Follow our live updates of the ladies’s NCAA championship game: UConn vs. South Carolina.
When Connecticut’s Paige Bueckers and Stanford’s Haley Jones fought for a rebound within the fourth quarter on Friday night, Bueckers ended up limping off the court. Bueckers returned a couple of minutes later, only to be knocked down again when Stanford’s Lexie Hull lunged for a rebound.
The collisions weren’t out of character for these two highly physical teams, especially provided that a shot at a national championship game was on the road.
But it surely has been just two and a half months since Bueckers had surgery to repair an anterior tibial plateau fracture and a lateral meniscus tear on her left knee. The 20-year-old guard returned to the court in late February and has slowly increased her playing time, from 13 minutes a month ago to 45 minutes on Monday night. On Friday, she played 34 minutes against Stanford and led her team with 14 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists.
Bueckers shrugged off any questions on injury or nerves after the sport. “Yeah, I’m OK,” she said.
On Sunday, she’ll face South Carolina and the highest defensive team within the country, including 6-foot-5 Aliyah Boston, the 2022 women’s national player of the 12 months award and defensive player of the 12 months.
Bueckers is on an extended list of Huskies who’ve missed time this season due to injury or illness. But they’ve come back from their worst regular season since 2004-5 to take down two No. 1 seeds within the tournament — North Carolina State and Stanford — and are actually hoping to do it again to win their first national championship since 2016.
Getting back up has change into a typical thread amongst Bueckers and her teammates. After her first fall of the sport on Friday, Bueckers winced, grabbed her right leg and limped off the court. After her second, during a tussle for a jump ball wherein she landed on her bad knee, Bueckers covered her face together with her hands briefly before her teammates got here over to assist her up. Bueckers walked it off and resumed play.
“Some things, like what happened last night, are more of an in-the-moment form of pain and you’ll be able to just shake it off,” Bueckers said Saturday. “I used to be just stretching and ensuring I could get back in the sport as soon as possible.”
“As soon as I come off the ground, I can’t wait to get back in,” she added.
Before Sunday’s game, Bueckers said she plans to sit down in an ice bath, stretch and use “all of the recovery devices that we are able to to be certain that that our bodies and minds can be prepared.”
UConn’s coach, Geno Auriemma, said he’ll play Bueckers for so long as she’s able, and that he wasn’t “excited about managing her time” on the court on Sunday but somewhat “managing her performance.”
“So long as she’s getting the things done that we’d like done, I’m going to depart her on the market. If she’s struggling a little bit bit with whatever, physically or her game, then I’m going to take her out,” Auriemma added. “She’s going to have her hands full tomorrow. We’re playing probably the most effective defense in America.”
South Carolina’s Brea Beal, who blanketed Louisville’s offense on Friday and blocked its top scorer from breaking double digits, is expecting Bueckers to be at the highest of her game, injury or not.
“With regards to someone like Paige, irrespective of what she’s going to go on the market and I feel the adrenaline goes to shield her from that,” Beal said on Saturday. “I definitely think we’re going to get the most effective game she’s played all season of course.”