In the UConn women’s 102-58 win over Dayton at the XL Center on Wednesday night, Paige Bueckers battled with the tenacity of any player looking to establish herself. She effectively forced her way back into collegiate basketball while fighting the unpredictable nature of the game.
The legs of both Bueckers had tight sleeve wrappings. Her twisted and ginger left thumb was supported by tape. Geno Auriemma, the coach, shouted at her. She and an official had a lengthy and heated discussion. She made the required turn back into all the mess that she had so skillfully—even effortlessly—cleared away in previous years.
Bueckers, who finished with eight points, seven rebounds, and four assists on 3-for-9 shooting, remarked. I am still discovering how to give myself compassion. I am not sufficiently foolish to have faith that everything will go according to schedule and that I will always be Paige, the same individual, and have amazing performances. Regaining my breathing, rhythm, and flow after suffering a serious injury is a process.
For the first time in 19 months (about 1 and a half years), the Bueckers took part in an official game on Wednesday. The last time she was seen, UConn beat South Carolina in the national championship game in 2022. Her entire 2022–2023 season was destroyed by an ACL tear she sustained in August of that year.
There were highlights in a poor game by Bueckers’ standards. The former All-American, who also suffered with knee issues in her sophomore campaign, got out to a strong start and appeared at ease with the physical nature of the game. She made multiple drives to the basket that resulted in her landing on the floor and was aggressive on the glass all evening.
Due to this, along with another knee problem that kept her out of action for a significant portion of 2021–2022, Bueckers has been out of basketball for more than two years. This makes it simple—if not impossible—to forget that the game isn’t always as elegant or easy as the highlight reels that have become ingrained in our memories.
However, the instances that stand out in our memories are the winning baskets against South Carolina and Tennessee when Bueckers raced to national player of the year honors in 2021 as a rookie, and the way she took over an incredible 2022 Elite Eight overtime triumph over NC State. The elegant pull-up jumpers. The look-away goes. The sneaky way she played, as though she knew something that no one else did.
But Bueckers is working on a challenging assignment. She isn’t making a fresh start. Even while she felt relieved to be back, she is nonetheless nervous. It’s not always necessary to score 25 points or dish out 15 assists to feel comfortable again. It involves going back into an arena, both literally and figuratively, and just assessing her position once more. Wednesday saw the end of that.
At one point, Auriemma sat Bueckers down on the bench and gave her a difficult time. This has before occurred. It will occur once more. Even in a close connection like this one, not every exchange between a coach and player is charming or lighthearted. Bueckers and Auriemma butting heads On Wednesday, they coordinated to solve a problem.
He suddenly has to slow her down a bit as part of his job. Furthermore, Bueckers doesn’t have to be the same player she was at 19 when she is 22. She is not even required to average 20 points a game, like she did three years ago, to be the Huskies’ top scorer this season.