One thing everyone loves to do in sports is overreact, especially when the sample size is one single exhibition game. I happen to be part of everyone, and today I will be examining some of the things I noticed from the University of Connecticut Huskies women’s basketball team in their whomping of the Fort Hays State University Tigers on Sunday.
Paige Bueckers is still the best women’s basketball player in the world but NEEDS to shoot more—This one feels like a borderline overreaction just because Bueckers is so good. The point guard finished the contest with just seven points, nine assists and five steals in 22 minutes. She completely embarrassed the poor Tigers players with her defensive clinic and passing abilities. She likely could have gotten 15 assists, but there were a few easy layups missed by teammates that kept the number low. She definitely looked like the best player on the floor tonight, even alongside several other former top five recruits playing alongside. The only critique I can think of is that she really needs to take more shots. Perhaps she was just trying to feed her teammates and increase their confidence at the start of the season, but the team’s success completely hinges on Bueckers’ ability and willingness to score. This likely will look like an overreaction in a few weeks, but the key for UConn is for Bueckers to hit shots early and draw double-teams that will lead to open teammates at the three-point line.
Azzi Fudd is the real deal—Fudd played 25 minutes on Sunday and looked great for the first few. She hit three straight three pointers to kick off her debut, but instantly cooled off, hitting just two free throws the rest of the way. Despite the cold stretch, Fudd finished 3-8 from long distance, impressing many. She also dished out three dimes, which demonstrates a certain depth to her game that was a bit ambiguous coming in. If she can actually put up similar numbers when the season starts against opponents as she did Sunday, there is little doubt in my mind that she will take home national freshman of the year honors.
UConn’s bigs need to avoid foul trouble—This one is a legit concern. Somehow in their effort to repeatedly bury Fort Hays State into the ground, bigs Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Aaliayah Edwards each collected three fouls in the first half. Against a team of such low caliber, this is unacceptable, and the team needs to make not fouling mission critical so that they’re ready to keep things clean once they have to play a team like South Carolina. Nelson-Ododa and Edwards will not be very useful against similarly ranked teams if they’re on the bench in foul trouble. Geno Auriemma is a great coach though, so it is likely this issue will be remedied in no time.
Caroline Ducharme could be a big piece down the stretch—On face value, saying that a top five recruit could be of value definitely reads a bit odd. However, we are at UConn where plenty of top-level talent doesn’t get consistent minutes until junior or senior year. On Sunday, Ducharme definitely looked a bit nervous, but once she gets a bit of the rust off and improves on her comfort, Huskies fans will be in for a real treat. This comparison is definitely a stretch, but Ducharme’s playing style reminds me a bit of Celtics Legend Larry Bird, the inspiration for her jersey number. The way she moves is remarkably similar and although it wasn’t falling, her three-point stroke somewhat resembles Bird’s. She likely won’t have an immediate impact in the lineup, but her role as a rotation player will be of large use to create offense as a part of a strong second unit.
UConn needs to hit their free throws—Free throws should be the same regardless of the competition. The Huskies shot just 6-13 on Sunday from the line, which to put it lightly, is atrocious. They really need to clean things up in this department or else things could get ugly down the stretch against top quality teams. Contrary to popular belief, there are teams that are within seven points of UConn and those free throws will matter big time when they play such teams. In their game against Arizona in the Final Four last year, the team missed six free throws of 20, which is not terrible, but those six would have made the game much more feasible to come back down the stretch. Championship teams make their free throws, and it seems inevitable that Auriemma will address this topic in practice throughout the week before their contest at the XL Center vs. Arkansas, the team that handed the Huskies one of their two losses last year.