage at the University of Minnesota, where he was coaching.

Pam Bueckers was described as “a peanut, she was a tiny little thing” by Cosgriff, who was Bueckers’ former high school head basketball coach at Hopkins. Despite the fact that she was still a peanut in seventh grade, she was now dominating the junior varsity squad.

This has been a recurring mantra for Bueckers all the way up to and including the Final Four in Minneapolis, which takes place this weekend. When it comes to point guards, Bueckers is a field general, even by the most rigorous of standards. She is continuously moving and directing to all parts of the court as she fills in holes where she is most needed.

She’s also no longer a peanut in any way. No. 2-seeded Connecticut will look to Bueckers, a 5-foot-11 sophomore, to carry the Huskies out of their worst regular season since 2004-5 and into their first national title since 2016. It is impossible to overstate how important this weekend is for Bueckers, who has the possibility of winning a championship this weekend as well as the less immediate, but no less compelling, chance of pursuing a career in the National Basketball Association down the road. When the 20-year-old returned to the floor in late February, she had been out for two and a half months after serious knee surgery. Since then, she has increased her playing time as UConn has made a push for the national championship.

The previous month she was only getting 13 minutes a game; on Monday night, she got 45 minutes as UConn required double overtime to beat North Carolina State in the round of eight.

A homecoming of sorts for Bueckers, who grew up just 15 miles from Target Center, the home of the National Basketball Association’s Timberwolves and the W.N.B.A’s Lynx, where she plans to play on Friday night. Stanford, the No. 1 seed and defending champion, will be the opponent for UConn’s game against Stanford, the No. 1 seed and the reigning champion. After scoring 15 of her 27 points in overtime against North Carolina State on Monday, Bueckers was acutely aware of the importance of the team’s next visit in New Orleans.

Cosgriff posed a question to Bueckers early in her tenure at Hopkins: If she could only play for one college team, whose team would it be and why? Her response was unequivocal: University of Connecticut. Cosgriff singled out Marisa Moseley, a former Minnesota Golden Gophers standout who was working as an assistant at UConn at the time Bueckers was beginning to get national notice as the top recruit in the country. Both Moseley and Geno Auriemma, the head coach at UConn, reacted with a significant recruiting push.

When Bueckers arrived at UConn, the Huskies quickly came to depend on her for practically everything they needed. Her freshman year, she was the team’s leading scorer, assist provider, stealper, and 3-point field goal percentage shooter, becoming the first player in University of Connecticut history to score 30 points in three consecutive games. Audience members were eager to draw comparisons between her and other legendary Huskies like as Maya Moore, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, and Breanna Stewart. However, none of them was recognised as a women’s national player of the year as a freshman, as Bueckers was last year, marking the first time in the award’s history that a freshman was recognised.

During a game against Notre Dame, Bueckers dribbled up the court to set up a play that was less than a minute old. There was no haste since UConn had a nearly 20-point lead and the game was effectively over. However, just as she was about to reach half-court, her left knee gave way. Even though Bueckers struggled to keep moving, he fell to the ground. Bueckers clenched her fists together in anguish as the whistle sounded in front of her and her teammates swarmed around her in front of their bench.

Bueckers took advantage of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s new name, image, and likeness restrictions, and he became the first collegiate athlete to be signed by Gatorade, among other lucrative endorsement agreements. She has also made use of her platform to bring attention to causes that are important to her, such as gender and racial fairness. During the summer of 2020, Bueckers’ nine-year-old brother, Drew, was killed by police in the aftermath of police murders of Black men and women. Bueckers took to Instagram to advocate for change in the wake of police killings of Black men and women.

Dan O'Brien
Dan O'Brien
I am a journalist for The National Era with an emphasis in sports.
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