Paige Bueckers remarkable journey back to the hardwood

UConn star Paige Bueckers is thriving more than ever, this time leading the Huskies to the NCAA Women's Sweet 16.

Photo by Sean Elliot/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

"We have the best player in America."

Those were confident words from Geno Auriemma on Monday night. And whom might he be referring to? Paige Bueckers, no. 5 for the Connecticut Huskies.

When it comes to sports, the stories behind the athletes on the court are often moving and emotional. For Paige Bueckers, she's been nothing short of inspiring. While women's basketball is filled to the brim with incredible storylines, we simply cannot forget UConn's brightest star and her journey back to the hardwood.

Talk about Paige Bueckers resilience and passion for basketball. This is her comeback narrative, driven by her faith and determination to return to the game. It's oftentimes not about the setback, but about the comeback.

Paige "Buckets" is back, and so are the UConn Huskies.

Bueckers, now technically in her third season with the Connecticut Huskies, is undoubtedly one of the most prevalent players in the nation. While she's an elite scorer and tenacious defender, the Minnesota native's been plagued by unlucky injuries. The former McDonald's All-American suffered a tibial plateau fracture in late December 2021 in which surgery was performed. Along with the fracture, Bueckers suffered a meniscus tear.

While many expected No. 5 to miss the bulk of the season, she made a miraculous, yet limited comeback in Feb. of 2022. Despite being restricted on the court, Bueckers fueled the Huskies through the 2022 NCAA Tournament. A team that once fell out of the AP top ten was destined to face the South Carolina Gamecocks in the 2022 NCAA Championship game.

Although South Carolina barreled through UConn 64-49 for the championship title, it was the story of no. 5 and her persistence to return to the court. While the outcome didn't sway in the Huskies favor, Bueckers was the only player on the UConn roster to put up points in double figures.

How many players can claim they led their team to the championship game despite not being fully healthy? This is what sets Bueckers apart and makes her exceptional among the pack.

Paige Bueckers missed the entire 2022-2023 season

Unfortunately, that was the last time Bueckers would hit the floor for quite some time. Heading into her junior season, the guard suffered a torn ACL in the off-season. Having missed all of the 2022-2023 season, the Minnesota native spent the majority of the season cheering on her teammates from the sidelines.

Despite missing Bueckers from the lineup, the Huskies managed to make the 2023 NCAA Tournament. However, for no. 5 it was a punch to the gut, especially since she wasn't available to play. After conceding to Ohio State 73-61 in the Sweet 16, the Huskies were once again eliminated from the tournament.

But for Bueckers, she was exceptionally emotional after their 77-58 victory over Baylor in the second round. Although UConn pulled off the victory, it pained her to watch from the sidelines. Bueckers wanted more than anything to contribute on the floor with her teammates. Not only does she love the game of basketball, but she bleeds blue. Her loyalty to UConn and coach Auriemma is unwavering.

"Last year against Baylor in the second round at home, I just remember going back in my car and just being very emotional," Bueckers told ESPN. "Not being able to play in this atmosphere, in this environment, and this high stakes game. I prayed about it."

While the journey back to the court hasn't been an easy task, Bueckers heavily leaned on her faith during hard times. Over a year of rehabbing her injury, the guard made her season debut against Dayton in late 2023.

Not only did no. 5 overcome such a tragic injury, but she elevated her game in a way that's turned heads across the basketball world. Despite the Huskies facing multiple injuries, including Azzi Fudd, it was Bueckers' moment to stand out.

(Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

And surely, she did so. Bueckers, who was recently named AP All-American, averaged a career-high 21 points per game, 5.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 2.2 steals, and 1.4 blocks. In 36 total games, the UConn star shot an efficient 54 percent from the floor, and 41.8 percent from deep. The UConn star was recently named Naismith Player of the Year finalist.

It's been nearly two years since Bueckers appeared in a March Madness game

And 720 days later, Bueckers would take part in her first March Madness game since the South Carolina matchup. This comes after Bueckers sensation performance that led UConn to their fourth straight Big East Championship. In the blowout over Georgetown, the guard put up 27 points, four rebounds, three assists, three steals, and five blocks.

In the Huskies first-round matchup against Jackson State, the guard finished with 28 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, three steals, and one block. From there, UConn faced off against Syracuse in the round of 32. In front of an electric crowd at Gampel Pavilion, Bueckers was surely a bucket. Stepping up when it mattered the most, she matched a season-high 32 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, four steals, and one block.

While Syracuse cut the deficit to two points, Bueckers knew the moment was all hers. With 1:30 remaining in the fourth quarter, without hesitation, no. 5 sunk a contested mid-range jumper. At this moment, her shot put the Huskies in the lead, 67-63. From there, Bueckers was seen firing up the crowd at Gampel.

Not only did she lead the Huskies to their 30th straight Sweet 16, but it was also a sure sign of a dominant comeback. Paige Bueckers, a five-star recruit in 2020 was officially back. It was visible in her eyes, her body language, and in her tone. It's incredible moving to see the return of a player who was heavily plagued by injuries.

Bueckers has been lights out in this year's tournament

Following her first two matchups of the tournament, Buecker's energy is unmatched. With 60 points in the first two games, Bueckers is now the first player in nearly 25 years to put up a cumulative 60 points, 20 rebounds, and 10 assists. While she announced her return to UConn next season, she's laid everything out on the court for the Huskies. Amid questions if she could return to her freshman form, she never lost sight of her dreams and goals. For sure, optimism has gone a long way for Paige Bueckers, and all of the hard work that's been poured into her craft.

Bueckers had an inspirational journey back, and one that speaks to many. When you come to Storrs, Connecticut, you come to play for coach Auriemma, and you come to win. In the small town of Tolland County, Connecticut, Bueckers and the Connecticut Huskies will aim for their first championship of the 2016 season and nothing more.

Bueckers and company will face the Kara Lawson and the Duke Blue Devils in the Sweet 16. Scheduled for Mar. 30, tip-off will begin at 8:00 p.m. ET.

Stay tuned for more NCAA and WNBA related articles.

Sara Jane Gamelli is a full-time Sportswriter, Content Creator and Social Media Manager for Ballislife Bets. She has a focus on the NBA, WNBA, NCAA Basketball, and the NFL. Sara Jane currently resides in the Connecticut/NYC area with her Cat and Dog. SJ has her undergraduate degree from the University of Connecticut in Economics, with a minor in business administration.


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