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Good passing is contagious for No. 1 UConn women

Paige Bueckers is such a sharp passer she was credited with two more assists after the game ended on Jan. 31 at DePaul, the stat crew apparently finally having the opportunity to catch up to the UConn freshman. That brought her to a career-high 12 assists.

And in UConn's most recent game against Xavier, with the UConn women's basketball team hitting its stride in transition, Bueckers found Christyn Williams on a couple of occasions, hitting her with length-of-the-court bombs for layups.

"Paige is a good passer because she sees," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "You know the old adage, 'You can teach people to look but you can't teach them to see,' she sees exactly what's out there and she sees it before it's happened.

"So she's able to, like a good quarterback, she knows where the wide receiver's breaking and she'll throw the ball to where that's supposed to be. ... She sees it and then she has the ability to throw that pass. When you have those things, you do pass the ball with a lot more confidence, no question about that."

Only Bueckers isn't the only one.

Top-ranked UConn (18-1, 15-0) plays against Big East Conference opponent Creighton (7-8, 6-5) in Omaha, Nebraska, beginning at 5 p.m. Thursday (SNY). The Huskies will clinch the Big East regular season title with a victory in what is UConn's fourth straight road game.

UConn averages 22.0 assists per game overall on 32.7 field goals per game, with season-high totals of 27 assists on two different occasions.

On Saturday, a fast-paced 83-32 victory at Xavier, UConn dished out 26 assists on 32 field goals.

In addition to Bueckers, freshman guard Nika Muhl has put up a season-high nine assists, as has teammate Evina Westbrook. Williams, seven. Six-foot-five forward Olivia Nelson-Ododa, seven. Injured sophomore guard Anna Makurat, seven.

"I think good passing is kind of contagious," Auriemma said on a Zoom video conference this week. "So when you have one good one, you tend to get other people into the act. Sometimes I think we get a little overly cute with our passes and try to do things that are unnecessary, but I would say for the most part, Paige has set a tone.

"She's not afraid to throw that Diana (Taurasi) pass that D used to throw where you just throw it from foul line to foul line and try to throw it for a layup."

Auriemma said the team's focus on increasing the tempo has opened the floor more and given the players even more openings.

He's also seen some of the players who weren't necessarily thought of as passers originally improve in that area. Nelson-Ododa, for instance, had six assists against Xavier. Nelson-Ododa, because she is handling the ball a lot in the offense, has developed the ability to find an open teammate out of a double-team in the low post or, when she is in the high post, threading a pass to a player making a back cut.

"I was talking to coach about it at one point and just kind of realizing my role in the offense," Nelson-Ododa said. "I get a lot of touches with the ball and realizing I'm trying to look for the open person, look for the open cutter, somebody coming off a screen ... things like that can just translate into quicker, easier buckets or just get somebody open at the right time.

"I think it's contagious for our team, just finding the open person, making the extra pass. It's also fun to play like that, too."

Sometimes, Auriemma in unconvinced of the viability of certain passes.

He told Bueckers at one point that the only person he knows could make a three-quarter court bounce pass for a layup is NBA great Magic Johnson ... and after a Bueckers attempt at that move, Johnson is still the only one he knows that could make it.

"She said it slipped," Auriemma said of Bueckers' rationale.

"I feel like I've gotten better (at passing) just because I know who I'm playing with. I know my teammates and I want to put them in a position to be successful," UConn freshman forward Aaliyah Edwards said. "... You can best believe I'm not going to be throwing no-look passes like Nika or those quarterback passes like Paige, but when I do have the opportunity (to pass), I will."

Creighton, which had an 83-72 victory over No. 19 DePaul on Feb. 20, is coming off a 65-41 loss to Marquette on Monday. The Bluejays are led by senior guard Temi Carda with 13.3 points per game and freshman forward Emma Ronsiek with 11.6.

UConn topped Creighton 80-47 on Dec. 17 at Gampel Pavilion.

v.fulkerson@theday.com

 

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