Chip Scoggins
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Paige Bueckers was devastated and confused and having a hard time processing that her high school basketball career was over, one game shy of what was supposed to be her coronation.

So she did a teenager thing.

She made TikTok videos and played Pop-a-Shot at Dave & Buster's with two of her closest friends.

"We tried to console her," Azzi Fudd said. "It was something to take her mind off of it."

It was March 14, 2020, and the pandemic shuttered the Class 4A girls state championship game between Bueckers' undefeated Hopkins team and Farmington.

Hopkins was riding a 62-game winning streak. The Royals were champions in 2019 and the closest thing to a sure bet to repeat in Bueckers' senior season.

The game was scheduled for Saturday night. The team learned Friday morning that the game was off. Bueckers was crestfallen.

Her mom threw her an impromptu party instead. Bueckers invited Fudd, her future UConn teammate who was in town visiting relatives, and her bestie Jalen Suggs, the Minnehaha Academy star and future NBA lottery pick.

They dropped some cash on the Pop-a-Shot machine.

Who won?

Bueckers believes she did.

Fudd: "I don't remember. Probably me."

Suggs: "Both of them are liars. It's crazy that they will sit there and tell you that lie. I definitely won that night."

It was an enjoyable night with friends and Bueckers was able to laugh, but her disappointment didn't vanish completely.

"It was hard to get through," she said Saturday afternoon. "But I think that's why God is so amazing because we're back here now with another chance in my home state to get it done this time. Sort of a full-circle moment."

A circle of hoops life. Bueckers gets a championship second chance Sunday night on a much bigger stage when UConn faces South Carolina in the women's national title game at Target Center.

“The biggest thing about me and Paige, when we're away from basketball, we can get away. We can laugh and joke and put hoops to the side for a second. It's a special relationship. I love her and love her whole family.”
Jalen Suggs

She has a personal connection to the arena beyond the many times she went to watch the Timberwolves and Lynx play. Her last game played at Target Center before the Final Four this weekend came in the 2018 state championship game. She scored 37 points that night, but her team lost to Eastview.

She'd like to write a different ending to that full-circle moment as well.

"It's just awesome to be back in my home state, in my backyard," she said. "It's still surreal to me that this is where it's happening."

Bueckers has straddled a line this weekend between savoring her homecoming and not allowing it to interfere with her focus. The spotlight has been inescapable, though.

"To do it 10 minutes from where I live," she said, "is super crazy to me."

Her homecoming comes a year after Suggs had his own spotlight moment at the men's Final Four by banking in a buzzer-beater from 40 feet that sent Gonzaga into the national championship game and secured a place in tournament history as an iconic shot.

Paige Bueckers and Jalen Suggs posed with teammates from Hopkins and Minnehaha Academy in 2019 at the start of their senior seasons.
Paige Bueckers and Jalen Suggs posed with teammates from Hopkins and Minnehaha Academy in 2019 at the start of their senior seasons.

Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

That highlight is hard to top, but Bueckers' dazzling shooting display against North Carolina State in the Elite Eight last week was a showstopper that had her friend cheering loudly.

"To end the book on this chapter back home in Minnesota is a blessing," Suggs said Saturday in a phone conversation from Florida.

Suggs, an Orlando Magic rookie, said he and Bueckers talk often to support one another. They take pride in each other's accomplishments, knowing they followed similar paths growing up as basketball prodigies.

"The biggest thing about me and Paige, when we're away from basketball, we can get away," Suggs said. "We can laugh and joke and put hoops to the side for a second. It's a special relationship. I love her and love her whole family."

It made sense that they were together after the pandemic ended both of their senior seasons prematurely. That night, as they hung out in the arcade and later at a hotel, they reflected on their careers, their accomplishments, and their dreams for the future. They cheered each other up.

The finality of Bueckers' high school career came suddenly, without a chance to finish on her terms. She gets another shot at the coronation Sunday.