The Awe-Inspiring Excellence of Paige Bueckers

As the No. 1 high school basketball recruit in the nation from the class of 2020, Paige Bueckers entered her first season at UConn surrounded by sky-high expectations. As the regular season comes to a close and March Madness gets in full swing, one thing is certain: Bueckers lived up to every single one. 

On March 17, Bueckers earned a spot on The Associated Press women’s basketball All-American team and became only the third freshman to do so all-time, joining basketball legends Courtney Paris and Maya Moore. Bueckers led the voting, receiving 28 out of 30 possible first-place votes from the national panel of media members. Bueckers also picked up Big East player and freshman of the year honors. Moore is the only other player to win both awards in the same season. 

In her first season, Bueckers, known affectionately as Paige Buckets, broke multiple school records to lead the Huskies to a 21–1 record and the No. 1 ranking. She became the first woman in team history to score 30 points in three straight games from Feb. 3-8 and broke the program record with fourteen assists in one game. 

Bueckers averaged 19.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 2.4 steals in the regular season. She shot 53.6 percent from the field and an astounding 47.6 percent from behind the three-point line. John Bronsteen compares her averages to Diana Taurasi’s legendary junior and senior seasons at UConn, for which she won back-to-back player of the year honors. Bueckers finished the season with numbers similar to or better than Taurasi’s in every category.

Even UConn legends Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart have both expressed how remarkable Bueckers season was. Two-time WNBA MVP Stewart commented, “What she’s done this year, in such a year of unknown, is actually ridiculous. She doesn’t look like a freshman, that’s for sure.” Bird, one of the greatest basketball players of all time, added that she loves Bueckers’ anticipation and game intelligence. 

While many prior UConn stars, including Taurasi, Moore and Stewart, all made the final four in their freshman seasons, Bueckers plays with unparalleled weight on her shoulders. She is the star of a team with no seniors after Megan Walker, the Huskies’ 2019-20 leading scorer, decided to forgo her senior season and entered the WNBA draft. 

Contrastingly, in Taurasi’s freshman season, she joined a core group of players who were coming off a championship win, and six of them would go on to be first-round WNBA picks. Similarly, Moore joined a team with three eventual first-round picks, and four first-rounders played on Stewart’s freshman team. UConn coach Geno Auriemma explained, “It’s been a long time since one player has had to carry a team as much as she’s had to in some of these games.”

Throughout the regular season, Bueckers seemed unphased by this additional responsibility, constantly executing in the biggest moments. In an overtime thriller against fellow number one seed South Carolina, Bueckers scored all nine of the Huskies’ points in extra time, including the final seven points of the game. She clinched the game on a seemingly impossible off-balance three-pointer that bounced off the rim to the height of the shot clock before falling through the net. Bueckers played all forty-five minutes against South Carolina, demonstrating how intensely UConn has come to rely on the freshman phenom. UConn finished the game with 63 points; Bueckers scored 31. 

In addition to being a lethal offensive threat, Bueckers is known for her leadership on and off the court. Auriemma consistently lauds Bueckers’ commitment to her teammates. He stated that she is a “great teammate because she is a great person” who “understands what the purpose is of being on a team.” As Bueckers garners increased spotlight and attention, she explained that she stays grounded by centering herself in the game and her teammates. Bueckers shared, “You’re not going to be perfect in anyone’s eyes, they’re always going to find something to talk about. I lean on my teammates and my coaches because those are the people who really are the only opinions I care about.” 

Heading into a competitive March Madness schedule, UConn will have to rely on Bueckers’ offensive production and leadership skills, as Auriemma has to sit out at least the beginning of the tournament after testing positive for Covid. Bueckers continues to push the bounds of excellence and as a nineteen-year-old freshman, her potential seems unlimited.