UConn women's basketball beats High Point in 2021 NCAA Tournament First Round
basketball Edit

UConn WBB's Paige Bueckers opens NCAA Tournament with historic performance

Check out our postgame coverage to hear what Interim Head Coach Chris Dailey and the Huskies had to say after their resounding victory over High Point!

It took all of one NCAA Tournament game for Paige Bueckers to make history. In UConn’s first-round win over High Point, she dropped 24 points, surpassing Katie Lou Samuelson’s mark of 22 points as the most ever by a UConn freshman in their first NCAA Tournament game.

The most impressive part of Bueckers’ performance? She had just two points on two shots at the end of the first quarter. Though Geno Auriemma might’ve been watching over 1,600 miles away from San Antonio, Bueckers heard him urging her to shoot more.

“I could hear Coach in my ear yelling,” she said. “The first quarter, I took about two shots so I know he was yelling at the TV, I know he's yelling at me so I kind of knew that going in the second quarter, so I tried to be more aggressive.”

Auriemma’s hypothetical words of encouragement did the trick. After a quiet start, Bueckers seemingly just flipped a switch and put up 11 points in the second quarter, eight in the third, and three in the fourth.

“Paige absolutely has another gear and the more physical the game gets and if she thinks she's getting fouled, the gear comes quicker. That next gear comes a lot faster,” Dailey said. “When she gets to that point, it's tough to stop her.”

Though Bueckers can score in a variety of ways, her mid-range jumpers are particularly deadly. One of her go-to moves is to get the ball at the top of the arc and use a screen to drive towards the basket before stopping on a dime at the elbow for a jumper. It may not have a success rate of 100 percent but it certainly feels like it – just like another great UConn guard.

“Her pull-up reminds me a lot of Sue Bird,” Dailey said. “When Sue Bird took a pull-up, I thought it was automatic and she never missed and I think the same light with Paige – it's just automatic with her pull-ups. When she takes it, I feel pretty confident.”

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Muhl goes down, Westbrook steps up

With just over six minutes left in the second quarter, UConn dealt with something far too familiar. As Nika Muhl came down from a shot, she landed on a High Point player’s foot and twisted her right ankle. She immediately went down in a heap – an eerily similar scene to when she sprained her left ankle in UConn’s Big East Tournament opener.

"The words that went through my mind, I can't repeat," Dailey said about her reaction to the injury.

Muhl needed to be helped off the court and did not return. She later came back to the bench on crutches, though the broadcast said team athletic trainer Janelle Francisco could move Muhl’s foot back and forth, indicating there likely wasn’t a break.

“Nika is still getting looked at by our trainer,” Chris Dailey said postgame. “She’s gonna go back to the hotel, get some treatment and we’ll know more in the morning.”

Still, UConn needed to carry on without its fiery freshman and, to do so, it turned to “Momma E” – Evina Westbrook.

On the ensuing possession, the Huskies forced a miss. Westbrook grabbed the rebound, brought the ball up the floor, and fired a laser to Aaliyah Edwards in the post for a layup. On UConn’s next trip, Westbrook drained her only 3-pointer of the night.

Though the sequence seems inconsequential considering UConn went on to win by 43, Westbrook’s play helped the team calm down and got their focus back on the game.

“Evina Westbrook, in my mind, was probably the player of the game for a lot of reasons today,” Dailey said. “When we started to lose our composure a little bit with Nika going out and then some foul trouble, I thought E stepped up, made a big shot, and had some really key defensive stops. So I thought she played a major role in that first half.”

Westbrook finished her night with 10 points, seven rebounds and four assists.