After being sidelined for nearly three months with a left knee injury, reigning national player of the year Paige Bueckers made her much-anticipated return in the UConn Huskies’ 93-38 win over St. John’s on Friday night in Hartford, Connecticut.
The sophomore All-American guard took the floor for the first time since Dec. 5 when she checked in at the 3:41 mark of the first quarter to a standing ovation from the XL Center crowd.
“I was nervous, but I was just so excited, so happy,” Bueckers said after Friday’s game. “I’ve never been more happy to be on a minutes restriction. Just to see my name in a box score with minutes next to it is just surreal to me, amazing to me just to be back in this position.”
Bueckers had missed the previous 19 games for the No. 7 Huskies (21-5) after suffering an anterior tibial plateau fracture and lateral meniscus tear in the final minute of UConn’s 73-54 win over Notre Dame on Dec. 5. She underwent surgery to repair the injury on Dec. 13.
Bueckers came off the bench Friday for the first time in her career, and her first basket since December was a memorable one. With the clock winding down at the end of the first quarter, Bueckers shook her defender and nearly lost the ball before collecting it and sinking an elbow jumper right at the buzzer. Bueckers roared and raised her hands to amp up the student section whom she’d scored in front of before being embraced by her teammates on the bench.
“The first basket, it wouldn’t be me if it wasn’t something extra,” she said. “So, I don’t know, it was a lot of fun.”
The star guard finished with eight points on 4-for-5 shooting in 12 minutes, with three stints of action before she sat the entire fourth quarter. She played within herself, but looked more and more comfortable creating her own shot and running in transition as the game went on.
“We tried to get her 15 minutes,” coach Geno Auriemma said in a courtside interview with SNY after the game. “I think we got close to that. We’ll see how she feels tomorrow. And hopefully we can do the same thing and maybe a little bit more on Sunday.”
UConn has one more regular-season game, Sunday versus Providence, before the Big East tournament.
Bueckers averaged a team-best 21.2 points, 6.2 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 2.7 steals in the six games she played this season prior to injury. The Huskies started the year 5-1 with her in the lineup, losing to top-ranked South Carolina in the Bahamas Nov. 22, and went 15-4 without her.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.