Paige Bueckers is reminding the world of her greatness in 2024 women’s NCAA tournament

Paige Bueckers finds herself in the same position as everyone else in the 2024 women’s NCAA tournament: Playing second fiddle to Caitlin Clark. While Clark is getting all the press, leading reports on ESPN, and being credited with revolutionizing women’s basketball, Bueckers is writing another incredible chapter in her own story, one that could turn her into the household name of 2025.

There’s been no shortage of discussion around how brilliant Bueckers is. In 2019 we wrote about how she was the most exciting prospect in women’s basketball, in 2021 we looked at her being the next big thing at UConn, and detailed her incredible friendship with Jalen Suggs, who now plays for the Orlando Magic.

Then … crickets.

Just as Bueckers was poised to take center stage alongside Clark and Angel Reese, arguably the two best-known college basketball players in the country, regardless of gender — a devastating injury took it away. Bueckers tore her ACL in a pickup game ahead of UConn’s campaign, ending her 2022-23 season before it began, and UConn’s hopes along with it.

The Huskies would limp into the NCAA tournament and lose in the Sweet 16, the first time in 15 years they failed to make the Final Four. Bueckers’ absence was unquestionably the catalyst.

Monday night encapsulated the diverging paths that Bueckers and Clark have taken over the last 24 months. Iowa vs. LSU captivated the sports world, with everyone clamoring to see who would prevail in a rematch of the 2023 National Championship Game, while Paige quietly carried the Huskies in a sensational game, which saw the guard finish with 28 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, three steals, two blocks — literally doing everything on the court for her team, and bringing UConn back to the Final Four.

It wasn’t long ago that every spotlight was on Bueckers, with Clark being the overlooked player from the now-legendary 2020 recruiting class.

Both Bueckers and Clark had dreams of playing for UConn, as every woman in basketball did before the ascent of South Carolina and LSU. The issue was that Bueckers and Clark were too similar. Both were ball-dominant, volume-scoring guards who thrived being the focal point of an offense, and Geno Auriemma knew there wasn’t a scenario where they could co-exist.

So, in heartbreaking fashion for Clark, UConn essentially didn’t try to recruit her at all — instead sinking their energy into Bueckers. Wright Thompson of ESPN detailed how crushing this was for Clark at the time.

“The lack of interest from UConn stung. “Honestly,” she said, “it was more I wanted them to recruit me to say I got recruited. I loved UConn. I think they’re the coolest place on Earth, and I wanted to say I got recruited by them. They called my AAU coach a few times, but they never talked to my family and never talked to me.”

We can use revisionist history and relitigate the decision to go with Bueckers over Clark, but in 2019 it wasn’t really a discussion. Both were destined to be incredible players, but Bueckers had been garnering a level of hype unseen in years of NCAA women’s recruiting. As close to being a lock superstar as anything we’ve seen. Heck, some people noticed her brilliance as early as the 6th grade.

It’s difficult to quantify just how bizarre it is that Bueckers has become the overlooked one in this equation. If anything it’s a testament to how mind-boggling Clark has been. After all, this season Bueckers has been absolutely scintillating, and her efficiency has been incomprehensible (even when compared to Clark).

  • 53.4 FG%
  • 41.8 3P%
  • 1.5 TO

They now meet again, for the first time since their freshman seasons when UConn beat Iowa by 20 to advance to the Elite Eight — despite Clark being the game’s highest scorer.

Paige Bueckers has asserted her dominance in this 2024 NCAA Women’s Tournament, even while Clark has been the one getting all the hype. In five games she’s recorded three double-doubles, scored over 24 points in each of her games, and formed a deadly one-two punch with forward Aaliyah Edwards to get UConn to this point.

Now we all have the privilege of watching what will be billed as “Caitlin vs. Paige” in the Final Four. Two similar players who have had wildly divergent paths since arriving at their respective schools. However, as much as we try to turn this into a boxing match between two star guards, it’s really not.

Will there be extra motivation for Clark to stick it to the school who didn’t recruit her? Absolutely. Will Bueckers have a chip on her shoulder as she’s witnessed Clark steal her stardom? To be sure. However, neither one of these two players exist in the same way without everything playing out exactly as it has, in the exact way it has.

This is Caitlin Clark’s swan song. One final attempt to win an NCAA Championship with Iowa before leaving to become the No. 1 pick in the WNBA Draft. Meanwhile Bueckers has committed to stay, despite being a lock to be a top-3 pick herself if she declared. Paige is prepped to take Clark’s mantle and become the next household name in women’s basketball, if she isn’t already.

That all starts on Friday night. Iowa vs. UConn will be can’t-miss television for sports fans — and what a blessing it is to live in an era where women’s basketball has never been better.