The last time the UConn women’s basketball team was ranked as low as No. 7, reigning national player of the year Paige Bueckers was just five years old. She wasn’t able to help the Huskies get out of that hole then and unfortunately she won’t be able to help UConn play their way out of this one, at least in the near future, as the phenom is expected to miss another eight weeks after a recent knee surgery.
The Huskies have quite the challenge ahead of them, facing the University of Louisville Cardinals, who have had nothing short of an impressive season. The Cardinals opened up the campaign against current No. 4 and 2021 runner-up Arizona, the school that knocked UConn out of the tournament last year in the final four. Although the Wildcats were without now-WNBA point guard Aari McDonald, who scored 26 points against UConn, they still pulled out an overtime victory to give Louisville their lone defeat of the season.
The only other ranked contest the Cardinals played was against current No. 13 Michigan, in a game where Louisville won by 22 points and held player of the year candidate Naz Hillmon to just 12 points. The second quarter treated Louisville well, outscoring the Wolverines 24-6 in the period.
Louisville does not have one star player, rather a more well-rounded attack composed of guards Kianna Smith and Hailey Van Lith, and forward Emily Engstler.
Smith, a graduate student, is Louisville’s leading scorer at 11.2 points per game on a strong 43.6% from beyond the arc. Her best game came in the Michigan blowout, where she dropped 17 points on four threes, to go along with two steals.
Sophomore Van Lith is the only other Cardinal averaging double figures, with 10.6 on the season. The former McDonald’s All-American has not improved her stats since her breakout freshman year, but the numbers should improve as she is called on more in clutch situations. Her best outing was in the loss to Arizona, where she scored 19 and collected seven boards.
Engstler, a senior, is a double-double threat on a nightly basis. She has averaged 9.9 points and 9.0 rebounds so far, including an impressive two offensive boards per game. Like Smith, Engstler also performed well against Michigan, scoring 18 and hitting the glass for 14 rebounds.
The Huskies are coming off of a wild week that saw them lose their best player in Bueckers to injury, face defeat against unranked Georgia Tech, and squeak out a victory in Newark versus UCLA. As disappointing as the Georgia Tech game was, the Huskies really did show a ton of development throughout the contest against UCLA. The first half of the matchup was the Evina Westbrook show for UConn, with the senior guard scoring 11 points and grabbing seven boards. It was an impressive period that allowed the rest of the team to figure themselves out in their second half comeback.
The final portion of the matchup saw Hungarian grad-transfer Dorka Juhász takeover, adding 16 points and 16 rebounds. In a year where there is a fair bit of doubt as to who the dominant big will be for the Huskies, perhaps the answer is Juhász.
Another player who stepped up big time for UConn against the Bruins was freshman Caroline Ducharme, who netted 14 points to go along with two blocks and two assists. Although largely missing in the Georgia Tech game, Ducharme also showed up nicely against Notre Dame, scoring 14 in that matchup too. With a depleted Huskies roster, Ducharme will need to continue to produce like the top recruit she was touted as coming in.
The player to watch here though will be senior guard Christyn Williams. Williams was a non-factor in the first half against the Bruins, but bounced back in the second, where she scored all 11 of her points. Will we see the confident Williams that helped propel the Huskies to victory in the latter half? Or will we see the opposite player who appeared in the first half, as well as for much of the Georgia Tech game? Only time will tell.
It is also important to note that sophomore and former five-star Mir McLean will be transferring from the program, further thinning the Huskies’ depth. However, the guard was of limited importance to the team even with the injuries, only notching eight minutes and no points on the season.
The game will be broadcasted on ESPN at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday.