Paige Bueckers isn’t rushing her decision on whether or not she’ll enter the WNBA draft.

While Bueckers is a projected first-round pick in the 2024 WNBA draft, the UConn star said on Tuesday that the deciding factors aren’t limited to the WNBA and which teams have picks.

Bueckers was asked on Tuesday if UConn’s injuries have impacted her decision to return or go pro next season. Injuries to Azzi Fudd, Aubrey Griffin, Jana El Alfy, Ayanna Patterson and Caroline Ducharme have all impacted the team this season and seriously dampened its championship potential.

“I think that’s what it’s all about,” Bueckers said. “It’s not about teams in the draft; who’s got what pick. It’s all about me loving playing here, me loving my teammates and wanting to get more experiences and more time with them and more time in the program. And so that’s, I think, the deciding factor — just wanting to be here longer and not anything necessarily that’s already picked and chosen in the draft.”

Bueckers has herself dealt with injuries that have impacted her college career, including an ACL injury that kept her out of last season. The year previous she missed 19 games en route to helping the Huskies reach the 2022 national title game.

She joked on Tuesday about the prospect of head coach Geno Auriemma wanting her to return. Due to her injuries, Bueckers has two years of eligibility remaining.

“At the beginning of the season he didn’t want me back. Now he probably wants me back,” she said. “It just depends on the ebbs and flows of the season but, still a conversation I’m gonna have.”

After collecting three losses before the start of conference play this season, no doubt many college basketball fans questioned the state of the UConn dynasty.

But Aaliyah Edwards has been playing high-quality basketball of late, helping the Huskies to prove the doubters wrong. 

“When (Aaliyah) plays the way she’s played these last four, five games, she’s an All-American player,” head coach Geno Auriemma said to CT Insider’s Maggie Vanoni after UConn’s match against Toronto Metropolitan — a homecoming game scheduled specifically for Edwards in her home country.

Edwards relished her Canadian welcome. She mouthed along to “O Canada,” and is proud of the show that she put on north of the border. 

“I hope it leaves a big impact on just women’s basketball in Canada,” Edwards told CT Insider. “I know a lot of people were there to support either myself or of UConn, but I would just encourage anybody just to go watch their local team, just women’s basketball in general…”

The sold-out crowd at Mattamy Athletic Centre exploded into applause for Edwards when her name was called in UConn’s lineup before the match. Her recent play deserves this level of fanfare.

The Huskies’ last five games have been wins for the team. And in those games, Edwards is averaging almost 19 points per game. Against Toronto Metropolitan, UNC, Ball State and Butler, the senior forward put up double-doubles. 

The senior and her high-scoring teammate, Paige Bueckers, have hit their stride for UConn and it’s reflected in the team’s success. The energy is palpable for Auriemma as well. He told Vanoni that he likes the positive energy his team is feeling into the holiday break. 

“I like where we are right now,” he said.

Once again, UConn basketball is navigating major injuries.

This season, though, the Huskies are doing so with Paige Bueckers on the court instead of on the sidelines – but that doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges.

Already UConn is dealing with two season-ending injuries to Azzi Fudd and Jana El Alfy. Ayanna Patterson and Caroline Ducharme also are sidelined.

As a result, Bueckers has been tasked with playing multiple roles. And while she’s the best player UConn has, it’s taking some time for her teammates to adjust both to having her back in the lineup and to her playing new positions.

“We’re not completely there yet on how to seamlessly incorporate all the other people with the way Paige wants to play. And I don’t know when that will be 100% like I like it,” head coach Geno Auriemma said Sunday, as reported by CT Insider. “Right now, we just have to go with what we got and hope that every game we can get more contributions from more people.”

That means better off-ball movement around Bueckers, who runs the offense for UConn.

“We have to find a way to get more people consistently engaged around her,” Auriemma continued. “If she’s not getting enough assists, that means we’re not doing a good job moving without the ball because she would find you if we are, and that’s been a serious problem for this team for quite some time now.”

Through nine games, Auriemma has experimented with six different starting lineups. It’s about the Huskies attempting to “mix and match and find our way,” according to Auriemma. But eventually, he trusts, the team will figure it out.

“We’re all still trying to figure out how to play together as a basketball team and get sort of a chemistry within each other,” Bueckers said. “We’re all just trying to figure out how to be the best in our roles that we can be every single night and stay consistent in that.”

Paige Bueckers took the court for the second half of No. 17 UConn’s game with No. 24 North Carolina with 998 career points to her name. Fifteen seconds later, she reached 1,000. 

KK Arnold grabbed a steal in the Huskies’ defensive end. She barrelled down the court, and when she reached the key, she dished to Bueckers on her right side. Buckers crashed the net with the ball in hand and tapped a layup off the glass. 

After she tied Maya Moore to become one of the fastest UConn basketball players to reach 1,000 career points, Bueckers fell to the floor, rolled to her feet, and continued playing. 

A minute and a half later, Bueckers collected her own steal in the Huskies’ end and drove to the hoop again for another easy layup. And she celebrated her 1,002nd point instead of No. 1,000. 

As UNC called for a timeout, Bueckers puffed out her chest and screamed into the roar of the Connecticut crowd. Her teammates flocked to her and celebrated her achievement at her side. 

“Maya is one of the GOATs, so to be in that space is just amazing,” Bueckers said to ESPN after the game. “It’s just a testament to all that my teammates have done for me, all that my coaches have done for me, I’m just a product of what they do for me, so extremely grateful and it’s an honor to be next to her.”

Bueckers showed out at the Invesco QQQ Basketball Hall of Fame women’s showcase. She dropped 26 points against the Tar Heels and unleashed her defensive prowess as well, batting four blocks and making three steals. 

“I don’t know if it was the shooting sleeve or what but I felt like I was just trying to contribute to winning in any way that I can,” Bueckers said to ESPN. “I feel like if I play hard on the defensive end, stuff goes better for me on offense.”

Paige Bueckers struggled in UConn’s 80-68 loss to Texas on Sunday, which head coach Geno Auriemma attributes to being off her game.

Bueckers had just five points before the half and finished the game with 13 points on 4-of-11 shooting. She also had four rebounds, four assists and two blocks. The 35 minutes were the most she’s played since the 2022 national championship game, which UConn lost to South Carolina.

The 2021 National Player of the Year is still progressing after missing all of last season with a torn ACL. And since Azzi Fudd went down in November with a season-ending ACL and meniscal tear in her right knee, Bueckers has taken on an even greater scoring load, which has forced her into taking shots when they aren’t necessarily there.

“I thought she was lousy today. Quite honestly, I thought she was bad, and I told her that,” Auriemma told CT Insider after the Texas game. “You know, Paige isn’t good when she needs seven dribbles to get a shot off. Paige isn’t good when she’s got to, you know, take on guys one-against-two (or) one-against-three going in the lane. You know, forcing things, hoping to get to the free-throw line. That’s not her game. That’s not who she is.”

Fudd’s injury leaves Bueckers as UConn’s biggest weapon from beyond the arc, where she averages a team-high 43.3 percent. She’s also the only player on the team to have attempted more than 82 shots.

Senior forward Aaliyah Edwards has also stepped up in Fudd’s absence, leading the way with 22 points, six rebounds and three assists against Texas. Auriemma knows he’ll need more from Edwards, Bueckers and the rest of UConn’s healthy players as the team battles injuries once again. With three losses so far this season, the Huskies fell to No. 17 in this week’s AP Top 25, their lowest ranking in 30 years.

“​​It’s important that we get other people to contribute more and to feel more confident doing what they’re good at, you know. It’s noticeable on the road, you know, how difficult it is for some of these guys. And, again, there’s no substitute,” Auriemma told CT Insider last week. “It’s not possible to beat good teams unless we get more contributions from other people.”

UConn’s injury woes have continued into this season, and it’s led to the Huskies’ players and coach experiencing déjà vu from years past.

“It just kills me to watch us play sometimes,” head coach Geno Auriemma told reporters after practice on Friday.

Last month, star guard Azzi Fudd went down with an ACL and meniscus tear in her right knee that will sideline her for the rest of the season. Junior guard Caroline Ducharme, meanwhile, remains out with neck spasms, and her timeline for return remains unclear.

“Don’t ask me how long, because I wish I knew,” Auriemma said of Ducharme. “You don’t know when they’re coming and you don’t know how long they’re going to last. We just keep trying and trying and trying. … I feel terrible for the kid.”

Many had thought this year would be different. Paige Bueckers, the 2021 National Player of the Year, is back from the ACL tear that kept her sidelined last season. Fudd, who has dealt with injuries throughout her career, started the season fully healthy. Now, Fudd and Jana El Alfy, who tore her Achilles tendon in July, will both miss the rest of the season. Sophomore forward Ayanna Patterson is also out following an offseason knee surgery.

In their absence, UConn has lost two of their last three games, including an 80-68 defeat to Texas on Sunday. The 4-3 Huskies haven’t lost three games this early in the season since 1980.

“I think they were all anticipating that this year was going to be different, that this year all that was going away and that was all behind us. And the response, I think, has been like a real punch in the gut. Like, ‘I’ve got to do this again,’” Auriemma said. “Me seeing that and me seeing their frustration, and them seeing mine, I think it’s inevitable. You can’t hide it.

“And I probably have not handled it great internally, and probably externally at times, as well. And that’s my job is as an adult, to make sure that I handle it, make sure that I am in complete control of myself and that I’m able to [answer], ‘How do I get each individual through another season?’ Like anybody else you know, I don’t think anybody deserves to be in this situation as many times as we’ve been in it.”

After all the injuries UConn has dealt with in the past few years, senior guard Nika Mühl said Friday that she doesn’t “know any different.”

“I feel like that’s the only cards we’ve been dealt since I’ve been here,” Mühl said. “So overcoming adversity is not something unfamiliar to us.”

UConn basketball has had no shortage of injuries over the last three seasons.

Azzi Fudd’s season-ending knee injury represents just the latest blow to the Huskies’ lineup. The junior guard tore the ACL and meniscus in her right knee during practice on Nov. 14. And she’s not the only one sidelined for UConn, with Jana El Alfy having torn her Achilles tendon in July and Ayanna Patterson still out after an offseason knee surgery.

WNBA star Diamond DeShields asked on social media after Fudd’s injury: “Who the strength coach there …? Cuz WTF.” But Fudd’s father came to the defense of the program, noting that the injuries have “nothing to do with the strength coach” and are instead “the flukiest things I’ve ever seen.”

Just Women’s Sports lays out a timeline of the most significant injuries to UConn women’s basketball over the last three seasons.

2021-22 season:

Aubrey Griffin missed the entire season with a back injury, for which she underwent surgery in January 2022.

On Dec. 1, Fudd suffered a foot injury forced her out of the lineup for 11 games. It was the first major injury of Fudd’s career at UConn, though she had torn the ACL and MCL in her right knee in high school. And just four days later, UConn star Paige Bueckers suffered a tibial plateau fracture that kept her out of 19 games for the Huskies.

While the team remained relatively healthy through January and February. But come the postseason, Dorka Juhász fractured her wrist in the Elite Eight, which kept her out of the Final Four. UConn made the national championship game but lost to South Carolina.

2022-23 season:

UConn’s injury problems during the 2022-23 season can be summed up with one incident: The Huskies had to postpone their game against DePaul in early January due to a lack of healthy players.

It all started in August, when Bueckers tore her ACL, which caused her to miss the entirety of the season. Then, in October, freshman Ice Brady dislocated her patella tendon, which ended her season before it started.

Mere months after fracturing her wrist, Juhász suffered a broken thumb on Nov. 19, which kept her out of seven games. Then, on Dec. 4, Fudd suffered a knee injury that initially kept her out of nine games. She made her return in January, only to reinjure the same knee on Jan. 15 and miss an additional 13 games.

Meanwhile, Caroline Ducharme missed 14 games due to a concussion suffered on Jan. 3. Given that the team struggled with injuries all season, UConn never could find a groove and bowed out of the NCAA tournament in the Sweet 16 – the Huskies’ first time not making the Elite Eight since 2005.

2023-24 season:

To start the new season, UConn is still without Patterson, who had surgery on her knee in the offseason. And both El Alfy and Fudd are out for year. Plus Caroline Ducharme has missed the team’s last two games with neck and back spasms, with no timeline for her return as of Dec. 1.

The No. 11 Huskies are 4-2 to start the season, with a top-25 battle against No. 10 Texas up next at 3 p.m. ET Sunday on ABC.

No. 2 UCLA beat No. 6 UConn basketball for the first time in the history of the program on Friday night, 78-67 — not for Paige Bueckers’ lack of trying. 

Despite the Huskies receiving their second loss of the season at the Cayman Islands Classic, Bueckers performed exceedingly well. But even with her multiple team-leading outings, UConn has earned its second double-digit loss this season, its most in its first five games since the 1991-92 slate. 

The Huskies’ struggles are best summed up by their head coach Geno Auriemma: “You can’t beat a really good team with one player.”

Bueckers’ 31 points against the Bruins came in at just under half of her squad’s total on the night. The senior guard is a consistent high-scorer, but without Azzi Fudd and Caroline Ducharme in the lineup, UConn is going to need more. 

“It was disappointing that we didn’t get more contributions from more people. Our combinations are all screwed up right now, so that’s got to get sorted out. We struggled, we had our runs, we just didn’t have enough,” Auriemma said. 

Aubrey Griffin went off on a few runs to register a good performance for the Huskies. She clocked 11 points, seven rebounds, four steals and a block. 

“The way Aubrey played for long stretches in that game, that’s how she’s got to start the game,” Auriemma said. “Aubrey needs to do it before we get down 15 points. That’s the issue with some of our players, they just take a long time to get going.”

No other UConn players had notable performances against the Bruins. Even Aaliyah Edwards, the Huskies highest scorer last season, struggled in the Cayman Islands. She went 2-12 before fouling out late in the game. 

“Basically, UCLA defended one player and was content to let anyone else have any shot they wanted and they didn’t make any,” Auriemma said. “… Other people are going to have to step up and have to make shots. We have to find a way to get some sort of cohesiveness on offense, we look disjointed a lot of times. I’ve got to fix that.”

No. 2 UCLA basketball remains undefeated this season, in no small part due to Kiki Rice’s contributions against No. 6 UConn. 

The sophomore guard dropped 24 points en route to her program’s first-ever win against the Huskies. She also grabbed 11 rebounds and eight assists. She led her squad to its fifth win of the season in its toughest match so far, 78-67. 

“We wanted her to come out with an attack mentality,” UCLA head coach Cori Close said to Michael Voepel. “She has put so much work in. She’s just been a rock star for us.” 

Charisma Osborne and Lauren Betts also showed out at  the Cayman Islands Classic with 18 and 13 points, respectively. 

“We really were confident that if we executed the game plan, that we were going to win,” Close said to the Associated Press. “I say that with great respect (for UConn) but I really believe in what this team is building.”

Paige Bueckers had a standout night for the Huskies, leading all scorers with her 31 points — almost half of UConn’s total. But no one else on the team scored more than 11 points. And head coach Geno Auriemma does not believe that is enough to win games. 

“You can’t beat a really good team with one player,” Auriemma said. “It was disappointing that we didn’t get more contributions from more people. Our combinations are all screwed up right now, so that’s got to get sorted out.. We struggled, we had our runs, we just didn’t have enough.”

UConn’s Paige Bueckers grew up watching basketball in her home state of Minnesota. She has memories of Lynx and Golden Gophers games at Williams Arena — she attended those games starting when she was 10 or 12 years old.

Now, Bueckers will return to The Barn, but not as a spectator.

“It’s super surreal because I grew up going to games at The Barn and watching the Gophers and watching the Lynx play there,” Bueckers said to the Hartford Courant. “So to be playing there, where I grew up, my childhood, at my dream school wearing a UConn jersey in that arena, it’s like a surreal feeling for me.”

The Huskies are set to take on the Gophers in Minnesota at 5 p.m. ET Sunday in a homecoming game for Bueckers. Bueckers will be taking the same court her childhood idols took over a decade ago.

“I envisioned it when I was younger,” Bueckers said. “Just wanting to be the people who were playing on the court. As a young kid, that was where I wanted to be. You never knew what the future was going to hold, but it was something I aspired to do.”

UConn’s head coach Geno Auriemma goes out of his way to schedule homecoming games for his seniors, including two international matchups this season — one for Nika Mühl in Croatia during the Huskies’ preseason tour and one for Aaliyah Edwards in Toronto, which will be played in December.

Williams Arena is likely to be packed when the local star makes her return — more than 10,000 seats are expected to be filled when Bueckers takes the court at the 14,625-seat arena.

Among those 10,000 people will be Bueckers’ family, friends and other Minnesotans in the basketball community. And Bueckers credits these people with her upbringing.

“You often hear the phrase ‘Minnesota nice,’” Bueckers told CT Insider. “I think everything around here, just everybody knows everybody. Everybody’s nice to each other. Everybody’s like family once you meet them. So, I think that just is sort of why I love relationships, why I love people so much and why I love getting to know people so much and I think that has a lot to do with where I’m from.”

But for Bueckers, a homecoming game isn’t just about seeing family and friends. It’s about being who Rebekkah Brunson and Lindsey Whalen were to her for other young girls.

“I want to be an inspiration to kids,” Bueckers said. “I want people to see that injuries happen, adversity happens, but what do you do to come back from it? How hard do you attack that process? I want people to see passion when they see me play, fire and energy and that I love the game.”