UConn, Paige Bueckers look to complete undefeated Big East season vs Providence: How to watch, what to know

Paige Bueckers is 43-0 against Big East opponents in her career, and she can lead the UConn women’s basketball team to its first undefeated conference record since 2020-21 with one more win on Saturday.

The No. 10 Huskies (25-5, 17-0 Big East) conclude the regular season on the road at Providence (12-18, 6-11) hoping to extend their win streak to six games entering the Big East tournament. UConn already clinched the top overall seed in the tournament and the outright regular-season title, but the final matchup with the Friars is still critical to keeping the momentum building.

“Paige and Aaliyah (Edwards) doing what they’ve been doing, if you give them a lot of opportunities and they’re actually doing really well, you’re going to get 50-some (points) just out of those two,” coach Geno Auriemma said. “But if you watch the film, our offense is very, very stagnant at times … We’re still not shooting the ball as well as we did a while back, so we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Bueckers hadn’t played a basketball game in more than a year before the Huskies’ 2023-24 opener on Nov. 8, and the star guard soon found herself lining up against power forwards to compensate for four teammates with season-ending injuries. But as more and more expectation has fallen on her shoulders, Bueckers has consistently risen to take it on.

Though her team-high 20.8 points per game may not be eye-popping compared the nation’s top volume scorers, Bueckers’s production stands among the all-time greats at UConn. She is on pace to surpass her Naismith Player of the Year season in 2020-21 when she averaged 20 points per game to rank eighth in the Huskies’ record book. After consecutive 31-point games against Villanova and DePaul, Bueckers is on pace to become the first UConn player to average more than 20.5 points since Napheesa Collier logged 20.8 per game in 2018-19.

“(Some players) have a knack for putting the ball in the basket. Some kids grow up knowing … and all they need is a little bit of practice,” Auriemma said. “But all of them spent a lot of time on the court perfecting that, and not just a shot from one spot. A shot from anywhere under any circumstances or any conditions. You don’t score a lot of points unless you’re gifted at it and you work really, really hard at your craft.”

Bueckers has also embraced her role as forward defensively, leading the Huskies as the only players averaging at least a block per game. Auriemma joked that the senior called herself a “world-class defender” in his office, an assessment he doesn’t believe, but he said her basketball IQ makes her a challenge even in matchups where she is physically mismatched.

“I have to give her credit, because it’s hard to outthink her on the defensive end. That doesn’t mean it’s not hard to bully her or if you’re the quickest kid on the floor to go by her, but you have to be pretty smart and think one step ahead of her to beat her, which is difficult to do,” Auriemma said. “What’s suffered a little bit this year is her off-the-ball defense and how she led the team in steals every year … Now she’s in a fistfight scrum under the basket with some big guy, so she doesn’t have time to be running around stealing passes.”

Freshmen Ashlynn Shade and KK Arnold led UConn with 17 and 16 points, respectively, when UConn hosted Providence on Jan. 10, while Bueckers was in the middle of a brief shooting slump. The Huskies star shot 5-for-12 against the Friars and 1-for-7 from 3-point range, but she has scored at least 20 points in 12 of 14 games since.

Bueckers has also become less reliant on her perimeter game, averaging just two 3-pointers over her last six performances. Still, she has the second-best field goal percentage among guards in the country at 54% and ranks in the top 25 in 3-point percentage.

“The pressure that is on her to be efficient makes it even more remarkable that she can pull it off every single night. It’s one thing if you know we’re going to have four players that are going to get 20, but she knows that if you don’t go get what you got tonight, there’s a chance we’re going to lose,” Auriemma said after her 31 points against Villanova. “And then you still go out and do it. That’s a hell of a thing … There’s an awful lot of pressure on (her) to have to score. (She) can’t afford to miss shots, and some days it works better than others.”

How to watch

Site: Alumni Hall; Providence, R.I.

Time: 7 p.m., Saturday

Series: UConn leads, 46-21

Last meeting: UConn, 85-41 on Jan. 10 in Hartford



Radio: UConn Sports Network on Fox Sports 97.9