Jim Souhan
See more of the story

Paige Bueckers exulted, but only briefly. As she raised her right hand, she saw her UConn teammates gathering at mid-court, beginning to leap in celebration.

Somehow, in the din of Target Center, she commanded their attention and yelled something that made them lean in, creating a cocoon in a hurricane.

Ever since she was becoming the best high school player in the nation at Hopkins High, Bueckers on a basketball court has had that affect on people. She draws the eye.

Sunday, Bueckers will have Minnesota's attention once again.

Fighting through an injury she incurred in the third quarter to her right leg, Bueckers helped guide UConn to Sunday's national championship matchup with South Carolina, with a bare-knuckle 63-58 victory before a sellout crowd.

Sunday, Bueckers will play a true home game, playing in the building where her idol, Lindsay Whalen, became a WNBA legend.

Just as important, Bueckers, one of the best players Minnesota has ever produced, returned to the game after her apparent injury and did not favor her right leg in the fourth quarter.

"I'm ok,'' Bueckers said afterward, offering the two most important words of the night.

In a surprisingly ugly game, Bueckers scored a team-high 14 points, while producing four rebounds, five assists, two steals and a blocked shot. She was the only starter in the game to make more than half her shots, converting 7 of 13 attempts.

That didn't keep coach Geno Auriemma from screaming at her, at least once, to "Shoot the ball!''

That sentence has been edited to protect the children.

Bueckers' ability to hit midrange jumpers and floaters kept UConn in the lead in the first half, and her ability to take punishment kept her in the game in the second half, as she bounced off the court a half-dozen times.

In the third quarter, she found a new way to make Minnesotans hold their breath. She grimaced, then limped to the bench and pointed at her right leg.

Midway through the third quarter of her homecoming, Bueckers found herself watching the Final Four semifinal from the bench. As her UConn team struggled to stay ahead of Stanford, she would walk to the end of the bench before returning to a seat near Auriemma.

Bueckers is the story of this Final Four, especially for Minnesotans. A year after taking UConn to the Final four as a freshman and winning the player of the year award, her clutch play in the regional had brought UConn to her hometown. Now her seat was only slightly better than a broadcaster's.

That she pointed to her right leg proved to be good news. She missed much of this season after having surgery on her left knee.

That she never left her customary spot on bench also seemed encouraging, and she would miss only about two minutes before returning.

Her defense, for once, may have been more important than her skill. She guarded Stanford's Lexie Hull, who finished 2-for-12 from the field with zero assists.

Bueckers also tipped a pass to a teammate while running point on the full-court press, and stopped a back door cut by knocking the ball off a Stanford player and out of bounds.

"Yeah, I knew I was going to be a very competitive, sluggish game,'' Bueckers said. "Both teams are trying to win a national championship, it's a Final Four game and everybody is going to lay it on the line. This is basketball. It doesn't really matter, the location. It's awesome that it's my hometown, but that's not really our focus or our team's focus.''

Bueckers received the loudest ovation during introductions. In the first half, she scored eight points on 4-of-8 shooting. The rest of her team made 8 of 26 shots.

She was playing not in the shadow but in the echo of other UConn greats.

Not that UConn basketball is a big deal, but ESPNU's simulcast starred former UConn stars Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi. The primary broadcast starred Rebecca Lobo, also a UConn alum.

Sunday night, Bueckers could join them as champions. She will again have our attention.