Paige Bueckers leads Connecticut past USC and into the Final Four – Sports News (Trending Perfect)


PORTLAND, OR – You're Paige Bueckers, you've just taken your team to the Final Four, and you can't stop hearing your name called. You have pictures to take. You have a lot of people to hug. At this point, you're used to people screaming for you, that they want something, and that they're hoping you'll take a second of your time and pass it their way.

You, 22, is an expert at balancing the desire for privacy with the expectations of the women's basketball world. You're a star, after all, and stars sign autographs when they'd rather take an ice bath. So you run across the field, and notice the two girls who have been screaming your name for the better part of 10 minutes. Your team, Connecticut, had just beaten USC, 80-73, at the Moda Center on Monday night in the Portland Region 3 final of the NCAA Tournament. I signed a pink Paige Bueckers jersey, right on the number 5. I signed a red Chicago Bulls jersey, avoiding Michael Jordan's number 23.

You signed a sneaker. You signed a black t-shirt that may never be able to prove you did so. Once you move, you will make 13 cameras and four security guards move as well. Your stat line, in the third Elite Eight win of your college career, was 28 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocks. I played all 40 minutes on Monday. You also played all 40 minutes on Saturday, when you and your team lost six starters to injuries and beat Duke.

No wonder you keep hearing your name.

“Today was one of the most fun feelings I've ever had in my life,” Bueckers said afterward, after the Huskies took down top-seeded USC and freshman star JoJo Watkins. “Today I saw where I was a year ago, doing individual drills, and I'm starting to feel basketball again. … Now I'm here with my teammates and the coaching staff and we're going to the Final Four.

A year ago, Bueckers was still recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee, her second serious injury in about eight months. I watched Kaitlyn Clark and Angel Reyes compete for the national championship, and they were sidelined as the women's game exploded. But now she will face Clark and Iowa in Cleveland on Friday. South Carolina and North Carolina State will play in the other semifinal. Third seed U-Conn. We'll see how far this miracle run can take.

And on Monday, Bueckers, Aliyah Edwards and Nika Mohl never sat down, even after Mohl picked up her fourth foul of the third quarter. Without that many contributors, the Huskies don't have the luxury of resting much. Edwards, a senior forward, finished with 24 points. When Muhl committed his fourth foul, Geno Auriemma, the Huskies' 70-year-old coach, put his elbows on the scorer's table and closed his eyes. Thirteen minutes until his record 23rd Final Four. The Huskies led by nine.

But Muhl was not alone in foul trouble. Freshman guard KK Arnold also had four.

“I told myself I wasn’t going to make a mistake,” said Muhl, a senior guard. “But I didn’t tell myself I wouldn’t get four.”

Knowing he couldn't lose Muhl, Auriemma switched Bueckers to Watkins, who finished with 29 points (and 10 rebounds) and broke the NCAA single-season scoring record for a freshman. However, from the get-go, guarding Watkins and point guard Mackenzie Forbes was a complete team effort. Watkins noted how, every time she drove, she felt like there was another U-Conn. The guns are on their way. The Huskies constantly switched and surrounded the Trojans' scorers around ball screens.

In the middle of that effort, Bueckers battled USC seniors, then Watkins, then whomever Auriemma needed. As a freshman in 2021, after winning Player of the Year honors, she earned U-Conn. To the Final Four. As a sophomore, she led the Huskies to the national championship game, losing to South Carolina. And here, on the other side of back-to-back knee injuries, she is two wins away from what has eluded the Huskies since 2016.

“It’s basketball,” freshman guard Ashlyn Shedd said. “She embodies greatness every time she steps on the court.”

“Because every kid has this, I know there's a fear of: 'What if I can't?'” Auriemma said Monday night. “Anyone who tells you there isn't, is lying, okay? But the great ones… they put that in the back of their minds and go and do what they do. We've had some great things on Mount Rushmore. I don't know that we can fit them all in, you know? “But all you need to do is win the national championship.”

Deep in the fourth quarter, like U-Conn. Bueckers pulled away, split a double team, nailed a floater, then immediately sprinted to confront guard Watkins. During USC's press break, she was somehow keeping tabs on Auriemma, receiving the next play call. When the Huskies won, she was the first player to withdraw from their celebration and join the handshake line.

Her mind seems to be loaded with all the possibilities on the basketball court. It is processed at warp speed.

But after signing up to those screaming girls, you – Paige Bakers – are allowing yourself a little treat. Take a deep breath. Then on the other side of the field, more fans waiting, more people begging for your attention, you scribble another round of signatures. You can take someone's iPhone and take a selfie.

Above the tunnel, a young teenager shouts: “Paige! look at me! Please look at me!”

Inside the tunnel, you can finally relax.

Ahead, on your way to the locker room, you spot Andrea Huddy, the Huskies' director of athletic performance. With only eight players on health scholarships, it's Hoodie who helps keep everyone active. So she jumped with the crow, hanging in the air, before hitting Hoodie's ass. Hoodie shouts. You glanced over your shoulder, a big smile on your face.

Once you've joined your teammates, you'll all get ready to drown Auriemma with your water bottles. When she does, some stains splatter onto the Portland Area Champion trophy in the corner, and it settles there next to the refrigerator. Of course, no one wants to ruin it, even if your teammates dropped the trophy on the field next to the Huskies' bench earlier. You are all hoping to win a bigger prize soon.



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