STORRS — With 1:43 left in the first half Tuesday, Geno Auriemma took a time out to talk to his players.
Make that one of the UConn women’s basketball coach’s players, freshman guard Paige Bueckers.
“It was about shooting more,” Bueckers said. “He said it in a different way but that was the gist of it.”
There’s something to be said about being unselfish and wanting to get your teammates involved. One thing Bueckers has been since at least the first time she took the court with USA Basketball in 2017 is a great teammate.
But until her teammates start to shoot the ball better — if they start to shoot the ball better — from the perimeter, Bueckers needs to look for her shot more often than she does.
Bueckers did have a team-high 15 attempts Tuesday, making six, in No. 4 UConn’s 75-52 win over 18th-ranked DePaul at Gampel Pavilion. She was 4-for-6 from behind the arc, compared to 4-for-21 with some ugly misses by her teammates. Through six games, the Eden Prairie, Minnesota native is at 50.0 percent from beyond the arc, compared to 30.1 for her teammates.
She had 18 points, six rebounds, two assists with a turnover, and four steals against the Blue Demons.
“She looked a little bit tentative, she looked a little bit unsure at times,” Auriemma said. “She’s still not comfortable shooting the ball as many times as I want her to shoot it. If you look at the other five games she’s played and you look at tonight’s game, tonight was not one of her better efforts even though if you look at the stat sheet it looks great.
“Paige is a really, really good 3-point shooter. So if you have a real good 3-point shooter who won’t shoot or is thinking pass first, that’s great provided the other guys you’re passing to are Klay Thompson and Steph Curry. Since they’re not available, I think she needs to shoot more.”
Bueckers is second on the Huskies (6-0 overall, 5-0 Big East) in shot attempts behind Christyn Williams with 78, so 13 per game. Perhaps part of her reluctance to think shoot first rather than pass first is they haven’t needed her to score very often. The one time they did, Bueckers scored 15 points in the third quarter at Seton Hall to turn an eight-point game at halftime into a 24-point cushion going to the final 10 minutes.
In that way, she’s like Diana Taurasi. In one game her sophomore year at Wake Forest, Taurasi hit four straight 3-pointers in the first 6:12 to give the Huskies a 23-point lead. She took one shot the rest of the way, which, of course, she made.
“What’s the point? The game’s over,” Taurasi responded when asked why she didn’t look for her shot more.
When the game is on the line, Bueckers isn’t shy. When Hopkins High needed a basket her last two seasons, she responded.
Or look back at the 2019 FIBA U-19 World Cup. Bueckers took 83 shots over seven games. But in the semifinal against Belgium and in the gold-medal game against Australia, she took 37. Why? Team USA needed a late rally to beat Belgium and overtime to slip past Australia. Bueckers also had 38 assists in the tournament, more than the next three assist leaders on her team had combined with the most memorable delivery being her inbound lob pass to Hailey Van Lith for a layup that forced the extra session.
So it’s there. Auriemma wants to see it.
“I’ve always been a pass-first player,” Bueckers said. “It’s definitely different for me coming in, especially with me being new to the team, for him to want me to take that many shots. It’s something I’m trying to adjust to each and every game.
“As a player, I want to do everything my team needs me to do to win. If that’s taking more shots, even if that’s against what I like to do because I like to pass first … Every game I’m trying to get better on shooting the ball more.”
The “worst shooting team I’ve seen here in 36 years,” as Auriemma says, shot a season-low 40.8 percent against the Blue Demons (5-3, 2-1), who are not known for their defensive prowess. But the Huskies did step up on the defensive end to hold DePaul 36 points under its season average.
But the quantity of baskets with the quality of shots did not add up.
“I think we get pretty good shots,” Auriemma said. “I don’t think we took any threes tonight that you’d go, ‘That’s an ill-advised three. That’s a bad shot.’ We took 27 wide-open threes. So next game we’re going to try and get more open than wide open, we’ll have to figure out what that one is.
“What you go by is are we getting pretty decent shots and the answer is yes. Do I think we can be a better shooting team than we are right now? Yes. We should be. We can be. But maybe we’re not. And maybe I just keep thinking we’re going to be. But maybe we’re not.”
That should get fixed next year when Azzi Fudd, Caroline Ducharme, and Saylor Poffenbarger show up on campus.
For this year, the best shot the Huskies have of being an elite team is for Bueckers to shoot it.