Women’s Basketball: No. 11 Huskies take on Butler with ‘fight in the dog’ mentality

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On Sunday, the UConn women’s basketball team had seven players available in a close conference win against Creighton, their first game in 21 days.

The Huskies have been a team decimated by several factors. Saylor Poffenbarger and Mir McLean have transferred to Arkansas and Virginia, respectively. Nika Mühl just returned from injury while Piath Gabriel missed the last game for an unknown reason, and the team is currently down the best player in the country, Paige Bueckers, to a knee injury.

In the post-game press conference following the Creighton game, head coach Geno Auriemma announced that Aubrey Griffin was going to get surgery to fix a disk issue on her back, which has prevented her from playing all season. With regards to the surgery, Auriemma commented that “the chances are pretty high she won’t be playing the rest of the season.”

In addition, Auriemma also mentioned that Azzi Fudd, currently out with a foot injury, is “being allowed to do more and more each day … hopefully, she’s getting close.” Amari DeBerry should be ready to return to action this week following a bout with COVID-19 and other issues.

On top of all that, COVID-19 caused four of their conference games to be postponed, all of them are expected to be rescheduled under the Big East’s new COVID-19 policy. Auriemma pointed out how it was just this past week that UConn was able to practice with seven healthy players.

Despite being extremely shorthanded, it’s not about the size of the dog in the fight, it’s about the size of the fight in the dog.

In the absence of Bueckers, Caroline Ducharme has blossomed into a special superstar. In her last four games, Ducharme is averaging 14.3 points per game with three double-digit performances while becoming a force on the defensive side of the ball with five or more rebounds in three of her last four games.

Dorka Juhasz is also starting to show why she was such a dominant player at Ohio State. Juhasz is averaging 10.8 points and eight rebounds per game in her last four games, which includes the 16-point 16 rebound double-double against UCLA.

This mix of new talent is blending incredibly well with the veterans on this team. Christyn Williams is second on the team in scoring with 13.7 PPG, 11.8 in her last four. She averages 36.5 minutes on the floor, but she makes the most of her time, setting up great plays while being a contributor from the field.

Evina Westbrook is not far behind with 9.3 points per game and four rebounds per game. She may have been limited to two points against Creighton but is a veteran leader and, like Williams, can run the court like a floor general.

Olivia Nelson-Ododa has started every game and has put up a balanced attack of 8.4 PPG and 7.4 RPG. She knows how to consistently drive the lane to make buckets and looks to have another double-double following consecutive instances in non-conference play.

One of the key goals for the Huskies in this contest is to close out a game in an orderly manner. In their win against Creighton, the Huskies let the Blue Jays go on an 11-2 run in the final five minutes of the game to cut the margin down from 17 points to eight points. If the Huskies can limit their turnovers, which happened 16 times against the Blue Jays, then they should be in good shape.

Butler (1-11, 0-3 Big East) ranks 306th in NET, according to Warrennolan.com, and has not played since Dec. 29 (a 77-55 loss to Xavier) due to COVID-19 issues within the program. Their one win on the season was a 75-67 victory against Evansville, ending a ten-game slide.

Graduate student Celena Taborn is the name to watch out for. She’s currently averaging 14.4 points-per-game and 5.1 rebounds a game while converting three out of every four field goals she attempts. Her points numbers may be high because of a 33-point masterpiece against Denver, but she consistently puts up double figures, and her ability to crash the glass is going to cause the Husky defense to apply a ton of pressure.

Then there’s freshman Alex Richard. She may have been shut out in her previous contest, but she currently averages 10.1 points a game and can crash the glass with her 4.4 rebounds a game and four blocks. Her best performances have come against the Big Ten, dropping a career-high 20 points against Indiana and picking up nine points and eight rebounds against Illinois.

In the backcourt, freshmen Zoe Jackson and Trinity White are paving the way for the Butler offense. Both know how to find the net, with Jackson averaging 9.5 points a game and White collecting 8.7 per contest. The success at which they can find the net is not as high as both players are shooting under 40% from the field.

To wrap up the rotation, Butler has redshirt freshman Kendall Wingler, who can apply enough defensive pressure to cause multiple turnovers throughout the game. She has 10 steals on the season while averaging 6.9 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.

Those are their main rotation pieces, but their most balanced player is redshirt sophomore Tenley Downwell, who is averaging 5.8 points and 5.1 rebounds a game. In just 22.6 minutes a game, she can find the basket and recover possession of the ball should it fail to reach the net.

Team scoring is relatively close between both teams. UConn is averaging 68.9 PPG while Butler is averaging 62.5. Both teams are relatively even in rebounding and assists, with the Huskies averaging 37.8 rebounds and 16.8 assists a game and the Bulldogs averaging 34.3 rebounds and 13.8 assists.

The game will tip off tomorrow at 7 p.m. EST on SNY with live stats provided by StatBroadcast.

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