STORRS — The No. 2 UConn Huskies may have come away with a 73-54 win Sunday afternoon over No. 24 Notre Dame, but the prevailing emotions after the game from the team and fans alike were ones of dread and fear.
With 38 seconds remaining, sophomore sensation Paige Bueckers fell to the floor in front of the Huskies’ bench with a non-contact left knee injury. The sold-out Gampel Pavilion crowd fell silent as it watched the reigning national player of the year go down in pain. Teammates Amari DeBerry and Evina Westbrook helped carry her off the court.
Bueckers made it through the handshake line with athletic trainer Janelle Francisco and another team staffer supporting her on either side before heading into the locker room.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma said the doctors did a quick examination on Bueckers — who had a game-high 22 points prior to the injury for her fourth 20-point game of the season — and they’ll know more later after an MRI.
“On the replay, it looked like it probably hyperextended, best-case scenario,” the coach said.
According to Auriemma, the doctors said nothing twisted, which would have been “really, really bad.”
“Hopefully, we’ll get some good news tomorrow.”
“We celebrated the win, but we were definitely more concerned about Paige and just how she was feeling and her status right now,” said senior Olivia Nelson-Ododa, who finished the game with 14 points and 13 rebounds. “We’re praying for the best, praying for good news and just kind of waiting for the outcome.”
While Notre Dame made it a seven-point game going into the fourth, the Huskies were up by double figures almost the entire quarter after scoring the first 13 points of the period. Auriemma was asked why Bueckers was still in the game with the Huskies up 18 and less than a minute remaining at the time of her injury.
“She never wants to come out. She’s a pain in the ass to have on the bench because all she does is complain about why she’s not playing. And we’ve made a concerted effort in the last three or four games to get her some rest during the game.” Auriemma said. “You’re right, I don’t have an answer for why she was in the game. I mean, that could happen anytime. It could happen in practice. It could happen in a game. But I don’t like our team without her on the court. I mean, I might have to like it if she misses any time, but I don’t like the way our team looks when she’s not on the floor.”
Bueckers has played 38 or more minutes in all but two of UConn’s games this season, and she was on pace to record her second 40-minute game had she not gotten injured.
The Huskies’ next game is Thursday, when they travel to Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech in Nelson-Ododa’s homecoming game. After that, they play UCLA in the Never Forget Tribute Classic on Saturday in New Jersey and Louisville at Mohegan Sun Arena on Dec. 19 prior to their holiday break.
Following Bueckers’ injury, well wishes flowed in from around the women’s basketball world. The UConn women’s basketball Twitter account posted a praying emoji with Bueckers’ name following the game.
“You just kind of shake your head and hope that what you saw wasn’t as bad as you think it might be or as it appeared,” Auriemma said. “But you immediately put yourself in that kid’s shoes and, ‘What are they thinking? How are they feeling right now? What’s going through their mind when something like that happens?’ And that’s the part that I think really hits you in the pit of your stomach.”
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