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Bueckers dazzles, resilient UConn wins Big East tournament title 78-42 over Georgetown

Mar. 11—MOHEGAN — All the emotion and determination of the last three days — the UConn women's basketball team played the Big East tournament with only half its roster — was reflected in the press conference late Monday night after the Huskies clinched the championship.

Paige Bueckers, the tournament's Most Outstanding Player after a three-day span nothing short of dazzling, laid her head down on the table in front of her, weeping as she addressed the media, then occasionally hiding her face inside her Big East championship T-shirt.

"They approach every day like that since they've been here at UConn," head coach Geno Auriemma said of Bueckers and Nika Muhl, sitting together on the dais and both growing emotional talking about what is their final season together.

"That's how they've conducted themselves. They infect other people with their enthusiasm, their confidence, their love of the game. They're not afraid to put themselves out there and let everybody see, 'This is who I am.' They're comfortable in their own skin and everything about them is real. So the emotions are real, the feelings are real.

"The most passionate people and the most invested are usually the ones that react like that."

Bueckers invested with 27 points, five blocked shots, four rebounds, three assists and three steals as the top-seeded Huskies won their fourth straight Big East tournament championship and their 11th consecutive league tournament title in all with a 78-42 victory over No. 6 Georgetown.

Redshirt freshman Ice Brady added 13 points and eight rebounds, starting her second straight game in place of UConn senior forward Aaliyah Edwards, who broke her nose in Saturday's quarterfinal-round game and was out for the remainder of the tournament. Brady played 40 minutes each in the semifinals and finals.

It was UConn's 22nd Big East title in all, coming with just seven available players following the loss of Edwards.

Freshmen Ashlynn Shade and KK Arnold each added 10 points for the Huskies (29-5) and Qadence Samuels had nine. Muhl had nine assists and passed Diana Taurasi for second place on UConn's all-time assists list.

Brady and Muhl joined Bueckers on the all-tournament team along with Georgetown's Kelsey Ransom, Creighton's Morgan Maly and Grace Efosa of Providence.

"For me, personally, this might be the most special one," Muhl said, "not just because it's my last but it's also because we have been dealt the worst cards ever and we just never stopped believing in ourselves.

"Having six, seven available players today, seven on the bench (out with injuries), that's ridiculous. To be able to pull it off the way we pulled it off with the help of everybody in the gym, it was so loud, it was so electric. We were just feeding off of that, feeding off of each other, and yeah, this is probably the most special one."

Bueckers was named Most Outstanding Player for the second time in her career after a three-game stretch in which she scored 83 points, with 29 points in the quarterfinals and a 27-point, 12-rebound performance in the semis.

Graceann Bennett scored 12 points for Georgetown (22-11), making its first Big East championship appearance.

The first all-out frenzy at Mohegan Sun Arena, the 7,918 fans rising to their feet, came as UConn ended the first quarter with a four-point play by Bueckers — a 3-pointer while falling down and the ensuing free throw — and a 3-pointer by Arnold.

Bueckers lay on the floor following her dramatic made 3, screaming in celebration as Arnold, the freshman, leaned over to drum both hands on Bueckers' stomach.

And there was still more to come.

In the first half, Bueckers led the way with 16 points, three assists, two blocks and two rebounds and Brady had 11 points and five rebounds.

The Huskies started on an 11-0 run, making a total of 18 minutes, 59 seconds since they last allowed an opponent to score. Marquette scored with 4:49 to play in the third quarter of Sunday's semifinals before UConn shut out the Golden Eagles in the fourth quarter.

Georgetown finally broke through on a jump shot by Bennett with 5:50 to play in the first quarter of the championship game.

UConn led 28-11 after the first quarter and blitzed the Hoyas to start the second quarter with a 14-2 run. Arnold and Bueckers hit back-to-back 3-pointers once again at the 6:04 mark of the second as the Huskies built a 42-13 advantage.

At that time, UConn was shooting 13-for-18 (72.2%).

"She already, I think, was coming into this tournament with a different mindset," Auriemma said of Bueckers, the former national player of the year who missed the bulk of the past two seasons due to injuries. "But I think when Aaliyah went out of the game, there was a flip, and she realized how much more she had to do now.

"But yeah, this is Paige at her best, in totality."

Georgetown's first championship berth came in the wake of the death of head coach Tasha Butts, who lost a two-year battle with breast cancer in October before she ever got to coach a game for the Hoyas.

Butts, the Tennessee alum, played in three Final Fours for the Lady Vols. She hired Darnell Haney, now the Hoyas interim head coach, as her assistant. He formerly spent five years as the head coach at Jacksonville.

Bennett opened what was also an emotional press conference for Georgetown by announcing that the team was informed after the game that Haney was in negotiations to become Georgetown's permanent head coach.

"These young women and this staff, they just wanted to find a way to win," Haney said. "They wanted to see success and they listened and they persevered and they got to the next thing. They got to the next thing."

Georgetown previously reached the Big East semis in 1983, 1992, 1997, 1999, 2018 and 2019 before breaking through with a 55-46 upset of Creighton in Sunday's semifinals.

v.fulkerson@theday.com