beach_and_pier_-_2200x270_-_with_npr_and_cal_lu_1.jpg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Watching The NCAA Tournament? Look Out For University Of Connecticut's Paige Bueckers

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The NCAA women's basketball tournament starts this weekend. UConn, University of Connecticut, Huskies are the most decorated women's college basketball team of all time, but it's been five years since they've won the title. Enter Paige Bueckers. Connecticut Public Radio's Frankie Graziano has this look at the freshman phenom.

FRANKIE GRAZIANO, BYLINE: As a kid, Paige Bueckers used to go to WNBA games in her home state of Minnesota to cheer on Maya Moore, who also played college ball at UConn.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAIGE BUECKERS: That's really why I came here to - 'cause they get pushed to be the best.

GRAZIANO: Bueckers is pretty good at basketball herself. She played high school ball when she was still in eighth grade. Her old coach, Brian Cosgriff, recalls a conversation he had with Bueckers after she came off the bench in a state tournament game and lit up her opponents with eight 3-point buckets.

BRIAN COSGRIFF: Paige, if you could pick one school that you want to go to to be great, where would you go? She goes, UConn.

GRAZIANO: Bueckers' career took off. She was America's best high school senior and USA Basketball's Female Athlete of the Year. She even appeared on the cover of Slam magazine. Even with those accolades, her high school coach never knew she'd be this good.

COSGRIFF: She's just blown up and exceeded my expectations. That's for sure.

GRAZIANO: Bueckers is blowing up because she's shooting the ball more and not being the pass-first player she says she's used to being.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTS ANNOUNCER: Back to Bueckers, who will let it fly.

(CHEERING)

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTS ANNOUNCER: The magic of Paige Bueckers.

GRAZIANO: Three 30-point games in a row, including a big overtime victory in February against then-top-ranked South Carolina, solidified her superstar status. That's around the time she took the leadership role famed UConn coach Geno Auriemma had been asking her to take.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BUECKERS: Coach had put it into my head when I was a senior in high school about how he needed me to come in and be a leader right away.

GRAZIANO: Her leadership shows on the court and on the stat sheet. She's first on the team in points, assists and steals. Now Bueckers has a shot at being the first-ever freshman to win national player of the year in the 43 years it's been handed out. Auriemma says composure is what makes Bueckers so special.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GENO AURIEMMA: If Paige had a different mindset and she had a different temperament and still had all the skills that she has, it may not work.

GRAZIANO: Cosgriff, Bueckers' high school coach, says nothing fazes her - except when she's pulled from the game.

COSGRIFF: She hates coming out. I mean, she just does.

GRAZIANO: She really doesn't like it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BUECKERS: I'm just a competitor. I always love to play no matter if we're down 50 or if we're up 50.

GRAZIANO: Bueckers and her teammates now get to play for a big prize, an NCAA title. The Huskies' road to the Final Four begins Sunday, when they take on High Point University.

For NPR News, I'm Frankie Graziano in Glastonbury, Conn.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.