Freshman piles up plaudits as team reaches 13th straight Final Four
Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma considers the Elite Eight regional game that sends a team to the Final Four the most difficult to win in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship.
During a challenging season, Auriemma’s young team won a hard-fought 69-67 battle against No. 2 Baylor to advance to the Huskies’ thirteenth consecutive Final Four in San Antonio against No. 3 Arizona, tonight at 9:30 p.m. on ESPN and the UConn IMG Sports Network.
“The game was tougher than a handful of national championship games that we’ve won, without question,” Auriemma said after the game. “Winning this game, given how it played out, getting down 10, that’s an amazing accomplishment by these young kids.”
Freshman guard Paige Bueckers again led UConn with 28 points, with help from junior guard Christyn Williams, who had 21, and junior guard Evina Westbrook, who had 11.
UConn reached the final weekend of the tournament after wins over No. 16 High Point, No. 8 Syracuse, No. 5 Iowa and Baylor. The Huskies are scoring 82.7 points per game hitting 51% of their shots, grabbing 41.8 rebounds, sharing 20.8 assists and with 18 turnovers. They are holding opponents to an average of 52 points.
Wildcats head coach Adia Barnes has two connections to the Huskies. Barnes won a WNBA title as a Seattle Storm teammate of Sue Bird. Along with UConn alumna – and Bird teammate – Morgan Valley, Barnes served as assistant coach at the University of Washington. After Barnes moved to Arizona to lead the Wildcats, Valley joined her for two years as an assistant until heading to the University of Hartford as head coach in 2019.
“They compete exceptionally hard defensively,” Auriemma said of the Wildcats. “They just are relentless, and they get contributions from the whole team. When you have that kind of base to work with that anything’s possible. I think Adia has this kind of even temperament, so she’s going to keep them level. I don’t think they’re going to be afraid of the moment.”
Auriemma said point guard Nika Muhl, who has not played after suffering a high ankle sprain in the tournament’s first game, practiced for the first time on Wednesday.
“It’s one of those high ankle sprains that bothers you for a long time,” he said. “We need to see how she wakes up tomorrow morning, how it feels, The fact that she could get out on the floor for just a little bit is a real positive sign.”
Bueckers, meanwhile, has piled up individual honors as tournament unfolds. She became the first-ever freshman named Associated Press Player of the Year, and only the third freshman to make the AP First Team All-America. She was named both the 2021 Big East Player and Freshman of the Year and the conference’s Tournament Most Outstanding Player.
Bueckers also was recognized as espnW’s Player and Freshman of the Year, and was named a Wooden Award All-American. Earlier this week she was the River Walk Region Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA Tournament.
Her name is already in the Huskies record books for most assists in a game (14) and most assists by a freshman (164).
Bueckers said the Huskies continue share responsibility for winning on the court.
“You can’t take one person away and think you’re going to win because we have multiple people that can get a bucket at any time,” she said. “I think that’s really huge for us going into the Final Four, just making sure we have that balanced scoring and everybody’s playing with confidence, everybody’s playing their best basketball. I think that just comes with our selflessness as a team and as a unit. That’s just UConn basketball.”