The Connecticut women’s basketball team had advanced to 12 consecutive Finals Fours entering its NCAA Tournament matchup Monday night against Baylor. Freshman Paige Bueckers had been a part of none of those, but was determined to keep the streak alive.
The Huskies needed every bit of their freshman star’s team-leading 28 points to defeat the Lady Bears, 69-67, and reach the national semifinals for the 13th tournament in a row.
“Paige got that look in her eye, started getting some buckets,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said after the game. “And when Paige is scoring, the rest of the team really gains a lot of confidence.”
Bueckers was just 6 years old when UConn’s Final Four streak began in 2008.
“To be part of that history is wild,” Bueckers said. “It’s why I came here. … Saw that as a young kid, wanted to be a part of that. It’s surreal.”
UConn was down 55-45 late in the third quarter, but went on a 19-0 run to take a 64-55 lead with just over seven minutes left in the game. Ten of those points came from Bueckers, the team’s leading scorer all year and just the third freshman to ever be a first-team All-American.
Her 28 points on Monday marked the most in the NCAA tourney for Bueckers, and the most she’s scored this season since Feb. 8, when she dropped 31 against South Carolina (a fellow No. 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament). That game was Bueckers’ third in a row with 30 or more points, becoming the first woman in UConn’s rich history to hit the 30-mark three straight games.
After helping her team to the Final Four, Bueckers was asked in her postgame press conference if Monday night was anything like what she envisioned as a kid growing up in Hopkins, Minnesota. She took the opportunity to praise God.
“As a little kid, I would be outside at the park shooting hoops, envisioning these moments but you never really know if you’re going to get those chances and opportunities. And that’s where God kicks in,” she said. “I know I wouldn’t be here without Him and just the confidence and experiences and opportunities He’s given me. I’ve just tried to shine and sort of make Him
famous and use my light that He’s given me to shine on Him.
“So these opportunities, you dream of them as a kid, but you can get there with strong work ethic and faith and just trust in God.”
Bueckers has discussed her faith in God before, and she said Monday that it really grew in the past year during the pandemic.
“That was a really hard time for me, the start of the shutdown of the whole country,” she said. “That’s when I really started connecting with my faith and with God, knowing He always has a plan for me through the ups and the downs, just always keeping that faith and that trust that everything’s going to work out and everything happens for a reason.”
Bueckers and the Huskies on Friday will face No. 3-seeded Arizona, which defeated Indiana on Monday. Arizona will be making its first-ever Final Four appearance against the powerhouse that is UConn.
The Huskies have won six national titles during their span of 13 straight Final Fours, but none since 2016. That title marked a record fourth in a row. Overall, the UConn women have won 11 national championships, more than any other program.