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No. 9 UConn overcomes injury to Edwards, beats Providence 86-53 to advance in Big East Tournament

UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) — No. 9 UConn has become used to overcoming injuries and the Huskies had to do it again on Saturday.

Paige Bueckers scored 29 points and top-seeded Connecticut (27-5) beat ninth-seeded Providence 86-53 in the Big East quarterfinals despite losing star center Aaliyah Edwards while up by just six points in the second half.

Freshman KK Arnold added 17 points and the Huskies, who went undefeated in the Big East during the regular season, advanced to a conference semifinal for the 36th straight season.

Edwards had 12 points before leaving the game in the second half with a facial injury. Her status for the rest of the tournament was unclear after the game.

UConn entered the tournament with just eight available players, having already dealt with five season-ending injuries.

“It's just been numbing for us to the point where there was nothing much you could say other than, 'This is it, this is what we've got,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said.

Grace Efosa had 23 points and eight rebounds for Providence, which finished the season at 13-20.

The Friars trailed by just 10 points at halftime and scored the first five points of the second half.

“I have been really working on getting our women to start out strong, and that’s something that is important, I think, for really good teams,” Providence coach Erin Batth said. “But then you have to finish as well.”

It was 41-35 when Edwards took an elbow to the face from Sarah Bandoma four minutes into the third quarter. The senior center, who came into the game averaging 17.9 points and 9.5 rebounds, had to be helped to the locker room.

Bueckers missed both free throws on the intentional foul, but UConn responded to the injury by outscoring Providence 45-18 the rest of the way.

“Once Aaliyah went down, we kind of called a huddle and we were talking about just how locked in we were going to have to be, how extra focused we were going to have to be,” said Bueckers, who had nine rebounds and six assists in the game.

Bueckers 3-pointer sent the Huskies into the fourth quarter leading 62-45 and a jumper from backup center Ice Brady put the Huskies up 67-47.

Friars star Olivia Olsen, who was dealing with an ankle injury, played just 19 minutes and scored just two points.

Edwards returned to the bench with cotton plugs in both nostrils with just over five minutes left in the game and UConn leading 74-51 and was greeted with a thunderous ovation.

“Just to have her out there, just to see that she was OK, was huge,” Bueckers said.

BIG PICTURE

Providence: The Friars earned the right to play UConn with a 75-60 win over No. 8-seed Butler. Batth said she’s excited about the culture she is developing in her first year in Rhode Island and would be open to playing in any postseason tournament, should the team get an offer.

UConn: The win came a day after point guard Nika Muhl announced on social media that this would be her final season with the Huskies. Muhl is a senior, but had one more year of eligibility remaining because the extra year granted to players during the pandemic. Bueckers has announced she will return for another season with the Huskies, as did injured players Azzi Fudd and Aubrey Griffin, all of whom could have declared for the WNBA draft. Edwards, who also has a year of eligibility remaining, has not made an announcement.

UP NEXT

UConn faces No. 5 seed Marquette in the Big East semifinals on Sunday. The Golden Eagles beat No. 4 seed Villanova 50-48 on Saturday.

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AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball