No. 1 recruit Paige Bueckers excels in UConn debut, leads team in 4 categories

Paige Bueckers, the No. 1 recruit in this year's freshman class, led the UConn women's basketball team in its season-opening victory Saturday.

The third-ranked Huskies, whose season start was delayed after a positive test for COVID-19 in the program in late November, overwhelmed UMass Lowell 79-23 at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Connecticut.

Bueckers was tops in scoring (17 points) and steals (five) and tied for the team lead in rebounds (nine) and assists (five). She was 8-of-11 from the field and 1-of-1 from the foul line.

"Just getting back on the court was really fun," Bueckers said of the wait for her college debut. "Just putting on the UConn jersey. I've been watching them since I was a little kid, so to actually get on the court and play ... it's amazing. I think the No. 1 priority for me is to make my teammates better. Knowing I have put the work in, it makes me a lot more confident on the court.

"My expectations are pretty high. I try not to focus on what everybody else thinks and everybody else wants me to do, because I'm not going to be perfect. But I have worked to be the best version of myself."

Bueckers, a 5-foot-11 guard from Hopkins, Minnesota, was in the starting lineup and scored the first basket for the Huskies on a putback. Coach Geno Auriemma said Bueckers' adjustment to college basketball has been smooth.

"There hasn't been a time where we would say, as a coaching staff, that Paige looked really uncomfortable," Auriemma said. "I don't think there's a part of the game that she's not comfortable with.

"Can she pass the ball? You saw that. Can she shoot it? You saw that. Can she get to the basket? Yeah. And she'll try to play defense; she gets in the passing lane. That, to me, is in baseball what they call a five-tool player."

Auriemma made a comparison to legendary Huskies guard Diana Taurasi, who was a freshman at UConn 20 years ago. He pointed out that in her first season, Taurasi was playing with a lot of veterans, whereas there are five other freshmen and no seniors playing now with Bueckers.

"This is a different scenario that Paige is stepping into," Auriemma said. "But they have similar mentalities of how to play the game of basketball."

Two other freshmen stood out Saturday. Mir McLean had 10 points and six rebounds, while fellow forward Aaliyah Edwards had eight points on 4-of-4 shooting and three rebounds. Auriemma was impressed with their debuts too.

"I thought she was probably the most physical player in the game," Auriemma said of 6-foot-3 Edwards. "She was a factor in the lane on both sides of the floor, offense and defense."

Saturday was also the UConn debut for junior Evina Westbrook, who sat out last season after transferring from Tennessee and having knee surgery. She had five point and four assists.

"I'm just taking it all in; it was a great experience for me," Westbrook said. "There were a lot of emotions before the game. I think it was a good first game for all of us."