Paige Bueckers Comes Home in Glory
It took two overtimes Monday night for Paige Bueckers to lead UConn to a 91-87 basketball win over North Carolina State, and set up a storybook opportunity to win the Women’s NCAA Final Four in her home state of Minnesota.
The former Hopkins High School All-American scored 15 points in overtime in an NCAA Tournament game for the ages. The sophomore point guard, the national Player of the Year in 2021, was at her best when it mattered most. For the game she scored 27 points, making 10 of 15 shots and six of seven free throws.
The fact she was brilliant in the game’s biggest moments was no surprise to her former high school coach. Brian Cosgriff said: “You could see how Paige was like we’re not going to lose this game. Get on my back. I am going to do what I’ve always done. I am going to carry this team to victory. And that’s what she does.”
During a telephone interview with Sports Headliners yesterday, Cosgriff recalled when Bueckers was a gangly eighth grader and made her Hopkins varsity debut against a powerhouse Elk River team. The Royals fell behind early but Bueckers came off the bench to make seven consecutive three-point shots. “It was an amazing performance by this little, skinny eighth grader,” Cosgriff said.
The coach had seen Bueckers’ extraordinary skills and ability to impact games a season earlier. As a seventh grader she played on both the sophomore and junior varsity teams. On the same day she would lead each to victories.
Cosgriff said what many fans don’t realize is how unselfish Bueckers is. She loves her teammates and wants to do anything she can to make them better. Her timely passing can be as valuable to the Huskies as her clutch scoring.
“She is a huge team player and you could see it last night after the game,” Cosgriff said Tuesday. “She was in tears for her teammate (Dorka Juhasz) who hurt her wrist.”
“Paige Buckets” as she is known, is athletically gifted with an energy, passion, work ethic and will to win that sets her apart from peers. So, too, does her almost mystical feel for the game. Bueckers once told Sports Headliners she has a “God-given ability that I know what I am doing, and I see…plays two steps ahead.”
Bueckers seemed to see those kinds of opportunities Monday night including when she buried shot after shot and orchestrated the UConn offense in the biggest of moments. After the game teammate Christyn Williams had the quote of the night: “We have Paige Bueckers and they don’t.”
A traumatic left knee injury forced Bueckers to miss 19 games this season. Four of the team’s five losses (29-5 record) came with its phenom unavailable. Cosgriff believes his former superstar is 85 to 90 percent recovered, with part of the issue regaining trust in her body. “But I definitely think last night really helped her confidence,” he said.
Target Center will be bonkers Friday night when the Huskies play defending national champion Stanford as part of a Final Four lineup that also includes South Carolina and Louisville. Bueckers will be a huge crowd favorite in a homecoming Minnesotans have been anticipating for months, if not years.
Bueckers has a pop culture following dating back to high school. Cosgriff recalled that when the Royals played a game in Grand Rapids, Minnesota there were fans from Chicago in attendance. It wasn’t uncommon to see 200-300 fans waiting after games to see Bueckers.
This will be Bueckers’ second Final Four and she is looking for her first NCAA championship. She has talented teammates and coach Geno Auriemma who has taken the Huskies to 14 consecutive Final Fours. Guess who Cosgriff is predicting to emerge as 2022 national champs after Sunday night’s title game?
“Of course I am biased, but I also see Paige taking this thing home. … My money is on U-Conn. That’s for sure.”
A Front Office Sports article yesterday said Bueckers has business deals with Gatorade, StockX and Cash App. Arguably the face of women’s college basketball, the Wall Street Journal speculated last summer when Name, Image and Likeness opportunities were approved by the NCAA that Bueckers had $1 million per year potential.
Cosgriff, who won seven state titles at Hopkins, will be inducted April 7 into the Minnesota High School Basketball Hall of Fame.
Mike Nowakowski from Ticket King said “action is very minor” for Friday night’s Final Four games. Upper level seats are going for $100 to $250; lower level $200 to $1,250.
He also told Sports Headliners this morning his website “went crazy” after the Twins signed free agent shortstop Carlos Correa. Interest seems similar to before Target Field opened in 2010, he added.
Rebecca Lobo, the ESPN basketball analyst here for the Final Four, is married to famous sportswriter Steve Rushin, a Bloomington native.
The reunion last week recognizing individuals involved with boys’ state tournament basketball teams from the last decade of the one-class tournament format (1960-1970) was an emotional affair. In organizing the reunion Jeff McCarron (Sherburn) and Drew Kindseth (Marshall) heard from individuals representing high schools from Ada to Walnut Grove, from Bemidji to Thief River Falls. Attendees included former Gophers Jay Kiedrowski, Tom Masterson, Greg Troland and McCarron. Star Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse was the featured speaker.
“The room was so full of heart and history as veterans of the glory days of the state tournament gathered in the same room to share memories and also recognize many who had passed or could not attend,” McCarron said via email. “We also share the realization that our healthiest days are behind us—and that all days and relationships should be cherished and nurtured. …
“Dick Jonckowski (reunion emcee) probably said it best when he departed that afternoon. First, his voice cracked again. Then he said, ‘I think I just spent the best six hours of my life.’ ”
Organizer Ron Stolski reports over 1,600 attendees are expected at the Minnesota Football Coaches Association’s Clinic Thursday-Saturday. The highly anticipated annual clinic will have a lineup of high school coaches from Minnesota and other states speaking. Gophers’ coaches including P.J. Fleck, Kirk Ciarrocca and Joe Rossi, plus Glenn Caruso from St. Thomas, are also part of the clinic program at the DoubleTree Hotel in St. Louis Park. Legendary Alabama coach Nick Saban will speak via Zoom. https://www.mnfootballcoaches.com/page/show/2279758-mfca-clinic-information
The MFCA will announce its Coach of the Year Saturday night at its Hall of Fame Banquet.