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Sunday afternoon was, according which bench you were sitting on, thrilling, exciting, surreal, frustrating.

Perhaps encouraging?

And ultimately, Gophers women's basketball coach Dawn Plitzuweit said, worth it.

A total of 10,869 fans — the 20th biggest crowd in program history — came to Williams Arena for the Gophers' game with eighth-ranked Connecticut to see Paige Bueckers' homecoming.

The result might appear more one-sided than the game: The Huskies beat the Gophers 62-44 in a game that was essentially even in three of the four quarters.

Behind by only three at the half, the Gophers' shooting woes got to them in Connecticut's dominant third quarter.

"I think we got good shots early on," Gophers sophomore Mara Braun said. "We moved the ball, made the extra pass. Later on they tightened up on defense, made it harder for us. But it's Game 4. We have a lot to work on, but it's early on. We'll figure it out."

Bueckers — the former Hopkins star — was thrilled. The crowd, only the second one bigger than 10,000 since 2007, roared when she was introduced. Bueckers, who has seen it all, called the experience surreal. She scored 12 points with eight rebounds and four assists, though she made only four of 12 shots. The experience of playing in the arena, against her friend Amaya Battle, who won a state title with Bueckers at Hopkins?

"It was just amazing," she said. "The support Minnesota has for me, to be able to play in this environment and embrace that, it was really cool."

But the Gophers were cold. They made only 17 of 65 shots (26.2%).

Braun scored 12 points with eight boards and five assists, but went 4-for-21 from the field after missing her first 11 shots. Grace Grocholski scored 11 but was 3-for-15 on three-pointers.

UConn (3-1) got a game-high 16 points from Aaliyah Edwards.

The Gophers (3-1) were cold on offense, but their intensity, especially on defense, never flagged. They protected the ball with only 12 turnovers. They held their own on the boards, with 14 offensive rebounds.

The Gophers held UConn to a season-low 44.1% shooting. As a team, the Huskies made only three of 15 threes. Their 62 points was 25 under their season average.

And that's what kept the game close in the first half, which ended with the Gophers down 26-23 despite shooting only 9-for-38. Huskies coach Geno Auriemma spoke highly of the Gophers' discipline.

"They're very young, but they play hard," he sad. "They compete really hard. Hustle. Disciplined. … They're going to win a lot of games. Those kids are going to be really, really good as they get older and mature together. I wasn't down there at halftime saying, 'Don't worry, we're going to blow these guys out.' That was not exactly my halftime speech today."

Whatever it was, his players listened, then went out and outscored the Gophers 21-6 in a third quarter in which the home team made only two of 12 shots.

And that was, essentially, the game. One, by the way, Auriemma went out of his way to thank Plitzuweit for having. The game was scheduled by former coach Lindsay Whalen. And Plitzuweit admitted the thought of getting it off the schedule when she took over occurred to her. But playing it was the right thing to do, even with the difficult night on offense.

"Sometimes when you play that hard defensively, it's hard to make some shots," Plitzuweit said. "Is that why? Is it just today we didn't make shots? Is it the first time we played in front of a big crowd and we really wanted the ball to go in so much? It's hard to say why. But the bottom line was our effort plays were outstanding. We defended at a high level. It was a great opportunity to learn and to grow."