The No. 8 Connecticut Huskies bounced back from their first loss of the season with an 80-48 win over No. 20 Maryland. This game was the perfect poking the bear story, and Paige Bueckers was the bear.
After a slow offensive start for both teams, the Huskies took over and finished the second quarter with a 20-4 run in the last five minutes. Bueckers was a big reason for this, and it all started after she was accidentally poked in the eye by a Maryland player late in the first quarter.
“I was pretty fired up,” Bueckers said after the game. “I wanted it to look more black and blue so it can look how it felt.”
Only her third game after not playing for 584 days due to an ACL injury, but she seemed ready to make a statement. Bueckers was playing aggressively and went into the break with 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field. She was also getting it done on the other side of the floor with one steal and four blocks.
UConn continued that momentum in the third quarter with a 30-6 run to pull away from the Terps. Huskies forced 9 turnovers in the third and held the Terps to just 2-14 from the floor.
Maryland wasn’t able to find an answer in the fourth and UConn walked away with a solid victory. The Huskies had entered this season as the No. 2 team in the nation but dropped to No. 8 earlier this week after the 92-81 loss to a then-unranked N.C. State team. They looked sharper on Thursday. As a team, the Huskies were moving the ball a lot better and applying defensive pressure. They held Maryland to 26 percent shooting from the field, while they shot 52 percent through the night.
“We just approached the game, I think, with a different mindset,” said head coach Geno Auriemma.
UConn dominated the paint 46-18 and registered 29 points off of Maryland’s 27 turnovers. Bueckers finished the day with 24 points, five rebounds, two blocks and six steals. Aaliyah Edwards and KK Arnold contributed with 12 points each, and Ashlynn Shade added 10 more.
“I just hope they don’t go, ‘See? Showed you,’ and then go back to hibernation,” Auriemma said about his team’s focus and defensive effort. “I hope this becomes the norm now, because obviously it is in there. Our program has always been based on that.”
Here are the three main takeaways from UConn’s win over Maryland:
UConn’s defense looks much better
Even Maryland head coach Brenda Frese herself described UConn’s defense as “sensational” after the game. The 48 points scored by Maryland was the fewest the Terrapins have put up in a game since Dec. 3, 2012 — when they also lost to UConn (63-48) according to ESPN Stats & Info.
UConn applied pressure and held Maryland to 26% shooting as the Terps went 15 of 58 from the field, meaning Frese’s squad had significantly more turnovers (27) than field goals on Thursday.
As a team, the Huskies picked up 16 steals — six coming from Bueckers and five from freshman Arnold. Even Auriemma was pleasantly surprised by this stat. For perspective, the Huskies averaged 6.9 steals per game last season.
“Effort,” he said. “It might be the first time in I don’t know how many years that we’ve had that many steals.”
There was a lot more effort and better communication than there was against N.C. State. During the postgame media conference, Bueckers said Thursday’s performance was about pride and having more discipline.
“We were very embarrassed with our defensive effort. I can’t remember the last time a UConn team let up 92 points,” Bueckers said.
Paige Bueckers is getting back to her old self
Bueckers registered eight points during her first game back. She’s shaken off a lot of the rust. Thursday was her second consecutive game with more than 20 points. Returning to the court after an ACL injury is not easy, but Bueckers is looking better every day.
The six steals she registered against Maryland tied her own career-high, which happened against South Carolina during the freshman season when she was the national player of the year.
Her stats were good, but she was doing a lot of the little things that made her team better and embraced a physical style of play. Her energy, Auriemma said, was what sparked UConn’s dominant win.
“She became that lightning rod that just started the whole thing,” the head coach said.
The freshmen will be part of the team’s depth
As Auriemma put it, “there is always something” when it comes to UConn. Junior guard Azzi Fudd did not play because of an injury she suffered Tuesday during practice.
Injuries have been an unfortunate pattern with UConn, which has given the team no other option than to force everyone to step up. Senior forward Aaliyah Edwards, who put up 12 points on Thursday, has done a terrific job embracing a leadership role, especially when Bueckers was out. But the young talent is also already earning more playing time.
Against Maryland, two freshmen saw double digits for the first time in their college careers. Arnold contributed with 12 points, two rebounds, five assists and five steals on Thursday. Ashlynn Shade added 10 points in just 15 minutes.
“We take a lot of pride when we get the chance to prove to our upperclassmen, to everybody, that we’re capable of making plays and fighting for them as well,” Arnold said.
Auriemma pointed out that one UConn’s best runs in the game had Arnold, Shade and redshirt freshman Ice Brady on the floor.
“We are going to give those guys minutes,” he said. “They are going to get a chance to play. That’s the only way they are going to get better. I was absolutely thrilled at the way they handled themselves.”