Women’s Basketball: No. 11 Huskies closely beat Creighton after three weeks off

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The last time the No. 11 UConn women’s basketball team played a game, it was a five-point loss to then No. 6 Louisville at the Mohegan Sun Arena. After 21 days and four postponements (one caused by Marquette’s COVID-19 issues, the other three from UConn’s COVID-19 issues), the Huskies returned and took on the Creighton Blue Jays, who were undefeated in five conference games.

UConn and Creighton went back and forth to start the game, but the Huskies made big shots to lead early in the contest. Dorka Juhasz would lead the way in the first quarter with seven points while Christyn Williams picked up six.

After missing her last three games due to injury, Nika Mühl made her return to the court and got a warm welcome from the Gampel Pavilion crowd. It would not take long for Mühl to make an impact as she fouled less than 30 seconds into her return.

Aaliyah Edwards left her mark in the game in the second quarter, intercepting a Creighton pass and turning it into two points with a Euro-step to the basket. The next best defensive play occurred with 1:55 to go as Tatum Rembao tried to fake out Mühl and get a bucket, but Caroline Ducharme aggressively rejected her offer.

After a rebound-filled conclusion to the second quarter, the third featured more offense as Olivia Nelson-Ododa would get the scoring started for the Huskies. Creighton made things close as a bucket by Morgan Maly cut the UConn lead down to five, but a timeout and subsequent 7-2 run allowed the Huskies to swell the lead to ten points. Ducharme came up with another big swat in the expiring seconds of the quarter to maintain the double-digit lead.

Edwards was a problem on the glass the entire game. Everything she did she put up in threes, whether it was rebounds or steals. One thing she did not limit to three was her scoring, as she put up 12 points on 5-10 shooting, including buckets against the double team.

The fourth quarter featured runs by both teams. UConn had the first run as they ballooned the lead to 17 points behind buckets from Ducharme and Williams. UConn would not make another field goal after Nelson-Ododa’s three-point play with 5:56 to go, allowing Creighton to chip away at the lead in the second half of the quarter behind their star players Molley Mogensen and Emma Ronsiek.

“We let the pressure get to us a little bit, and that’s something we have to work on,” Williams mentioned following the Blue Jays’ hot stretch late in the fourth quarter.

However, Creighton had been dug into a hole too deep for them to escape. Maly hit a three-pointer with 18 seconds left, which would become the last field goal of the game in a 63-55 UConn victory, handing Creighton their first conference loss of the year. That was a critical bucket by Maly however, because for the first time since returning to the Big East in 2020, UConn defeated an opponent by less than 10 points. This was UConn’s twenty second (excluding the Big East tournament) conference game.

“We just have to get better at sustaining things,” head coach Geno Auriemma noted following the team’s victory.

Creighton dominated in the paint and off the bench, outscoring UConn 34-28 and 28-14 respectively. Each team committed 16 turnovers, but UConn took advantage of them more, outscoring Creighton 20-11 on turnovers.

In her first game back from injury, Mühl finished with two points and four fouls in 16 minutes but came up big with three assists as well.

Despite her numbers, Auriemma pointed out how “it’s hard when you miss that much time and you haven’t practiced much. She’s looked a lot better in practice.” Until Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd return to action, Mühl will provide much-needed depth to the Huskies’ backcourt alongside Ducharme, Williams and Evina Westbrook.

This contest was also UConn’s first game at Gampel since Bueckers went down against Notre Dame. “We’re missing a quarterback and we’re trying to play at a real high level. … Maybe we will find someone as the weeks go on.” Auriemma stated in his analysis of the team thus far.

Perhaps Ducharme is becoming that quarterback in the absence of Bueckers. Ducharme was all over the court in this contest, coming up with big buckets and blocking shots in a purely aggressive manner. With her 17 points and five rebounds against Creighton, Ducharme is averaging 14.3 points and 4.6 rebounds in her last five games.

“She’s such a competitor. … Whatever she sets her mind to, it’s going to get done,” Auriemma commented on Ducharme’s performance, her fourth time in five games scoring 14+ points.

Creighton (10-4, 5-1 Big East) was led by Maly’s 14 points off the bench and Rosniek’s 10 points. Maly took close to a quarter of the team’s shots and half of their three-point attempts as she went 5-16 from the field and 4-13 from beyond the arc.

“No one’s feeling sorry for us. … it’s just time for us to turn it up,” Westbrook commented in a pregame media availability regarding the team’s pressures and challenges. “Every team wants a piece of us. … We’re going to get everyone’s best game.”

The Huskies (7-3, 2-0 Big East) will (hopefully) travel to Indianapolis on Wednesday, Jan. 12, to take on the Butler Bulldogs. Butler’s most recently scheduled game against St. John’s was postponed due to COVID-19 issues within the Bulldogs’ program. That game will take place at 7 p.m. EST on SNY with live stats provided by StatBroadcast.

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