January 24, 2022

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With Paige Bueckers Injured, UConn Faces a Robust Few Months

With Paige Bueckers Injured, UConn Faces a Tough Few Months

NEWARK — When ESPN introduced final month that ABC would televise a common season girls’s school basketball sport for the primary time, a matchup that includes U.C.L.A. and No. 3 Connecticut, the community assumed that Paige Bueckers, the UConn sophomore guard and reigning nationwide participant of the 12 months, can be starring on the courtroom.

However an hour earlier than tip-off on Saturday, Bueckers was on the Prudential Middle ground carrying a blue, grey and white UConn sweatsuit and a black brace that prolonged from her left thigh to her foot. Propped on crutches, she talked with teammates, coaches and reporters.

Bueckers had sustained a tibial plateau fracture in her left knee with lower than a minute remaining in a Dec. 5 residence sport in opposition to Notre Dame. She is predicted to overlook six to eight weeks, a timeline that will permit her to return in time to play within the Massive East and N.C.A.A. tournaments in March.

“She wanted to solicit a pair different opinions after which the following step is there’s both going to be surgical procedure or there’s not going to be surgical procedure and that’s acquired to occur comparatively quickly,” Coach Geno Auriemma stated after a 71-61 win over U.C.L.A.

“I feel by the following couple days right here we’re going to have a definitive reply, sure or no,” he added.

Even when Bueckers, 20, whom UConn didn’t make out there for this story, undergoes surgical procedure, Auriemma stated he didn’t count on it to affect her restoration a lot. He stated he was eyeing “mid-February or late-February on the newest” for her return.

Bueckers’ damage has raised a number of questions: Ought to she have nonetheless been within the sport — a blowout — on the finish? What does her absence imply for UConn’s probabilities of profitable a twelfth nationwide championship below Auriemma? Will it affect her capability to earn cash by means of her mame, image and likeness offers? It has additionally raised one certainty: it will likely be a protracted six to eight weeks for the Huskies (6-2).

Bueckers had amassed 22 factors, 5 steals, 4 rebounds and 4 assists in 39 minutes that positioned UConn for a 73-54 blowout of a ranked Notre Dame (9-2) workforce earlier than sustaining the non-contact damage. Bueckers was dribbling up the courtroom when she stumbled, twisted her ankle and fell awkwardly on her left leg.

Afterward, many on social media questioned whether or not Bueckers ought to have even been within the sport at that stage.

“It’s actually one thing to speak about,” Rebecca Lobo, the previous UConn and W.N.B.A. star who was a part of the ABC broadcast workforce for the U.C.L.A. sport, informed The New York Instances, earlier than referencing the anterior cruciate ligament damage she had whereas taking part in with the Liberty. “However once I tore my knee the primary time, it was within the first minute of a sport. Non-contact. I assumed there was contact however there wasn’t. With accidents, I’m positive persons are going to second guess however that may solely get you up to now.”

What stays to be seen is how far the Huskies will get with out Bueckers, who was averaging 21.2 factors, 6.2 assists and 5.5 rebounds per sport whereas taking pictures 56 p.c from the sphere on the time of the damage. She had accounted for a minimum of 45 p.c of UConn’s complete factors.

In opposition to Seton Corridor on Dec. 3, she had 23 factors, 9 rebounds, 7 assists and 5 steals. On one play, she threw a three-quarter-court go to her roommate Christyn Williams for a layup.

After Bueckers’ damage, Williams stated she had made chocolate chip cookies to assist her really feel higher. “I’m harm,” Williams stated on a call with reporters. “Paige is one among our leaders on the ground — she’s my level guard, she’s my sister. We’re household.”

With out Bueckers, UConn misplaced, 57-44, at unranked Georgia Tech (8-2) final Thursday, snapping a 239-game profitable streak in opposition to unranked opponents.

“That loss the opposite evening most likely informed a variety of our gamers that you simply’re not adequate proper now the way in which you’re taking part in basketball,” Auriemma stated. “And it informed our workforce that you simply’re probably not taking part in as a workforce.”

UConn can also be coping with accidents to the freshman Azzi Fudd, the nation’s top-ranked 2021 recruit, who is predicted to overlook a minimum of two weeks due to a foot damage, and the sophomore guard Nika Muhl, who may miss a number of weeks with a foot damage. Neither performed in opposition to Georgia Tech.

UConn is definitely down 4 guards as a result of the freshman Saylor Poffenbarger introduced final month that she was getting into the switch portal.

“They nonetheless acquired a variety of actually, actually good gamers, so I don’t really feel actually sorry for them, to be sincere with you,” U.C.L.A. Coach Cori Shut stated.

In opposition to U.C.L.A. (5-3), 5 UConn gamers scored in double-figures because the Huskies acquired again on the profitable observe. Evina Westbrook, a redshirt senior guard, stepped into the purpose guard function in Bueckers’ absence and had 17 factors and seven assists to solely a single turnover.

Auriemma stated the workforce as at present constituted doesn’t have the power to “push the ball and unfold the ground” as a lot because it did with Bueckers, however he hoped that different gamers would step up in her absence.

“Now when Paige and the remainder of our gamers do come again, there’s extra folks within the get together as an alternative of outdoor hoping to get in, and really feel like they belong right here and might contribute not simply after they need to however they’ll be capable of contribute as a part of the pure circulate of our offense,” he stated.

Bueckers sat behind the UConn bench, shouting her help to teammates. After the sport, she pulled on a black winter coat and limped on her crutches to satisfy them within the locker room.

The Huskies subsequent play No. 7 Louisville on Sunday, and they’re going to additionally play No. 1 South Carolina — which beat them in a neutral-site sport in November — and No. 9 Tennessee within the new 12 months.

“My thought after the Georgia Tech sport was all proper, UConn would possibly take their lumps in a method we haven’t seen in a extremely very long time over the course of the following six to eight weeks,” Lobo stated.

“They may take their losses another way. It may be losses to an unranked workforce, it may be less-than-pretty wins. We’re so used to watching them be so fairly offensively, however finally assuming she will be able to come again in some unspecified time in the future, I might nonetheless think about they are going to be within the hunt for an additional Last 4.”

Final month Bueckers turned the primary school athlete to signal with Gatorade, and The Wall Avenue Journal reported that she may make an estimated $1 million a 12 months in endorsements between Gatorade and another deal with the worldwide sneaker and streetwear reseller StockX.

“It’s not a career-ending damage, hopefully for her it’s not even a season-ending damage, so I don’t actually assume it is going to affect that stuff as a lot,” Lobo stated. “It’s not like Gatorade and StockX are working commercials throughout our ABC sport. They’re having her do stuff on their social media platforms.”

Bueckers can be eligible for the W.N.B.A. draft in 2023. Whereas N.B.A. guidelines permit gamers to leap to the professionals after one 12 months of faculty — or the 12 months wherein they flip 19 — potential W.N.B.A. gamers usually aren’t allowed to go till they full 4 years of faculty, though there have been exceptions.

“My argument can be {that a} participant like Paige may probably earn more money the longer she stays at UConn,” Lobo stated. “It’s simply the reality that even probably the most recognizable school gamers, if you go to the W.N.B.A., sadly your visibility decreases. Hopefully, that adjustments quickly however with N.I.L. it would make extra monetary sense to remain at school.”

Bueckers is predicted to be at UConn for 2 extra seasons — however her coach and teammates can’t wait to get her again within the subsequent two months.

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