Paige Bueckers returns to Minnesota, leads UConn to victory

MINNEAPOLIS -- Paige Bueckers has played in packed arenas across the country for Connecticut and big games all over the globe with USA Basketball. Coming home to Minnesota was an experience of its own.

Bueckers had 12 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists for eighth-ranked UConn in her hometown, and the Huskies stifled Minnesota's outside shooters on the way to a 62-44 victory over the Gophers on Sunday.

"For me to be the one taking the court in a game I used to watch was kind of crazy, kind of surreal, but it was just amazing, the support," said Bueckers, who played in the 2022 national championship game at Target Center nearby. "Minnesota's done so much for me."

Aaliyah Edwards scored 16 points and nine rebounds to help UConn (3-1) control the paint and finish a dominant week of defense after a 92-81 loss on Nov. 17 to No. 14 North Carolina State.

Bueckers, working her way back from a torn ACL in her left knee that kept her out of last season, played 31 minutes. When she was subbed out for good in the fourth quarter, Bueckers received a loud cheer from the crowd of 10,869 at Williams Arena about 10 miles east of the suburb, Hopkins, where she was raised.

"You can feel and see the love and the support that Minnesota has for Paige," Edwards said. "She deserves it all."

The Huskies, who beat No. 20 Maryland 80-48 on Thursday, played their second straight game without star guard Azzi Fudd because of a knee injury suffered in practice Tuesday. Nika Muhl contributed 11 points and lockdown defense on Minnesota star Mara Braun.

Braun had 12 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists for the Gophers (3-1), who went 6-for-34 from 3-point range and shot just 26.2% overall (17-for-65) from the field. Braun, the sophomore preseason All-Big Ten pick, missed her first 11 shots -- several of them airballs -- until swishing a corner 3-pointer that cut UConn's lead to 21-19.

The Gophers under new coach Dawn Plitzuweit entered the game ranked sixth in the nation in field goal percentage, a small sample size that hadn't yet stood up to this Huskies defense. They ought to have felt good about their position with a three-point halftime deficit despite a 9-for-38 shooting performance over the first two quarters. Braun missed nine of her 11 tries from 3-point range.

But the Huskies outscored the Gophers 21-6 in the third quarter, ending on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from K.K. Arnold after she swiped the ball from Amaya Battle and raced the other way. Grace Grocholski had 11 points on 4-for-17 shooting for the Gophers, whose effort level and commitment to running the offense rarely wavered despite the unforgiving rims.

"Hopefully we did enough good things that people will want to come back and watch this group," Plitzuweit said.

The Huskies make every attempt to schedule a game in every player's home area at least once in their career. This road game against an up-and-coming Big Ten foe in front of a full house on national television brought with it a special challenge for Bueckers.

"These games are not easy on those kids that everybody's gaga over, because they put so much pressure on themselves," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "Something like this is pretty overwhelming for a kid."