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UConn star and former National Player of the Year Paige Bueckers will miss all of the 2022-23 season with a torn ACL in her left knee, the school announced Wednesday.
Bueckers sustained the injury during a pick-up game, the school said, and she underwent an MRI on Monday that confirmed the ACL tear.
"We're all devastated for Paige," head coach Geno Auriemma said in a news release. "She's worked really hard to get stronger and healthier this offseason, and this is an unfortunate setback. Paige is obviously an amazing basketball player but she's a better person and teammate and it's really unfortunate that this has happened to her. We'll miss her presence on the court, but she'll do everything she can to still lead and help her teammates this season.
"Our program will support Paige through her healing process to help her come back better and stronger."
Bueckers, who was entering her junior season, will undergo surgery Friday at UConn Health and updates on her timetable to return will be made following.
Bueckers' injury history
The Huskies star missed a large chunk of her sophomore season last year with a non-contact leg injury. She also had ankle surgery in April 2021.
Bueckers returned help lead UConn to the national championship game, where they lost to South Carolina. She is one of the brightest stars in college basketball, men's or women's, and has accumulated a lengthy list of name, image and likeness deals showcasing her popularity and talent.
"It's so so crazy because you work so hard to get back healthy, you feel stronger than ever, and you are playing your best basketball and with one sudden movement it all shifts," she wrote on Instagram. "It’s hard trying to make sense of it all now but I can’t help but think that God is using me as a testimony as to how much you can overcome with Him by your side.
"Some little kid that just tore their ACL or had a major surgery might need this story P, because it’s going to be one hell of a comeback. There is going to be good days and there is going to be bad days but my absolute love for the game and Godly strength will get me back to where I need to be. I’ve worked too hard for the little kid in these pictures to keep going for the dreams I've had since I first picked up the ball, so why would I stop now?
"The prayers and love means so much to me and the doubts that I won’t get back to where I was might mean even more. God put a dream in my heart and even if I have to walk through a nightmare to get it I’m going to keep believing. All love, P."
Bueckers averaged 20 points, 5.7 assists and 4.9 rebounds per game during her freshman season. She won the Naismith National Player of the Year and was the first freshman to win Associated Press player of the year.
Bueckers injury: UConn’s title chances in 2023
When Bueckers arrived in Storrs as the heralded No. 1 recruit in the 2020 class, the talk of the town was four titles in four years. But injuries have plagued the program at the same time more schools are investing in their teams and becoming annual Final Four contenders.
Azzi Fudd, the class of 2021 No. 1 recruit, joined UConn and further boosted repeat title hopes. But Fudd also worked through injuries, and Bueckers underwent surgery for an anterior tibial plateau fracture.
Bueckers returned in February and averaged 14.6 points and four rebounds in 17 games. She was 54.4% and 35% from 3-point range. The Huskies made the title game in Bueckers' hometown, but were overpowered by the Gamecocks and 2021-22 Naismith Player of the Year Aliyah Boston.
UConn's chances at making it back there are slimmer with Bueckers out again, but not extinguished. They'll need to replace the productivity of WNBA draftees Olivia Nelson-Ododa, Evina Westbrook and Christyn Williams to start.
Fudd averaged 12.1 ppg on 45.7% shooting and will now be relied upon as the leading scorer. Aaliyah Edwards, who is in the Canadian national team system, had a difficult season, but is one of the game's starring forwards. Dorka Juhasz should be ready to return after the wrist fracture she sustained in the NCAA regional final, which will be a boost. And is another example of the injuries UConn has dealt with of late.
And they have two top-five recruits joining the roster. Ice Brady was one of 12 players named to the 2022 national team U18 roster in June. She's ranked fifth in the 2022 class by ESPN HoopGurlz. And Ayanna Patterson is ranked fourth.
The Huskies aren't used to such long title draughts. The 11-time national champions haven't won since 2016, the final of four consecutive titles with Breanna Stewart at the helm.