With the Gonzaga Bulldogs men’s basketball squad and UConn Huskies women’s team both advancing to their respective tournaments’ Final Fours, the friendship between two star freshmen on both teams — Paige Bueckers at UConn and Jalen Suggs at Gonzaga — has taken center stage.
Both are Minnesota natives and were elite high school recruits. Now, both are two wins away from national titles.
Bueckers first punched her ticket to the Final Four on Monday night by helping lead UConn to a thrilling victory over Baylor. The next night, Suggs and his Gonzaga teammates throttled the USC Trojans to keep their perfect season alive.
Suggs, speaking to reporters Tuesday night after the win, said he paced back and forth watching the Huskies’ nail-biter.
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“I was extremely nervous all game,” he said. ” … I couldn’t sit down.”
He also called Bueckers the “GOAT” — not just for how she plays, but who she is off the court, too. Suggs sent Bueckers a congratulatory text and the two connected via FaceTime later that evening, and she offered valuable advice.
“(Monday) night, she said some things that really helped me. I’ve been kind of struggling, trying to get my footing in these tournament games,” Suggs said, via ESPN. “Of course, seeing her go out there and play great like she did and then talking afterwards … she kind of said some words, it kind of got me uplifted. It got me going. Definitely helped tonight. … She’s the GOAT for a reason.”
Whatever Bueckers said, it worked. Gonzaga defeated USC 85-66 and Suggs went for 18 points, shooting 7-for-11 from the field. That performance came on the heels of Bueckers’ 28-point showing (three rebounds, three steals).
Suggs, a projected lottery pick in the upcoming NBA draft, scored six points in the Bulldogs’ first-round win over Norfolk State before going 5-for-13 from the field (1-for-6 from three) in the second round against Oklahoma (16 points) and for nine points in 34 minutes during the Sweet 16 victory over Creighton. Overall, he was 10 of 28 from the field and 1-for-11 from 3-point range entering the Elite Eight.
It wasn’t just a scoring improvement for Suggs, either — his 10 rebounds was one off his season high and he tied his career high in assists (eight).
For her dominance in Year 1 of her college career, Bueckers won 2021 Big East Player of the Year and was named an Associated Press first-team All-American.
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.