On Friday, Paige Bueckers took the UConn women’s basketball stage for the first time since her injury.
The Huskies did not play a game, but instead played to the crowd at their annual First Night of UConn. As the PA announcer said her name, Bueckers smiled and waved her arms to call for more noise. It was the loudest ovation of the evening.
“It’s a fun night for them,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said to the media about the First Night festivities. “They get a kick out of performing. They get to act silly, experience the adulation of the crowd, none of them are going to miss any shots tonight, none of them are going to foul out.”
PAIGE. BUECKERS. pic.twitter.com/W5NBT2iHe1— UConn Women’s Basketball (@UConnWBB) October 13, 2023
PAIGE. BUECKERS. pic.twitter.com/W5NBT2iHe1
The evening excitement was hardly damped by the fact that Bueckers, who missed the entire 2022-23 campaign with a torn ACL, recently suffered a jammed left thumb and did not practice Thursday and Friday.
The Huskies kick off the regular season Nov. 8 against Dayton, and in Auriemma’s telling, have a lot of room to improve until then.
“I don’t like some of the things we do to hurt ourselves,” he said. “Again it’s early, I want to make sure that stuff gets cleaned up. We’re playing faster, quicker, more shots are going in. Obviously we’ve got more players available to us. They work really really really hard. There’s a good chemistry, the young guys have fit in well.”
Bueckers will also need to find her footing after missing last season. At full strength, she could change the complexion of UConn’s season. In 2021, she was named AP Player of the Year after averaging 20 points, 5.7 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game. She played only 17 games the following season but still led the Huskies to the national championship game.