Geno Auriemma’s pointed Paige Bueckers comment sets stage for UConn before NCAA Tournament

UConn women’s basketball head coach Geno Auriemma usually talks down Paige Bueckers as a motivational tactic, knowing she loves to prove people wrong.

But Auriemma spoke up for the superstar guard after a dominant 78-42 victory against Georgetown in the Big East Tournament final on Monday night.

Paige Bueckers approaches March Madness with a point to prove

“She almost single-handedly took us to the Final Four and the National Championship game, and it was only two years ago,” Auriemma said. “How quickly people forget, right?”

During a stretch when Bueckers missed 584 consecutive days because of injury, the casual national college basketball conversation turned to stars elsewhere, such as Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese.

It has yet to change back in many parts of the country, even after Bueckers won almost every Big East honor imaginable this year.

The NCAA Tournament could be the ideal platform for Bueckers to remind the world of her vast talents.

She’s now scored at least 27 points in five of her past six games, listening to Auriemma’s pleas to be more aggressive with her shot, and appears to be regaining her best form after a prolonged injury nightmare last campaign.

Bueckers, though, must carry an outsized load because of UConn’s alarming number of injuries.

Paige Bueckers and UConn won the Big East Tournament final on Monday over Georgetown.

Star forward Aaliyah Edwards broke her nose on Saturday, joining a list of absentees that includes Ayanna Patterson (knee), Aubrey Griffin (knee), Amari DeBerry (head), Azzi Fudd (knee), Jana El Alfy (Achilles) and Caroline Ducharme (neck/head).

For most of the season, Auriemma reiterated that the Huskies would never know what they could have been because of poor health. At most turns, he publicly downplayed his hand.

Privately, though, he told players of his extreme confidence in their abilities to put together a memorable March run.

What he’s seen from Bueckers must be encouraging. “When Aaliyah went down that might have – [Bueckers] already I think was coming into this tournament with a different mindset,” he said.

“But I think when Aaliyah went out of the game, there was a flip, and she realized how much more she had to do now.”

Even in a so-called down year, the Huskies are now regular-season and conference tournament champions, top-10 in all relevant rankings and metrics, and set to host at least one March Madness game.

Bueckers has described a “hunger, passion and energy” pulsing through the team lately that could translate positively into the coming weeks.

And out of the hellish news cycle that UConn has endured in 2023-24, at least Edwards’ recent broken nose led to a beneficial discovery.

Auriemma relied on untested Ice Brady in Edwards’ place in the Big East Tournament, and she was a revelation. Brady made the All-Tournament team, scoring 13 points and grabbing eight rebounds against Georgetown.

Edwards will be back for the NCAA Tournament, but now Auriemma knows he can trust Brady for more minutes off the bench.

“Sometimes you don’t know what’s inside people until they dig down and show what they have,” the coach said. “Given what we went through, we’re gonna celebrate this one.”

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