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Bueckers confident as UConn moves past Mercer to open the 2022 NCAA Tournament

University of Connecticut guard Paige Bueckers, the 2020-21 AP Women’s Player of the Year, returned to the starting lineup in Saturday’s NCAA Tournament first-round blowout of Mercer University.

Bueckers missed 19 games earlier in the season due to a leg fracture. She’s played in five games since Feb. 25, but she hadn’t started in a game until Saturday’s 83-38 win.

“Getting my body prepared, my mind prepared — in the last 10 days, I really locked in on that, and that’s helped me gain confidence in my movements and what I’m doing on the court,” said Bueckers, who had 12 points, five assists and two steals Saturday.

UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said he wanted Bueckers to “get her mind right” after the team’s last game, a victory over Villanova University in the Big East Tournament championship game. Auriemma had Bueckers in for 25 minutes Saturday, the longest time she has played in a game since her return from injury. Auriemma says he likely won’t restrict her minutes going forward.

“Initially we did when she was first coming back, but right now I just kind of go by what I see and what it feels like and what I think — trying to read her mind and trying to read her body language,” he said.

Overall, Auriemma felt that the Huskies struggled on offense Saturday until the second quarter and that when the offense did finally get going, it was because of UConn’s play on defense. The Huskies forced 21 turnovers in the game. At one point, the Huskies went on a 20-0 run. That was part of a third quarter in which UConn didn’t let Mercer score a point.

“We take pride here in putting our defense first and letting the offense come after that, so just being able to lock in, and no matter what team we’re playing, no matter what round it is, we’re just focused on that,” Bueckers said about UConn's stifling defensive effort.

Saturday’s NCAA Tournament matchup with Mercer was played in Storrs. That’s where the Huskies' second-round game will take place, against the University of Central Florida on Monday.