UConn’s Paige Bueckers lives up to coach’s huge claim again – and she faces Caitlin Clark next

All-American guard Paige Bueckers made all the right plays down the stretch to send the red-hot UConn women’s basketball team to the Final Four where Iowa and Caitlin Clark await.

The UConn women’s basketball team knew that even in a diminished state, it could hang with almost any team in the country.

Head coach Geno Auriemma told his players as much during an impromptu speech during the Big East Tournament.

Paige Bueckers is in the middle of her most consistent scoring stretch of her distinguished career.

But a trip to the Final Four? The Huskies needed Paige Bueckers to live up to Auriemma’s controversial “best player in America” praise to have a chance of going that deep.

And the guard, who has dealt with so much in her college career, has been incredible at the 2024 NCAA Tournament, backing up her coach’s faith.

Behind Bueckers’ career-best seventh consecutive game of at least 20 points, UConn defeated USC 80-73 on Monday night to reach the Final Four.

She finished with 28 points on 11-of-23 shooting with 10 rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocks.

Bueckers hit a rainbow 3-pointer with 3:42 left in the fourth quarter to give UConn a six-point lead, and it was all Huskies from there.

Aaliyah Edwards contributed 24 points, while reserve Ice Brady again played key minutes, blocking a fourth-quarter JuJu Watkins shot to help UConn gain control.

UConn will face No. 1-seed Iowa and superstar guard Caitlin Clark in the Final Four, setting up a thrilling matchup of backcourts. Clark just dropped 41 points in an Elite Eight win over LSU, making nine 3-pointers in the process.

Clark surpassed Bueckers in national popularity after the Huskies star tore her ACL and missed more than 500 days of competitive action.

But Bueckers did win National Player of the Year as a freshman. She’ll believe she can shock Clark and the Hawkeyes in her next appearance.

“How quickly people forget, right?” asked Auriemma pointedly in early March about how Bueckers’ pre-injury track record may be getting insufficient respect.

When UConn toppled Syracuse in the second round, the legendary coach told reporters: “We have the best player in America. The whole statsheet says that she is.”

Determining which individual player is better at this exact point in time is a subjective exercise. But seeing them go head-to-head on the court is a dream scenario that will at least ensure bragging rights for one side.

Back in 2021, Bueckers bested Clark in the Sweet 16. Clark already secured one act of revenge by knocking off LSU in the Elite Eight after losing to the Tigers in last year’s title game. She wouldn’t mind pulling off a similar trick against the Huskies.

The pair of guards are two of the best women’s basketball prospects of the decade. Clark is the presumed No. 1 overall pick of this year’s WNBA Draft, and Bueckers is almost certain to go in the top three in 2025.

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