Inside UConn Women’s Basketball Student Section Paige Bueckers Viral Photo: ‘Sheer madness’

Taylor Coonan waited in line for nearly seven hours before Monday night’s UConn NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament game against UCF.

It was the last game at the Gampel Pavilion for the UConn senior and she wanted to make sure she had a spot in the front rows of the student section. She was the first in line at the student entrance at 2:15 p.m. Monday.

More than 4,000 students attended UConn’s 52-47 victory. It was the largest student crowd ever seen at a UConn basketball game, depending on the school.

And the noise inside the Gampel pavilion proved it. Every seat in the student section was occupied from the front row to the top and back against the wall, adding to the energy of the advertised sale.

While the Huskies’ victory marked their ticket to this weekend’s Sweet 16 in Bridgeport (Saturday at 2 p.m. against No. 3 Indiana), the student section’s record energy in the second-round victory s has lingered over the past few days thanks to a viral photo.

The photo, taken by Stephen Slade, UConn photographer, shows Paige Bueckers clenching her fist and facing and shouting at the student section. Facing Bueckers, is a collection of students reacting to the UConn star. The mostly female group are dressed in Husky gear and shout out to Bueckers, raising their arms in celebration with her.

The photo was shared by ESPN’s Twitter account Wednesday morning. As of Thursday night, ESPN’s post had over 1,600 retweets and over 20,000 likes.

Coonan and his roommate, Camryn Walsh, are at the center of the image, forever immortalized at the time of one of UConn’s most memorable and passionate games at Storrs.

“I’ve never been second in line before and the fact that basketball players, like Paige, were encouraging us to cheer for her and, like, that’s never happened before, at least in the games I’ve been in” , says Walsh, a Bethel junior. “This time it was so different in terms of the level of energy and the amount of engagement. Like, I feel like I’ve never heard so much screaming, so much craziness before. The students in front of us , they were all going crazy. It was a little crazy.

UConn almost didn’t win Monday’s game. The Knights played more physically and aggressively than the Huskies to start the game and led by six after the first quarter. Forty-five fouls were called as players were pushed, shoved and dunked after each loose ball.

The crowd responded to every call, filling Gampel with echoes of boos and cheers.

“Madness, like pure madness,” said Coonan, of Oxford, Mass. There was a lot of chaos and I give full credit to both teams for being able to play even in conditions like that because it was wild. I couldn’t even hear myself think, never mind staying focused on the game.

While UConn was able to take the lead midway through the second quarter, UCF went three closer in the final five minutes after Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Aaliyah Edwards fouled. It was Christyn Williams and Azzi Fudd’s trips to the foul line that secured the five-point win for UConn in the final 20 seconds.

“I will honestly say that I never doubted them for a second because of how this team is so full of class, skill, talent and hard work,” Coonan said. “UCF is a very physical team, UConn isn’t because UConn doesn’t have to be. UConn has talent, like everything is there. There’s no reason to rely on pushing or Like, there’s no reason because they’re usually pretty early already.

Despite starting at 9 p.m. on a school night, the majority of the student section stayed until the buzzer. In Slade’s photo, Coonan is seen with her jacket and phone in one hand, preparing just in case a decision is made to rush court later. Walsh stands directly to the left of Coonan.

“I mean, we were all there, all screaming, like nothing else mattered except what was right in front of us, which was a women’s basketball game,” Coonan said. “It was just the fact that like everyone is here to promote these women here and it didn’t matter that we scored, it was the fact that it was a huge game and it’s our team and we’re in it. “

It was late Monday night when the two housemates first saw the photo of them in the student crowd with Bueckers on Instagram. On Tuesday morning, the photo had been shared across UConn Social Media Pages and Bueckers posted it on his Instagram account.

Bueckers wrote, “Love you husky nation… BEST FANS IN THE COUNTRY.” His post had nearly 172,000 likes and more than 800 comments as of Thursday night.

“I didn’t even recognize myself at first, then I was like, ‘Oh my God, holy (expletive), this is crazy,'” Walsh said.

It didn’t take long for other outlets to share the image. ESPN and ESPNW were among the biggest brands to share the image. Some captions read, “This photo is cold,” while others took the time to point out how celebrated female and female sports fans are.

“See what happens when we invest in women,” a caption read on an Instagram post from Togethxr, a media brand co-founded by UConn legend Sue Bird.

“BUT WOMEN DON’T WATCH SPORT” OnHerTurf captioned their part of the photo, nodding at the common misconception.

Coonan and Walsh hope to print the photo at some point. Coonan wants Slade and Bueckers to sign the photo. For her, the photo shows how important the fans are to the players themselves, especially in tight matches like Monday’s.

“It proves that, not that the fans are the end of everything, but that they appreciate us being here,” Coonan said. “It made a kind of difference, maybe not on the scoreline per se, but a difference for them like, ‘Wow, we’re supported. The fans are there.

The two housemates have attended the majority of UConn home games this season, including those at the XL Center, as well as the men’s games. But Walsh said Monday’s student crowd was the most energetic she had ever seen.

“We’re in the basketball capital of the world,” Walsh said. “I feel like if you go to UConn and you’re a UConn student, you’re not really a UConn student if you don’t actually go to the games.”

Due to the long commute from Storrs to Bridgeport and the price of tickets, neither Coonan nor Walsh will be traveling to games this weekend in person. Instead, they’ll be watching from home on TV and hoping the Huskies can win the weekend and advance to the program’s 14th straight Final Four.

“I think if I looked up the word dynasty in the dictionary, there would be two things that would come up: New England Patriots under Tom Brady for a long time and UConn women’s basketball under Geno Auriemma. Like, it’s (a) done deal. There is no doubt about it. Coonan said, before later adding, “Roll ‘Skies, baby!

“I never want to hear again that women’s sport is not important. And I don’t even want to ever hear that women don’t care about sports, I don’t want to hear that either, because clearly both things are very bad.

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