Paige Bueckers started off her sophomore season with a career day.
The reigning AP Player of the Year scored a career-high 34 points, making 15 of her 19 field goal attempts, and No. 2 UConn beat Arkansas 95-80 on Sunday.
“When you go 15 for 19 that’s a pretty good night,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “There isn’t any place on the floor she can’t play. There isn’t any place she’s not comfortable. There isn’t any situation she finds herself in where she doesn’t know what to do next.”
Bueckers made 10 of her 11 shots in the second half against the Razorbacks on a dazzling display of layups and mid-range jumpers to keep UConn’s lead in double digits.
“I just took what the defense was giving me,” Bueckers said. “My teammates got me open and passed the ball really well. I read what the game needed. I felt like my shot was going in. I felt good. It was just rhythm.”
Christyn Williams added 18 points and Evina Westbrook had 15 for the Huskies in their season opener. They avenged the only regular-season loss the team had last year when UConn fell to the then-No. 19 Razorbacks 90-87 in Fayetteville.
UConn (1-0) raced out to a 17-2 lead behind Westbrook and Williams. Arkansas (2-1) missed eight of its first nine shots before finally getting going offensively on a three-point play by Sasha Goforth that ended a 12-0 run by the Huskies.
Arkansas cut its deficit to 26-23 early in the second quarter before Bueckers broke loose.
“The second quarter we made a concerted effort to get her more involved,” Auriemma said. “The more she got involved, the more we kept looking for her. It kind of snowballed from there. She’s pretty good, right. So we just don’t want to forget that she’s pretty good and should try to get her involved more often.”
Bueckers, who scored 32 points against St. John’s in her sensational freshman season, took just one shot in the first quarter, but scored 12 points in the second as UConn went up 49-39 at the half.
“They are one of the best teams in the country and they have one of the best — if not the best player — in the country and she showed that,” Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors said.
UConn scored the first seven points of the third quarter to put the game away, including a 3-pointer by Aaliyah Edwards, the first of her career.
Amber Ramirez scored 20 points and Goforth added 17 to lead Arkansas.
“We can’t let a team shoot 57%,” Neighbors said. “We learned a lot about our team and there are things we can go back to work and fix.”
MAKING HER DEBUT
Azzi Fudd, who was the No. 1 recruit coming out of high school last year, had seven in her first game for the Huskies. She made her first basket, scoring on a fastbreak with 6:40 left in the second quarter.
“She looked a little too passive and too tentative,” Auriemma said of his prized freshman. “Azzi will score more points.”
UConn was missing Aubrey Griffin (high ankle ankle) and Saylor Poffenbarger (shin splints). ... New Huskies football coach Jim Mora was in attendance and addressed the crowd at the first media timeout of the second quarter. This was UConn’s first game at the XL Center in 622 days. The team played all its home games on campus last season without fans because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks are rebuilding after losing Chelsea Dungee and Destiny Slocum to the WNBA.
UConn: The Huskies will face early tests with a trip to the Bahamas, where they could play No. 1 South Carolina in the finals of the tournament.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks are off until Friday when they visit instate rival Arkansas State.
UConn: The Huskies head to the Bahamas, where they will play in the Battle 4 Atlantis next weekend. UConn will face Minnesota on Saturday in the opening round.