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Monday, November 15, 2010
Can Heather Buck play big vs. Baylor?

By Graham Hays
ESPN.com

STORRS, Conn. -- Heather Buck might be the biggest David who ever sized up a slingshot, but it wouldn't hurt Connecticut if she could pester Goliath for a few minutes on Tuesday night.

Heather Buck
Heather Buck needs to eat up some minutes, set some screens and just put a body on Baylor's Brittney Griner.

To suggest that chances are Buck will not emerge as the star of the show when No. 1 Connecticut host No. 2 Baylor at the XL Center in Hartford is to suggest that the odds favor Geno Auriemma and Kim Mulkey protesting a call or two at some point during the proceedings. The redshirt sophomore has scored a total of 63 points in 36 career appearances for the Huskies, which is not the kind of record that's going to draw a lot of attention in a game headlined by the two most compelling talents in the college game: Maya Moore and Brittney Griner.

But the 6-foot-3 Buck is the lone returning post player with any experience for the two-time defending national champions, something that is of particular note for a team looking to manage Griner and a role that comes with expectations that exceed her prior statistical résumé.

"She knows there is a role she has to play, there is a certain level that we're expecting from her every day, every game, every practice," senior Lorin Dixon said at the team's preseason media day in October. "I think she understands that, and she's taken that to heart. She's trying to come out and play that way every day now."

Coach Geno Auriemma has been more circumspect when it comes to Buck, adopting what might best be described as a wait-and-see demeanor (not always the best sign of faith from a coach for whom needling and prodding is as familiar as the 2-3 zone is to Jim Boeheim). Nevertheless, when he put his starting lineup on the floor for the regular-season opener against Holy Cross, it included the Connecticut native. She didn't stay long or fill up the stat sheet -- in 15 minutes, she totaled two points and one rebound, although she was credited with a block and two steals -- but she was out there.

The immediate interior future for the Huskies might revolve around a pair of freshmen in 6-5 Stefanie Dolson and 6-1 forward Samarie Walker, with more reinforcements on the way in next season's recruiting class. Still, that doesn't change the present opportunity for Buck now that starter Tina Charles and backup Kaili McLaren have left the building. After losing her first season to illness and failing to make it in the rotation last season, the window is open as much as it's ever likely to be.

I know that I haven't lived up to everything that was expected of me. I don't like letting people down. I don't like having people have a sense that maybe they weren't right. So I definitely have that sense of urgency [this season]. There's no time for me to mess around this year, and I want to show everybody that I really can do what they expected me to do.

-- Connecticut's Heather Buck

"I knew from last year that they were leaving, and that I was going to be the only true post player coming back -- I mean, Maya plays in the post, but Maya plays everywhere," Buck said. "But I definitely felt a greater sense of urgency this summer working out. I had more of an idea that what I did then was directly going to affect what I did later. I think that part of that was the experience of seeing the correlation in previous summers and part of it was knowing that's just the way it needed to be."

It's easy to forget that even the afterthoughts at places like Connecticut and Baylor represent the cream of the basketball-playing crop. Buck might never be a college star, but she was a two-time Connecticut high school player of the year, someone who scored more points in her prep career than all but five players who came before her in the state. She has plenty of pride, but she has talent to go with it.

"I know that I haven't lived up to everything that was expected of me," Buck said. "I don't like letting people down. I don't like having people have a sense that maybe they weren't right. So I definitely have that sense of urgency [this season]. There's no time for me to mess around this year, and I want to show everybody that I really can do what they expected me to do."

Tuesday night, that begins with eating up some minutes, putting a body on Griner, setting screens and generally playing with the kind of energy required to make Baylor's star notice her.

Connecticut's secret weapon? It's unlikely. But if she's another stone in the arsenal, it's a step in the right direction for the Huskies.

Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.