Bueckers does it all for UConn in absence of Edwards; Huskies head to Big East tourney final

Mar. 10—MOHEGAN — Paige Bueckers, the 6-foot guard, took the jump ball Sunday afternoon in place of injured teammate Aaliyah Edwards. She won it, stopped for a moment to cast a glance toward her teammates and coaches on the UConn bench as if "I told you so," then proceeded on her way.

No. 1 UConn vs. No. 6 Georgetown

Location: Mohegan Sun Arena

Tip: 7 p.m. (FS1)

Records: Georgetown 22-10, UConn 28-5.

Last game: Georgetown beat No. 2 Creighton in the Big East tournament semifinals, 55-46, Sunday; UConn beat No. 5 Marquette in the Big East tournament semifinals, 58-29, Sunday.

Last game's starters: Georgetown, 6-3 F Graceann Bennett (9.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg), 6-3 C Ariel Jenkins (3.1 ppg), 5-10 G Kelsey Ransom (13.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 4.3 apg, 2.3 spg), 6-0 G Victoria Rivera (6.6 ppg), 5-7 G Alex Cowan (6.1 ppg, 2.4 apg).

UConn, 6-3 F Ice Brady (4.4 ppg), 5-9 G KK Arnold (8.9 ppg, 3.2 apg, 2.2 spg), 6-0 G Paige Bueckers (21.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.8 apg, 2.1 spg), 5-11 G Nika Muhl (7.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 6.3 apg, 1.2 spg), 5-10 G Ashlynn Shade (11.1 ppg, 1.6 apg).

Noteworthy: UConn coach Geno Auriemma confirmed that senior forward Aaliyah Edwards, in fact, suffered a broken nose during Saturday's quarterfinal victory over Providence — "way broken," Auriemma said. Edwards, who is averaging 17.8 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, a unanimous pick to the All-Big East first team, was not available to play in Sunday's semifinals and is still questionable for Monday's championship game against Georgetown. Edwards was the Most Outstanding Player of last season's tournament. "People think you just slap a mask on and you're good to go, but you have to be able to breathe, and you have to not have headaches. No concussions, which was great," Auriemma said of Edwards, who sat on the bench. "Now it's just a matter of when are you comfortable. Is it (Monday?) I don't know. I doubt it. But who knows. But I would say by two weeks from yesterday (when the NCAA tournament starts), we'll be good to go. We'll be right back to normal." ... UConn fought through Sunday's game without Edwards, mainly due to 27 points and 12 assists from Big East Player of the Year Paige Bueckers. Now the Huskies need one more win to capture the title. "I wish this was tomorrow. I wish today was Monday," Auriemma said. "Unfortunately it's not." ... Georgetown, meanwhile, broke through in its seventh Big East tournament semifinal appearance, beating No. 2 Creighton 55-46 Sunday. Kelsey Ransom had 14 points and six assists, Alex Cowan 12 points and Mya Bembry a team-high 10 rebounds. The Hoyas led 26-23 at halftime. "We were repeating to each other that we were going to win this game because we were the toughest and tightest team in that gym, we were the hungriest team and we prepared for this," Ransom said, asked what the Hoyas told each other in the huddle to remain focused. "... We were just encouraging, getting on each other, expecting better things for each other for the last minute, playing through the buzzer." ... UConn, which went 18-0 in the Big East during the regular season, had its closest win of the year in the league against Creighton, 73-53 on Feb. 19. The Huskies won league games by an average of 31.1 points. ... UConn has won 21 Big East tournaments, three straight since returning to the league for the 2020-21 season. ... UConn defeated No. 2 seed Villanova for last year's Big East tournament title 67-56. Edwards was named Most Outstanding Player. ... UConn is 40-1 all-time at Mohegan Sun with its only loss coming to Louisville in the Basketball Hall of Fame Women's Showcase on Dec. 18, 2021, 69-64.

— Vickie Fulkerson

With top-seeded UConn down to seven players, Bueckers did everything else in the Big East Conference tournament semifinal, too, as the Huskies turned away No. 5 Marquette 58-29.

Bueckers finished with 27 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, four blocked shots and three steals and the Huskies (28-5) held Marquette scoreless in the fourth quarter on the way to the victory.

"She's different. That's it. She's different," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said of Bueckers, the Big East Player of the Year. "That's evident every time you see her play and the bigger the game, the more different she becomes. It's hard to explain sometimes.

"It's remarkable, I think, the way players like Paige can sum up exactly what's needed at any given moment, any given game. ... Obviously our players feed off of that and they feed off of her. You don't come across players like that very often."

UConn advanced to Monday night's championship game against No. 6 Georgetown (22-10), which eliminated No. 2 Creighton 55-46 in the second semifinal of the day. The final is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Mohegan Sun Arena (FS1), with UConn bidding for its 11th straight league tournament title.

Auriemma said that Edwards, who suffered a broken nose during Saturday's quarterfinal win over Providence on an intentional foul, was questionable for Monday's game but would be ready in time for the NCAA tournament.

It was the first double-double of the season for Bueckers and marked her career-high in rebounds.

Among her other highlights, Bueckers splashed a deep, buzzer-beating 3-point field goal to end the third quarter after dribbling around a Marquette double-team, setting off a jubilant celebration among her teammates. That gave the Huskies a 47-29 lead.

In the fourth quarter, Bueckers assisted a 3-point field goal by freshman Qadence Samuels, then blocked a shot and stole a Golden Eagles inbounds pass all in the span of 14 seconds.

Bueckers began receiving a noisy ovation from the pro-UConn crowd at Mohegan Sun Arena just for dribbling the ball up the floor.

"Just communicating, leading by example, leading by passion, leading by the energy that I played with and just leave it all out on the floor," Bueckers said. "We know what we don't have, but we didn't want to focus on that. We wanted to focus on who was on the floor."

Ice Brady, a 6-3 redshirt freshman entering her first postseason, started the game in place of Edwards and played all 40 minutes, finishing with 10 points and five rebounds. Freshman Ashlynn Shade was also on the floor for 40 minutes and had nine points.

Liza Karlen had 12 points for Marquette (23-8), which was 0-for-13 shooting in the fourth quarter. The Golden Eagles were also 2-for-17 in the first quarter (11.8%), getting off to a tenuous start against the Huskies, who led 12-5 after one quarter and 31-20 at halftime.

Bueckers said of taking the opening tip that it was "a discussion," but an argument she was determined to win.

After she directed the tip to Nika Muhl in the backcourt?

"Yeah. I don't know if they had the utmost confidence in me like the confidence that I had in myself to win the jump ball," Bueckers said of the UConn bench. "So I just let them know a little bit."

Auriemma said there were times in Sunday morning's shootaround he didn't feel like playing without Edwards, on top of the six other UConn players already out with injuries, was possible.

"We knew that definitely we needed to play really, really well and it was even better than I imagined," Auriemma said. "The way we carried each other was probably the most impressive thing for me ... we relied on each other so much.

"Obviously, Paige did Paige things, but everybody ... today was really a team triumph. It really, really was. It was pretty special to be a part of that."