Paige Bueckers, UConn beats Duke to advance to Elite Eight vs. USC

PORTLAND — A UConn fan was in the stands at Moda Center Saturday night and pulled her long, blond hair into a ponytail with braids in the front, just like UConn star guard Paige Bueckers.

She held up a sign saying, “Paige, am I doing this right?” And Bueckers high-fives as she runs from the UConn bench back to the locker room.

These days, everyone wants to be like Bueckers, who once again starred for the No. 3 Huskies in a 53-45 win over No. 7 Duke on Saturday night and who has now advanced the Huskies to 22nd place in the Elite 8 in the last 24 tournaments. NCAA Championships. Bueckers scored 24 of her team-high 53 points on a night when the Huskies were particularly vulnerable after forward Aaliyah Edwards picked up her fourth foul midway through the third quarter. UConn played just six players all night, but shot 40 percent from the field, compared to Duke's mark of 33 percent, and scored 23 points off Duke's 23 turnovers — the difference in the game.

“I don’t know that I have one,” coach Geno Auriemma said when called for the opening statement in the postgame press conference.
Duke trailed 23-13 at halftime after the offense struggled in the first two quarters. The Blue Devils were down by as many as 20 points late in the third quarter when UConn led 42-22.

“I think it was crowded (down there) all night, so when we touched the paint, there were a lot of guys out there,” Duke coach Kara Lawson said. “It was the first Sweet 16 game for everyone on our roster and we were scattered at first.”

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But the Blue Devils came back and cut the deficit to just five points with less than two minutes left. The Huskies held on in the end, led by Bueckers, as well as Edwards and guard KK Arnold, who scored 12 points.

“I think defensively we were playing smarter than we did offensively, but I think we took care of those possessions on the defensive side,” Edwards said. “We did a good job of filibustering.”

Auriemma said he could tell his team was tired the whole time, which forced him to change his game plan. He credited the Huskies' 20-point lead, saying UConn “pushed and pushed and pushed.”

“And then I felt OK.” “We need a break here otherwise we won't be able to finish the match.” “And then I think by doing that, we got a little bit — (we) took a deep breath. We were exercising and then we decided to smoke a cigarette and after that we didn't feel like exercising anymore. So it was difficult for us to get back into the flow of things. But I knew that recording would be very difficult, very difficult for both parties.

Next, UConn plays USC in a must-see matchup featuring Bueckers and Trojans star freshman JuJu Watkins. When asked about Watkins, Bueckers said it would be best for the Huskies to limit her touches as much as possible.

Auriemma, who joked that he needed a drink and maybe an ice bath after Saturday's game, said his team realizes it can't make this a one-and-done game.

“They understand that it's USC versus UConn, not Paige versus JuJu. Because if we try to make that happen — and that's happened a lot — someone on their team is going to get 30, and then we're all going to go home and say, 'Yes, we lost, but we did a job.' Great JuJu,” a man said. “Congratulations,” he said.

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“It's got to be our team against their team and see how it goes. And I'm sure they're not out there thinking: Let's spend all our energy guarding Paige.

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(Photo: Steve Chambers/Getty Images)

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