Yahoo Sports College Expert Cassandra Negley explains why UConn freshman Paige Bueckers is the player to watch during the 2021 Women’s NCAA Tournament, and predicts how far Bueckers can take the Huskies this year.
CASSANDRA NEGLEY: This is Cassandra Negley for Yahoo Sports talking about the biggest name in the women's tournament this year. Has to be Paige Bueckers for UConn. She's a freshman and a heralded recruit-- the number one recruit in the class of 2020-- and she's leading UConn in points at nearly 20 per game. She's playing most minutes on the floor and is leading seven freshmen, including a class of 2021 early enrollee in Saylor Poffenbarger.
Bueckers is making some incredible shots. She came back on a bum ankle to help lead UConn over Tennessee and scored every single point for UConn in an overtime win against South Carolina. She's shooting 54% from the field and 47% from 3. And 47% from 3 is an incredible number given the defense she's facing. She can shoot from anywhere on the floor and can drive to the basket. She's one of the best assists-per-game player in the NCAA.
Paige will probably go down as one of the best players in history. Of course, moments were made in March and we'll have to see what she does this month. But to put her into context, she won the Big East Conference Player of the Year and the Big East Freshman Player of the Year this year. There's only one other player, UConn or not, to do that, and that's Maya Moore.
When you think of her assists in creating opportunities for her teammates, think of her in terms of a Sabrina Ionescu or a Sue Bird. She can create those opportunities and help her teammates out. But in the latter part of the season, she's had to kind of carry some of the load herself. Coach Geno Auriemma challenged her to take those shots instead of dishing it out, and it's really shown on the court for UConn.
For all those other teams that are looking to win a title this year, it might be your best chance to do it. UConn has seven freshmen. That's a lot of inexperience on the tournament. They also don't have any seniors. Paige is looking to take UConn to its 13th consecutive Final Four. There's a few teams in her way that have a chance of taking them out.
If Iowa can make it to the Sweet 16, it'll be a competition between two incredible freshmen who are competing for National Freshmen of the Year Awards. Caitlin Clark leads the nation in nearly 30 points per game. And if Paige weren't here, she'd be the clear cut Freshman of the Year winner.
If UConn get through to the Elite Eight, they'll face Baylor. Baylor and UConn have had a rivalry in the past few years. The series is tied at 4 and 4, but Baylor has gotten the best of UConn the past two times out. They weren't able to play in the regular season this year because of a positive COVID-19 test in the Baylor program, so this is a game that's definitely circled on a lot of players' brackets. Baylor could be the one to stop UConn from reaching the Final Four again.