Paige Bueckers, Geno Auriemma both announce they will spend at least one more year at UConn

UConn guard Paige Bueckers
UConn guard Paige Bueckers

STORRS, Conn. — UConn star Paige Bueckers and coach Geno Auriemma both say they will be back at the school next season.

A senior academically, Bueckers made the announcement during senior night ceremonies at Gampel Pavilion following the team’s 85-44 win over Georgetown on Friday night.

Telling the crowd she wanted to “address the elephant in the room,” Bueckers said, “Unfortunately, this will not be my last senior night here,” eliciting a huge roar from the thousands who stayed to watch the ceremony.

Her 69-year-old coach followed that announcement by ending any speculation that he might retire after this season, his 39th at the school.

He joked to reporters that he was planning to come back next year as well, “until Paige announced that she’s coming back.” He then added, “Yeah, I’ll be back.”

Bueckers was named national player of the year as a freshman, spending that season playing in front of cardboard cutouts during the COVID-19 pandemic and leading the Huskies to the national semifinals where they lost to Arizona.

She spent most of her sophomore year on the bench with a tibial plateau fracture in her left knee, but came back in time to lead the Huskies to the national championship game, where they lost to South Carolina.

She suffered a torn ACL in that same knee before last season and was out the entire year.

The 22-year-old said she hasn’t really had a normal year at UConn until this one, and that was a major factor in her decision to come back.

“I love playing here; I love being here,” she said, “I love my teammates. I love my coaches and I feel our class is learning never to take that for granted, because you never know what’s going to happen. But again, just wanting to get more time here — more time with my teammates, more time with my coaches, more time playing at Gampel, more time in the program was like the biggest reasons.”

Bueckers, Aaliyah Edwards, Nika Muhl and Aubrey Griffin were all honored Friday. Edwards and Bueckers are projected as high first-round picks should they enter the WNBA draft.

Griffin, who tore an ACL last month, also announced she will be back next season. She is one of five Huskies out for the rest of this season with injuries. The others — Azzi Fudd, Jana El-Alfy, Caroline Ducharme and Annaya Patterson — all are expected back by the fall.

Edwards and Muhl did not announce their plans, saying after the celebration that their decisions will come later.

Bueckers has two years of eligibility remaining. Edwards, Muhl and Griffin each have one.

As international players, Muhl (Croatia) and Edwards (Canada) also have not been able to make the NIL money that has been flowing to their teammates while in college. And Auriemma said he would be surprised if Muhl or Edwards returned for an extra year.

He also said he wasn’t certain Bueckers would be back, until she announced it to the crowd.

“I never pressed her on it either,” he said.

“Obviously, it changed the whole nature of things, the whole dynamic of things,” Auriemma said. “There’s a lot of excitement about the possibilities of having a full squad.”

Bueckers said Thursday that she is not giving up on winning a national championship this season, despite five decisive losses to top teams — North Carolina State, UCLA, Texas, Notre Dame and South Carolina.

UConn (22-5, 14-0 Big East) has just four regular-season games remaining including games at home against Creighton on Monday in Hartford and Villanova on Feb. 28 at Gampel.