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Paige Bueckers leads UConn to Final Four with win over USC


Paige Bueckers leads UConn to Final Four with win over USC

PORTLAND, Ore. — Back in the fall when UConn lost multiple key players to season-ending injuries and struggled early in nonconference play, coach Geno Auriemma though it would’ve been a “miracle” for his team to make a deep March run.

Even as a slew of injuries hampered the Huskies, now for the third straight campaign, they still had one player who could transcend all else: Paige Bueckers.

In her first season back from an ACL tear that sidelined her all of last year, Bueckers scored a game-high 28 points to go along with 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks to deliver UConn to its 23rd Final Four appearance and 15th in the past 16 women’s NCAA tournaments with a 80-73 victory Monday over 1-seed USC in the Portland regional final.

The 11-time national champion Huskies aren’t used to being the underdogs. But with six players out for the year because of injuries and five losses in nonconference play, many counted them out for a spot in Cleveland as they went into the NCAA tournament as a 3-seed.

That assumption would turn out to be misguided, as Bueckers, Aaliyah Edwards, Nika Muhl and their freshmen core have secured a spot in the national semifinal game, where they face the 1-seed Iowa Hawkeyes on Saturday.

Bueckers, the 2021 national player of the year, scored nine points in the final 5:06 of the game to ward off a USC comeback attempt. She has scored 20-plus points in seven consecutive games, the largest streak of her career.

USC ends its season with its deepest tournament run since 1994, when the Trojans also lost in the Elite Eight, but with its future incredibly bright with presumptive freshman of the year JuJu Watkins leading the way.

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