All it took was one quarter for Connecticut Huskies legend and Phoenix Mercury star Diana Taurasi to hand out high praise to UConn freshman Paige Bueckers.
Taurasi called Bueckers "the best player in basketball already" after watching Bueckers, a finalist for the Naismith Player of the Year award, play for the first time.
Diana Taurasi on Paige Bueckers' passing skills
The three-time UConn champion said it was "the simple fact is she can pass" and immediately made the assertion to her wife, Penny Taylor, a former player and coach, and head coach Geno Auriemma.
"She makes really hard passes look really easy and she makes really easy passes look easy," Taurasi told Togethxr. "And that alone sets her apart from every other player in college."
Bueckers could become the first freshman to win the Naismith award on the women's side. She's already only the second player to win both the Big East Freshman of the Year and Player of the Year awards in the same season, joining two-time UConn champion Maya Moore. She was also named Most Outstanding Player of the conference tournament.
Taurasi jokes about 'different boats'
"Freshman Paige has got way more confidence than I did," Taurasi said. "I was in the doghouse. I was like the water girl. I was doing chores for the seniors. We were in way different boats. I wasn't even on the team really until everyone got hurt. And then [coach Auriemma] was like, you, come over here. And I'm like, all right I'll come in and play."
The boat for UConn when Taurasi was a freshman in 2000-01 was very different. That team had more upperclass talent and didn't need to rely on freshmen to play the way this Huskies squad, which has no seniors, has to rely on that class. Taurasi finished third in scoring with 10.9 points per game on 44.4 percent shooting, including 38.6 percent from 3-point range.
That group was led by All-American forward Svetlana Abrosimova, who suffered a season-ending injury, Swin Cash and Sue Bird. They lost to eventual champion Notre Dame in the Final Four.
Bueckers by the numbers
Bueckers in the box score is impressive enough. She averaged 19.9 points, 6.0 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 2.4 steals through 26 games. She shot 53.9 percent from the field and 46.7 percent from 3-point range. In February, she became the first UConn player to post three consecutive 30-point games. That's a feat none of Moore, Taurasi, Bird, Breanna Stewart or other UConn greats reached.
"But Paige, the level she's playing at right now as a freshman, I mean, it's incredible," Taurasi said. "You don't play that efficiently and with that much confidence as a rookie, as a freshman, at Connecticut."
It's her ability to create scoring opportunities for others, as Taurasi said, that makes her stand out. Her Synergy stats page puts her in the 90th percentile or better in more than half of the broad offensive categories (Yahoo Sports' Jason Owens broke down more of her game-specific stats).
Bueckers-led UConn vs. Clark-led Iowa
Bueckers' talents will be on display Saturday (1 p.m. ET, ABC) when the No. 1 seed Huskies play the No. 5 seed Iowa in the Sweet 16. The Hawkeyes are led by freshman Caitlin Clark, who averaged a nation-best 26.8 points per game.
Clark scored 35 points in an offensive showcase against Kentucky in the second round. She had one more basket herself than the entire Wildcats team at halftime. Bueckers led UConn over Syracuse to advance.
The point guards are friends and won a gold for Team USA in the U-19 World Cup together. It is their first meeting and comes on a national stage in a win-or-go home situation. They are both skilled scorers and passers in their own right and will likely be playing on the WNBA and Olympic stage for years to come.
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