Paige Bueckers Drops 23 as UConn Routs Marquette to Win 2021 Big East Tournament

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMarch 9, 2021

Connecticut's Paige Bueckers, right, dances over to teammates while celebrating an NCAA college basketball game win in the Big East tournament finals against Marquette at Mohegan Sun Arena, Monday, March 8, 2021, in Uncasville, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Jessica Hill/Associated Press

Having rolled to a regular-season Big East title, UConn did exactly the same thing in the conference tournament.

The Huskies cruised past Marquette 73-39 on Monday night to lift their 19th conference championship.

Paige Bueckers led the way with a game-high 23 points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals and one block. The freshman guard was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.

UConn hasn't won a national championship since 2016, which qualifies as a drought for a program that reeled off four straight national titles and 10 over a 17-year span. Based on how the team is performing this year, that stretch could come to an end in April.

The Huskies didn't drop a single Big East game, and their lone nonconference loss came courtesy of Arkansas, which sits 15th in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. That dominance carried over into the Big East tourney, where they outscored their opponents 234-119 over three games.

In the event UConn goes on to be the last team standing in the NCAA tournament, it will be down to more than simply Bueckers.

Evina Westbrook has made a big impact upon becoming eligible to play following her transfer from Tennessee. Her experience, along with fellow juniors Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Christyn Williams, helps balance out a roster with seven freshmen.

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Having said that, it's not a total coincidence UConn's period of unparalleled success ended after Breanna Stewart graduated.

For years, Geno Auriemma could seemingly count on having at least one transcendent talent on his roster, be it Stewart, Sue Bird, Maya Moore, Rebecca Lobo, Diana Taurasi or Tina Charles. While skilled, Katie Lou Samuelson, Gabby Williams, Azura Stevens and Napheesa Collier didn't fit into that category.

And in general, the gap between UConn and the rest of the country was bound to close as women's basketball grew in popularity. The John Wooden era ended eventually for UCLA on the men's side.

But with Bueckers, Auriemma once again has a player who's poised to be the best in college basketball. The Minnesota native has more than lived up to the hype, averaging 19.7 points, 6.1 assists and 4.5 rebounds while shooting 53.9 percent from the field and 47.4 percent from beyond the arc.

UConn was the No. 1 overall seed when the NCAA released the second of its projections for the top 16 teams in the women's bracket on Feb. 28. When the full bracket is revealed, it's a safe bet the Huskies will remain there, and they'll likely be the heavy favorites to win.