Women's College Basketball
Geno Auriemma calls Paige Bueckers 'best player in America' following UConn's win
Women's College Basketball

Geno Auriemma calls Paige Bueckers 'best player in America' following UConn's win

Updated Mar. 26, 2024 12:46 p.m. ET

While many might view Caitlin Clark as the top player in women's college basketball, Geno Auriemma disagrees with that notion.

UConn's head coach claimed that his star player, Paige Bueckers, is the best player in the country following her dominant performance in the Huskies' 72-64 win over Syracuse to advance to the Sweet 16.

"We have the best player in America," Auriemma told reporters following Monday's game, referring to Bueckers. "And, you know, just saying that because the numbers in this world of analytics, the numbers say that she is.

"And the whole stat sheet says that she is. And everybody that watched knows it, and we’re fortunate. And we get to go back to where it ended for us last year, and I think we’re a different team, different mindset, and we’re hoping for a different outcome."


Bueckers filled up the stat sheet in Monday's win, making several key plays on both ends of the court. She scored 20 points in the first half and finished with a game-high 32. She added 10 rebounds, giving her a double-double, to go with four steals and a block.

The first-team All-American guard also stepped up in the clutch for UConn. After Syracuse made it a two-point game with under two minutes left, Bueckers made a jumper on the ensuing possession and dished out the assist on KK Arnold's 3-pointer with under 30 seconds left that put UConn up by six. She also drew a foul while getting a defensive rebound in the final seconds to help seal the win. 

Auriemma said moments like that help Bueckers' case to be the best player in the nation.

"The stats will tell you one thing, you know? The 10 rebounds, six assists and the four steals," Auriemma said. "But it's when they happen and how they impact the game that's so remarkable. I just think this team will go as far as she's able to carry that kind of a load. As long as she keeps getting a little bit of contribution from everybody.

"You need people who can make winning plays at big moments, especially the last five minutes of the game. You need people that can make those plays, the shots that they have to make, the rebounds that they have to get, the loose balls they got to get, the stops they have to have."

Auriemma didn't mention which analytics Bueckers has the edge over some of the other top players in the nation. Clark is the nation's leading scorer (31.8) and also averages a Division 1-best 8.8 assists per game, making it likely she'll win several player of the year awards again this season after being the consensus player of the year last year. 

However, Bueckers has had an impressive season herself after missing the entire 2022-23 season due to a torn ACL. She's scoring 21.8 points per game to go with 5.1 rebounds and 3.9 rebounds per contest. She's actually been a more efficient shooter than Clark, though. She has made 54% of her attempts from the field and 41.8% of her 3-pointers, while Clark shot 45.6% from the field and 37.9% from deep. 

Bueckers also has the edge over Clark in steals (2.2 to 1.8) and blocks (1.4 to 0.5) while Clark edges her in rebounds (7.3 to 5.1) per game. In terms of advanced numbers, Bueckers leads the nation in box plus/minus (23.7) and is third in offensive rating (132.8).

Of course, there are other players who might have a claim to be the nation's best player. USC's JuJu Watkins is second in the nation in scoring (26.9) and has helped the Trojans reach the Sweet 16 as a freshman. Stanford's Cameron Brink is averaging a double-double (17.5 points, 11.9 rebounds) and leads the nation in blocks (3.6) as she also helped the Cardinal reach the Sweet 16. Notre Dame's Hannah Hidalgo is fifth in the nation in scoring (22.9) and led the country in steals (4.6), also leading her team to the Sweet 16.

Bueckers is happy that she's back on the court for the NCAA Tournament this year after missing it last year, helping UConn reach the Sweet 16 for a 30th straight time, facing seventh-seeded Duke on Sunday.

"I just remember last year, after the Baylor game, it was a second-round game. I went to my car and I was so emotional because these high-stake games, these games that mean everything," Bueckers said. "I miss it so much and I just told myself before the Big East Tournament, before this tournament, just to embrace it and have fun. I prayed so hard a year ago today to be in my shoes where I'm at right now."

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