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March Madness: Paige Bueckers powers UConn past Syracuse into Sweet 16 as Dyaisha Fair makes history

March Madness: Paige Bueckers powers UConn past Syracuse into Sweet 16 as Dyaisha Fair makes history

Paige Bueckers and UConn are back in the Sweet 16. (David Butler II/Reuters)

Paige Bueckers roared into the NCAA tournament Saturday with a 28-point effort following a one-year injury absence from the postseason stage.

On Monday — with a Sweet 16 berth on the line — she turned up the volume. The Huskies star scored 20 first-half points en route to a 32-point effort to lead No. 3 seed UConn to a 72-64 win over No. 6 seed Syracuse.

The Huskies had to fight off a second-half rally, but held on to secure the second-round victory. With the win, UConn secured a Sweet 16 showdown vs. Duke on Saturday. Syracuse's season is done.

Orange rally after dominant Huskies 1st half

Thanks in large part to Bueckers' first half, UConn was in control at halftime while holding a 39-28 lead. While Bueckers fell just eight points short of the Orange's first-half point total, Syracuse star Dyaisha Fair managed just two points while shooting 1 of 7 from the field.

Syracuse punched back in the third quarter. The Orange held the Huskies without a field goal for the first 5:11 of the stanza while cutting its deficit to 41-38. Fair found her rhythm in the run and made history in the process.

Fair moves up 2 places to 3rd on all-time scoring list

With a free throw late in the third quarter, Fair scored her 11th point of the game and the 3,384th point of her career. The tally moved her past Missouri State great Jackie Stiles for fourth on the NCAA Division I women's all-time scoring list.

Her 19th point of the game on a late 3-pointer then tied her with Ohio State great Kelsey Mitchell with 3,402 points for third on the list. A free throw in the game's final minutes put her at 3,403 to claim third place as her own. That would end up being the final point of her career. She finished the game with 20 points, six assists and three steals while shooting 4 of 12 from 3-point distance.

UConn punches back, fights off another rally

UConn weathered the third-quarter storm to reassert control of the game. The Huskies extended their lead to 53-44 by the end of the quarter. Bueckers then hit a pair of jumpers including a 3-pointer on consecutive possessions to start the fourth to maintain UConn's edge.

UConn maintained a 10-point lead as late as 3:20 remaining in the game at 65-55. But back-to-back 3-pointers by Fair and Sophie Burrows cut the edge to 65-61 to keep the Huskies under pressure. Syracuse kept pushing, and Fair's record-breaking free throw brought the Orange within 67-64 with 1:12 remaining.

But that's as close as they would get. A KK Arnold 3-pointer on an assist from Bueckers pushed UConn's lead to 70-64, and the Huskies closed out the game from there.

Bueckers is back after devastating injuries

Bueckers finished with 32 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and four steals. She shot 14 of 25 from the field on a 50.9% shooting performance by the Huskies. UConn shot 8 of 17 (47.1%) from 3-point distance and limited Syracuse to a 33.8% effort from the field.

Bueckers' effort continued a career resurgence after she suffered multiple major injuries including a leg fracture and a season-ending torn ACL that cost her the better part of the previous two seasons. The injuries stunted a promising career that started with Bueckers winning consensus National Player of the Year honors as a freshman in 2021.

She missed all of the 2022-23 season with the torn ACL, but returned and remained healthy this season, with Monday's contest her 36th game of the season. She earned AP first-team All-America honors for a second time while leading UConn to a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Now she and the Huskies are in the Sweet 16 in search of the program's 12th national championship and first since 2016.

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