STORRS - Paige Bueckers was about to return to the Werth Champions Center court to scrimmage with her UConn women’s basketball teammates Wednesday afternoon when coach Geno Auriemma called “five spot,” the drill that traditionally ends the Huskies’ practices.
The reigning national Player of the Year turned away in frustration and waved her arms, slapping her hand against the padded wall before making her way to her spot under the basket to begin the drill.
Her first workout with her teammates since injuring her left knee in December was complete.
“All she does is complain she can’t go longer or can’t stay out there more,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “I’m trying to take it slower than she wants it to go. What she says and what’s true might be two different things. She says, ‘I’m 100 percent, I’m OK, I can go.’ I don’t buy it. I just go by what I see and what the doctors tell me.
“I’ve got to believe there has to be a period of adjustment. We’re not going to see the national Player of the Year Paige in two days. Hopefully, that’s coming.”
There is still no timetable for her return, but Bueckers being on the floor and not on the sidelines was a sight for sore eyes for her teammates.
The sophomore guard has missed the last 16 games.
“She’s finally back,” fellow sophomore guard Nika Mühl said. “It’s just so great to see her and see her confidence getting back. We’re all happy for her. As Azzi (Fudd) said, we’re going to be a nasty team when she comes back.”
Tenth-ranked UConn (17-5, 11-1 Big East) has five regular-season games remaining beginning with its final road game at Xavier Friday. The Huskies then host Georgetown Sunday, Marquette on Feb. 23, and St. John’s on Feb. 25 at the XL Center before finishing against Providence at Gampel Pavilion on Feb. 27.
The Big East tournament is scheduled for March 4-7 at Mohegan Sun Arena.
“Today was the first day that she was able to get out on the court where there was some semblance of defense and that she could run up and down the floor a couple times, two trips at a time for a few minutes,” Auriemma said. “Up to now the last couple of days have just been some shooting and some mobility testing. Now we see where we go from here. Today was day one and we’ll see how she feels tomorrow.”
Bueckers fell to the floor with 38.5 seconds left in the Dec. 5 win over Notre Dame at Gampel Pavilion holding her left knee following a misstep while bringing the ball up the court. She had surgery eight days later at the UConn Health in Farmington to repair an anterior tibial plateau fracture and lateral meniscus tear.
In six games, she averaged 21.2 points on 56.3 percent shooting from the floor, 5.5 rebounds, 6.2 assists, and 2.7 steals in 36.2 minutes.
The Eden Prairie, Minnesota native wore a brace on her left knee - as she’s done while watching on the bench - though Auriemma expects her to play without it once she is cleared to play in games.
Bueckers met with Dr. Robert Arciero, the chief of the Sports Medicine Division of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at UConn Health, after Wednesday’s practice.
“It’s going to take time,” Auriemma said. “You can’t just go from not playing for two and half month to all of a sudden going out there and running up and down the floor for 15 minutes and then think you’re going to be able to play in a game. It’s going to take a little bit of time.”
Elsewhere on the Huskies’ injury report, Olivia Nelson-Ododa (groin) and Caroline Ducharme (head) took part in portions of practice Wednesday while Mühl (right foot) was also limited.
Mühl said her foot wasn’t a problem and she’d play against Xavier. Nelson-Ododa has missed the last three games and Ducharme the last four games. The Huskies should know more about their status today.
“Every day brings a little more information on these guys,” Auriemma said. “And right now it’s all trending in the right direction.”
Junior Aubrey Griffin is out for the season following back surgery last month.