UConn’s Paige Bueckers etches her title in UConn-Tennessee lore

Thursday did not disappoint. Michigan junior Naz Hillmon went off for 50 factors, essentially the most by any girls’s school basketball participant this season. South Carolina sophomore Aliyah Boston notched her second profession triple-double. And No. 25 Tennessee took third-ranked UConn to the wire earlier than Paige Bueckers helped pull out a 67-61 victory within the Huskies’ first journey to Knoxville, Tennessee, in 15 years. ESPN.com’s Mechelle Voepel, Charlie Creme and D’Arcy Maine break down the motion.


Freshman Paige Bueckers shot 1-for-10 from the sector by means of three quarters however then — limping on an ankle she had rolled simply minutes earlier — hit a 3-pointer (and the sport’s last factors) with time expiring on the shot clock and 28 seconds to play. How will historical past consider Bueckers’ efficiency?

Creme: From the second Bueckers signed to play at UConn it appeared a foregone conclusion that she would finally be talked about among the many Huskies’ all-time greats. The query was when would that ascension start. It started Thursday.

Even when the rivalry with Tennessee does not carry the identical significance because it as soon as did, it is nonetheless a giant deal that Bueckers hit the jumper that sealed the win for UConn. That will not be forgotten. She shook off a sore ankle and a horrible taking pictures efficiency to make the most important shot of the sport, and it’ll stand because the evening she formally established herself because the Huskies’ subsequent star. Thursday’s shot — a dagger on a nasty ankle in a rivalry with such historical past — will likely be included in any spotlight bundle encapsulating her profession.

This win was actually essential for UConn. It was the primary true highway take a look at for a younger workforce, and if the Huskies are to be among the finest groups within the nation, they must win a recreation like this. With out Bueckers’ late 3-pointer or her eight rebounds and 7 assists (and solely two turnovers), this may need turn into the Woman Vols’ evening to shine.

Voepel: UConn coach Geno Auriemma mentioned after the sport that Bueckers retains telling him she would quite go the ball than shoot it. Which made me chuckle considering of UConn legend Sue Chicken, the WNBA’s all-time assists chief who — as a lot as she’s revered for her playmaking — has additionally hit some gargantuan pictures in each school and professional play. It is not truthful to check anybody to Chicken — who scored 25 factors in her first go to to Knoxvillle in January 2000 — nevertheless it’s form of inevitable for all UConn guards.

The underside line is, even the perfect passers must to be scoring threats, too, in the event that they wish to take advantage of their playmaking skill. They usually must be keen to take the large shot in clutch moments if that is the correct play to make. Bueckers was prepared for that duty. And I’ve a sense we’ll keep in mind this as the primary of what’s going to finally be many occasions that she has a second like that on nationwide tv in a marquee recreation.

“When Paige sprained her ankle and she or he got here out, then she wished to return in,” Auriemma mentioned. “I wasn’t utterly certain but. And he or she mainly mentioned, ‘Put me again in.’ And the opposite coaches had been yelling, ‘Put her again in.’

“One factor I preserve reiterating on a regular basis is, if Paige ever turns into a bit of extra egocentric, I feel we’ll be a significantly better workforce. So I am glad she did not go up that open 3 she had. That was fairly large.”

Maine: We’re simply hours faraway from the sport and I’ve already largely forgotten about Bueckers’ taking pictures woes and keep in mind only one factor: THE shot. I’ve a sense that would be the singular second followers keep in mind about this recreation years from now, and it is going to be seen because the crowning second of UConn’s newest celebrity in a protracted and esteemed line of them. Historical past favors the daring, and nobody was bolder than Bueckers in that second.


For the second straight 12 months, UConn’s fourth-quarter efficiency turned a detailed recreation with Tennessee right into a Huskies win. What did we study UConn on Thursday?

Creme: Two issues instantly come to thoughts — one dangerous, one good. First, the dangerous: The Huskies are younger and nonetheless play prefer it at occasions. The missed free throws, the longer-than-normal stretches that lacked the normal UConn crispness and the inconsistency in ending performs had been a big a part of this recreation’s narrative. The Huskies left a variety of factors on the court docket that might have made this a a lot simpler win.

Now the great: Regardless of all that the Huskies received a highway recreation with a roster that’s 75% freshmen and sophomores towards a top-25 opponent. Regardless of all of the imperfections and being in a state of affairs most of those gamers hadn’t been in earlier than, UConn nonetheless discovered a strategy to win.

The three veterans got here up large. Christyn Williams scored a game-high 20 factors, Evina Westbrook scored 15 and hit the 2 greatest jumpers within the second half apart from Bueckers’, and Olivia Nelson-Ododa had two enormous blocked pictures within the fourth quarter. That management paved the way in which.

Voepel: Together with seeing that Bueckers is not going to again away from any problem, we noticed that her teammates utterly belief her and that they had been prepared for a few of their very own large moments.

Earlier this week, Auriemma tried to downplay the storyline of Westbrook coming again to Tennessee, the place she performed two seasons earlier than transferring to UConn. However he acknowledged Thursday he talked to her about it earlier than the sport.

Westbrook mentioned he informed her to not let her feelings get the perfect of her and never get out of character, and to make use of any detrimental vibes the group directed at her to energise herself. That is lots simpler mentioned than accomplished, however she did it with 15 factors, 5 rebounds and 4 assists.

We additionally noticed that Auriemma, all the time identified for some knowledgeable tinkering, made the correct calls towards Tennessee. The Huskies went to a zone protection greater than they’ve in another recreation this 12 months, he mentioned, and it was efficient.

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Evina Westbrook drills back-to-back triples for UConn to regain management of the sport.

Maine: In a season through which the Huskies had seen their two greatest video games canceled as a result of virus, Thursday’s win was proof this younger workforce can win the large video games on the highway. Sounds apparent however the Huskies hadn’t had the chance to do this till this level.

It additionally spoke to the depth of this workforce and the power of a number of gamers to step up large when wanted when Bueckers was struggling. As Charlie talked about, the three juniors performed essential roles down the stretch and confirmed they might not shrink back on the most important stage. For Westbrook to have that kind of revenge/assertion recreation towards her former workforce speaks volumes about who she is as a participant and her skill to dam out the noise and preserve her nerves in verify.


What did we study Tennessee?

Creme: Heading into the sport I felt the Woman Vols had been higher than their No. 25 spot within the rankings. Tennessee was my No. 20 general workforce within the newest Bracketology, and after tonight I’m satisfied my placement is the extra correct evaluation. The development of gamers like Rae Burrell and Tamari Secret’s apparent. Tennessee was almost nearly as good as UConn — when is the final time any of us might say that — and will have received this recreation.

The Woman Vols nonetheless have to execute within the recreation’s key moments; they scored solely 12 fourth-quarter factors towards UConn. These points had been additionally current in final week’s loss to Georgia after they blew a giant lead. The turnover issues of a 12 months in the past have improved, however they nonetheless come at inopportune occasions. Jordan Horston (two factors towards UConn) and Rennia Davis (4 of 12 taking pictures) nonetheless aren’t enjoying to the degrees of which they’re succesful. If that occurs then the Woman Vols (9-3) ought to begin successful a few of these video games.

Voepel: I like Kellie Harper’s management. She’s a former level guard, so in fact turnovers bug her. However she is aware of the Woman Vols have made progress there, and she or he has a manner of giving suggestions that’s the form of constructive criticism her workforce will take heed to however not be discouraged by.

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No. 25 Tennessee fights exhausting, however Rae Burrell’s 18 factors not sufficient in a tricky 67-61 loss to No. 3 UConn.

After the Woman Vols’ loss to Georgia, Harper mentioned she was “seething” as a result of she attributed their misplaced lead in that recreation to a lapse in effort. She mentioned that undoubtedly wasn’t the case towards UConn. This loss was about lapses in execution, which had been crucial as a result of there may be so little margin for error towards the Huskies.

As Charlie mentioned, Tennessee might have received this recreation. We did not really feel that manner final 12 months, when regardless of their halftime lead, the Woman Vols scored simply 14 factors within the second half and misplaced by 15. This Tennessee workforce is healthier, and I feel they are often irritated by this loss but additionally impressed by it.

Maine: Turnovers plagued Tennessee — UConn transformed 16 factors off of 14 Woman Vols turnovers — and as Harper mentioned, the workforce “simply could not discover a bucket” within the last quarter. However there was nonetheless lots to be ok with for Tennessee.

Sure, the Woman Vols’ fourth quarter left a lot to be desired, however even when trailing by 9 (the sport’s largest deficit) with 4:47 to play, Tennessee did not again down. Freshman Marta Suárez responded with an enormous 3-pointer and the Woman Vols went on a 6-0 run quickly after to make it a one-possession recreation. They could not get it accomplished nevertheless it wasn’t for lack of effort or want. It is a workforce with a ton of battle.


At halftime, Auriemma was crucial of UConn’s taking pictures. The Huskies had been 5-for-12 on the foul line and missed wide-open bounce pictures. “We won’t shoot,” Auriemma mentioned. “I mentioned that (in) Recreation 1, and I am saying it once more: We won’t shoot.” Is that the quote of a annoyed coach within the second, or an actual downside that UConn ought to be involved about this season?

Voepel: I feel it is a authentic fear, and never simply Auriemma being nitpicky as a result of he needs perfection. He mentioned Monday that he is normally large on aesthetics, that he all the time needs his groups to look a sure manner in regard to fashion of play and execution. However not this season.

“I am in all probability at a degree now the place I actually do not care how we glance,” he mentioned. “I simply need us to play a recreation and win that recreation. This concept of ‘Yeah, we appear to be we’re a very good workforce?’ Nope.”

Auriemma is understood for being humorously hyperbolic about his workforce’s shortcomings, nevertheless it does not sound like that now. This is not a workforce of a number of dead-eye shooters the way in which lots of his groups have been, and he is aware of it.

Now, that does not imply they are not going to get higher. And, as talked about, Bueckers nonetheless made the most important shot of the sport. However Tennessee confirmed a few of UConn’s flaws, and you may make sure fellow SEC colleges Arkansas, which simply added the Huskies as an opponent on Jan. 28, and South Carolina, which visits Storrs on Feb. 8, will check out what the Woman Vols did.

Maine: I imply, did you see a few of these jumper makes an attempt? Everyone knows Auriemma tends to magnify these points, particularly throughout a majority of these halftime or postgame interviews, however he was correct on Thursday. His workforce actually could not shoot. It will be straightforward to say this was a results of nerves from enjoying a giant opponent on the highway for the primary time all season, however that is probably not all of it. As Mechelle identified, this simply is not the sharpshooting workforce we have seen in years previous, and the Huskies have been in a position to conceal that barely towards some less-challenging opponents.

With the shortage of consistency in enjoying this season, and the frequent begins and stops, that is more durable to repair than regular, however Auriemma has to no less than be happy by the buckets that basically counted within the recreation’s last moments.


On Thursday, Michigan’s Naz Hillmon went off for 50 factors — with out even trying a 3-pointer; she hit 20-for-30 subject objectives and 10 of 14 free throws — and South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston had a triple-double with 16 factors, 11 rebounds and 10 blocks. What do you want about their video games? And the way has Boston stepped up lately?

Creme: I mentioned earlier this week that South Carolina is the No. 1 general workforce in Bracketology. I then laid out all of the statistical proof to again that up, however the truth that the Gamecocks have Boston and nobody else does is one other fairly good motive.

Her triple-double on Thursday is indicative of how a lot of the offense runs by means of Boston and simply how a lot of a defensive power she is. Georgia did what it wanted to do on protection in holding South Carolina to 62 factors. Boston was the chief motive the Bulldogs solely scored 50 and by no means posed a lot of a menace to the Gamecocks.

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Michigan girls’s basketball participant Naz Hillmon units a Michigan scoring file, placing up 50 factors in a loss to Ohio State.

One clue as to why Hillmon has turn into such a dominant participant lies within the query above: “with out even trying a 3-pointer.” Hillmon has turn into the third-leading scorer within the nation (26.1 PPG) with out taking one all season.

In her third 12 months at Michigan, Hillmon has discovered what sort of participant she is and performs to her strengths. She’s extremely environment friendly and a bullish offensive rebounder. Leap pictures aren’t needed as a result of Hillmon will get to wherever she needs to within the lane. No participant within the nation makes extra 2-point subject objectives per recreation and she or he’s second in offensive rebounding (10 of her 15 rebounds towards Ohio State got here on the offensive finish). The truth that the Wolverines nonetheless misplaced the sport regardless of Hillmon’s unbelievable effort is astounding, but when she retains placing up these sorts of numbers, Michigan will not lose rather more.

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Aliyah Boston’s triple double (16 factors, 11 rebounds and 10 blocks) and Zia Cooke’s 16-point evening raise No. 4 South Carolina to a 62-50 win over No. 22 Georgia.

Voepel: Boston lately mentioned she realized she wanted to select issues up a bit after a dialog with coach Daybreak Staley. She was having a very good season, however Staley is aware of she’s able to greatness. And have a look at what Boston has accomplished towards high-quality ranked opponents in three latest victories. (I am not together with the blowout of Vanderbilt as a result of she performed simply 19 minutes.)

Boston had 20 factors and 12 rebounds towards Kentucky, 26 and 16 towards Arkansas, after which the triple-double towards Georgia. That’s eye-popping stuff.

“I have been actually specializing in being extra dominant,” Boston mentioned. “Coach in follow has been ensuring I understand how dominant I should be, and I can not slack off. So I have been making an attempt to proceed with that all through every recreation we have performed.”

As for Hillmon, as Charlie mentioned, she’s form of the old style, “Simply throw the ball in my normal route and I am going to get it and rating.” She does not make the sport extra difficult than it must be, and her motor is relentless.

“Her skill to attain the basketball, to catch the basketball is unimaginable,” coach Kim Barnes Arico mentioned. “We simply began working every part for her. I’ve coached some actually nice gamers in my time. I’ve by no means seen a efficiency like that. She was fairly good towards Nebraska when she had 35 and 22 [rebounds]. How is that going to occur once more when she’s circled on high of each workforce’s scouting report? And he or she nonetheless managed to do this.”


What one recreation are you most trying ahead to this weekend, and the way does it influence Bracketology?

Creme: I am curious how Tennessee bounces again when it hosts Kentucky on Sunday in a recreation that may have enormous ramifications on the SEC race. However the recreation of the weekend is Friday evening between UCLA and Stanford in Santa Cruz.

It is a rematch of a recreation the Cardinal received pretty decisively on Dec. 21. This time it’s going to decide whether or not Stanford stays a No. 1 seed in Bracketology or falls to the No. 2 line lower than every week after most thought-about the Cardinal the clear decide as the perfect workforce within the nation.

A win for the Bruins would catapult them to the No. 2 line, giving the Pac-12 three groups as No. 2 seeds (Arizona is the opposite). A UCLA win additionally creates a cluster on the high of the convention and units up a wild race for the Pac-12 title within the second half of the league season.

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