Good things come to those who are great. Paige Bueckers made her return from injury Friday night in a 93-38 runaway win over St. John’s. Despite playing on a minutes restrictions, the sophomore, reigning national player of the year, and “Walking highlight” couldn’t help but highlight.
First bucket buzzer beater, after more than two months off with a nasty injury, in front of the home crowd? Sure, why not.
“The first basket, it wouldn’t be me if it wasn’t something extra. So, I don’t know, it was a lot of fun,’’ Bueckers said after the game (via ESPN).
The follow-up to her insane debut season was almost cut short, but praise be to the basketball gods it wasn’t. There are certain people who don’t need to let the moment find them because they’re constantly looking for it. She finished 4-5 for 8 points in 13 minutes, and was stoked to be back on the floor.
“I’ve never been more happy to be on a minutes restriction,” she said . “Just to see my name in a box score with minutes next to it is surreal to me, amazing to me, just to be back in this position. I’m just grateful for everything that I have.”
She suffered an anterior tibial plateau fracture and lateral meniscus tear in the finals minute of a blowout against Notre Dame, and anytime you have an injury with that many words and phrases in it, it’s going to require surgery and recovery. She went under the knife Dec. 13, and finally made her re-debut, saying she needed to be sure she was mentally ready to use her knee “to make the same cuts, same movements.”
Apparently, she gained that confidence in practice by “busting up the starters and stuff.”
Hoopers gonna hoop, and it’s going to be hard to keep her off the court now that she’s had a taste.
“I thought it was what it was,” UCONN head coach and withholding father Geno Auriemma said of his phenom after the game. “I didn’t expect her to go out there and be bad. And I didn’t expect to play her 30 minutes. And I knew there’d be some plays that she would make that other kids on our team have a hard time making or even thinking about. And she got just enough to kind of get her feet back under and see how she is [Saturday] and then we’ll go to Sunday.”
(He did say nice things, too, admitting, “She made a couple plays in the lane that only she can. She did what Paige does. She did Paige things.”)
It’ll be interesting to see where they get seeded because they’re currently ranked No. 7 in the country and will need a team ahead of them to slip up to draw a one seed. The NCAA Women’s Tournament is a little under three weeks away, and who knows how far along she’ll be when it kicks off, but when the Huskies need someone to make a play or get a bucket, they’ll have a player who got 20, 5 and 5 as a freshman. If they end up a two, you know the team with the one is on notice.
It’s great to have her — and her impeccable timing — back.