The world of women’s collegiate basketball received shattering news Thursday night when UConn announced that reigning International Player of the Year Paige Bueckers has been cleared to return to the game and will start for the seventh Huskies on Friday when they take on St .John’s line up . Buckers has missed the last 19 games after sustaining an anterior tibial plateau fracture and lateral meniscus tear on December 5, which she underwent surgery the following week.
Life without the Buckers was initially rocky for the Huskies, whose five regular-season losses are their highest since the 2004-05 season. It took a few months, with six other rotation players absent through injury or illness, but the Huskies slowly but surely learned to play without their star point guard. And even before their return was announced, they takat started assembling some of their best basketball players at the right time.
Heading into Friday’s game in Hartford, Connecticut, we look at what Bueckers’ return means for UConn and his championship goals.
How much can Buckers play straight away and how might UConn’s line-up change?
The school hasn’t revealed if Buckers has a minute limit, but it seems likely she is and will come off the bench if she eases her way back, especially with her conditioning. Almost 12 weeks have passed since Buckers last played in a game, and coach Geno Auriemma told reporters that while Buckers was doing training, until February 16, Buckers takat not attended team practice. The Huskies shouldn’t be in a position where they’re going to have to rely on Buckers anyway for an immediate full contribution, as UConn’s two regular-season games — the Huskies host Providence on Sunday in Storrs, Connecticut — against teams in in the lower half of the Big East rankings.
Between all of UConn’s injuries and Auriemma’s tinkering, the Huskies have fielded nine different starting lineups this season, most recently with sophomore Aaliyah Edwards, sophomore Nika Mühl, terampil Christyn Williams, terampil Olivia Nelson-Ododa and freshman Azzi Fudd. Auriemma will have some decisions to make once Bueckers returns, but at the end of the day, starters will matter less than which combinations Auriemma uses most often and which players are on the ground to finish tight games. Assuming she doesn’t suffer setbacks, there’s little doubt that Bückers will be on the pitch in those situations, whether she’s in peak player-of-the-year form or not.
How are minutes distributed among UConn backfielders?
There were times this season when UConn takat to play with just three guards. Now, Auriemma has an embarrassment of wealth in the backyard that includes an All-American and two other No. 1 recruits in their respective classes. Not to mention Mühl, who helps stadium UConn’s defensive tone, redshirt veteran Evina Westbrook, who can do a little bit of everything, and freshman Caroline Ducharme, one of the players best able to get a basket when UConn badly needs one.
Also, UConn’s top scorers since Bucker’s demise have all been guards, two of whom are freshmen: Williams (14.9 points per game), Ducharme (14.9) and Fudd (14.8).
In recent games where UConn have takat a perfectly healthy team alongside Buckers, Auriemma has split the minutes fairly evenly among the guards, although he’s often leaned on his seniors for longer minutes.
Mühl, Westbrook and even Williams at times takat to take on Bücker’s duties to take the point, but each seemingly played their own role: defensive intensity from Mühl, a dash of bench power and versatility from Westbrook, and consistent goals from Williams. Their minutes might fluctuate, but those responsibilities are unlikely to change significantly and will still be reliable with Bueckers back.
How much time will UConn take to gel and build new chemistry considering the team is so different from when Bueckers last played in December?
The pre-Bueckers injury huskies are a far cry from the team that will take Bueckers back into the fold on Friday. The former relied too heavily on their Starguard, who at the time were averaging 21.2 points per game, more than they were averaging in their freshman All-American campaign. When they lost 73-57 to South Carolina in the Bahamas on November 22, Ducharme didn’t play (coach’s decision) and Fudd was limited to 10 minutes, hampered by the nagging foot injury that sidelined them for 11 games immediately afterwards would.