If you haven’t watched her play, you’ve been missing out on a generational talent.
If you haven’t seen her stroke a three or dish a no-look pass, you’ve been denied a basketball marvel.
University of Connecticut point guard Paige Bueckers has taken over as the best player in women’s college basketball, and she’s as clutch as she is entertaining. The good news if you’re yet to observe? You still have the Final Four … and three more years.
It’s not unusual for a Connecticut Husky to be the best player in the nation. Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore and Breanna Stewart have all been tops in the college game at one point in the past 20 years. What is unusual is for the country’s best women’s basketball player to be a freshman. But it looks like that may be the case.
On Wednesday Bueckers became the first freshman to win The Associated Press women’s basketball player of the year. The honor makes it seem likely that she’ll also win the Wooden Award — basketball’s equivalent to football’s Heisman Trophy — which has never gone to a female freshman.
There have been young standouts before — Stewart won Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four as a freshman — but I’m not sure we’ve ever seen a force like Bueckers this quickly out of the gate.
Here’s a quick look at her stat line: 20.1 points per game, 5.8 assists, 4.8 rebounds, 2.3 steals, a .528 field-goal percentage and a whopping .459 percentage from three. That’s impressive.
But the praise Taurasi gave Bueckers in an interview with Togethxr.com might say more than the numbers do.
“The first game I watched her play, I watched the first quarter, I told Penny (Taylor — Taurasi’s wife) and then gave a text to (UConn) coach (Geno) Auriemma after the basketball game and said she’s the best player in basketball already for the simple fact that she can pass,” Taurasi said. “She makes really hard passes look really easy, and she makes really easy passes look easy. That alone sets her apart from every other player in the college.”
Taurasi went on to say that Bueckers was way ahead of where she was in her first year.
“The level she is playing at right now as a freshman — it is incredible. You don’t play that efficiently and with that much confidence as a rookie, as a freshman, at Connecticut.”
Wanna talk about confidence? On Monday, UConn trailed Baylor by 10 with two minutes left in the third quarter of their Elite Eight matchup. Then came a 19-0 Huskies blitz, in which 10 points came from Bueckers. She finished the night with a game-high 28 points.
Not that this should come as much of a surprise. Earlier in the season, Bueckers scored 31 points in an overtime win against then-No. 1 South Carolina. Her final bucket came with her team up one with 11 seconds left, when she launched a contested three that bounced about five feet in the air after hitting the back of the rim before dropping in.
“The magic of Paige Buckers!” screamed play-by-play announcer Lisa Byington. That was Bueckers’ third consecutive game with at least 30 points.
It’s fair to say the expectations for Bueckers were at a Himalayan level when she came out of high school as the nation’s top recruit. She was a varsity starter at Hopkins High in Minnetonka, Minnesota, as an eighth-grader and led the team to a 30-0 record as a senior.
But it’s also fair to say Bueckers has surpassed those ever-lofty expectations with her play this season. The 5-foot-11 phenom has simply been peerless.
It’s hard to know how much better Bueckers will get during her time at UConn. But her superstar predecessors such as Bird, Taurasi, Moore and Stewart all seemed to peak as upperclassmen.
What we do know is that, right now, Bueckers’ Huskies are 28-1 and set to play Arizona in the Final Four on Friday. If they beat the Wildcats, then get past the winner of South Carolina and Stanford, they will have won their 12th national championship. Should that happen, it’s hard to think that Bueckers wouldn’t have played a significant role in capturing that title.
Fans of the game should feel lucky that Bueckers will likely spend three more years playing at UConn. So if you haven’t had a chance to watch her, there will be plenty of opportunities down the road. Having said that, Friday would be a good time to start spectating. UConn has produced a bevy of stars over the years, but this freshman may be the best.