Women’s Basketball: No. 9 Huskies prepare for weekend showdown with classic Big East foes 

Xavier Musketeers guard Aanaya Harris (23) shoots against UConn Huskies forward Piath Gabriel (32) in the second half at XL Center. Photo by David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports.

“It’s another unfortunate blow to an already challenging season.” Those were the words head coach Geno Auriemma uttered regarding the absence of player Christyn Williams due to health and safety protocols. 

The University of Connecticut women’s basketball team has had a challenging season so far. Several key pieces, including Paige Bueckers, are injured, two players have transferred and the team has lost four games, the most losses since their 2012-13 season. 

With Williams unavailable for the weekend, the Huskies (9-4, 4-0 Big East) are down to three healthy guards. One of those is Caroline Ducharme, who has scored 14+ points in seven out of her last eight games. Now up to 11.3 PPG, Ducharme showcases her talents both offensively and defensively with great finishes to the bucket and resounding blocks. 

Evina Westbrook scored 13 points against Butler and has put up that many in the two games since. She’s still a vital cog in the Husky offense with 9.2 PPG and will look to improve off her last few games with big performances this weekend. 

Then there’s Nika Muhl, who has played in every game since the Huskies resumed their regular season. Muhl was a rebounding machine, picking up six against Oregon, and is currently up to 2.6 RPG. 

One thing Auriemma mentioned was that his guard play, as of right now, “is not good, plain and simple.” Having a good guard offense is going to be critical for the Huskies, who went a combined 14-38 from the field and 3-17 from long range against the Ducks. If that number improves significantly, then the team will return to their winning ways. 

Olivia Nelson-Ododa reached a milestone Sunday, earning her 1000th career point and becoming the 50th player in UConn history to reach that mark. Nelson-Ododa has put up 10.1 PPG and 7.3 RPG while achieving a team-leading 29 blocks. Nelson-Ododa is also very good at creating shots, making approximately six out of every ten attempts. 

Aaliyah Edwards and Dorka Juhasz were limited to nine points against Oregon. Both average over six points a game and if they can consistently find layups in the paint, then the offense will not have a hard time scoring. 

Amidst their challenges, help is on the way. Auriemma commented that Fudd is currently doing 30 minutes of individual work on the court and the hope is that she can practice with the team soon. She won’t play this weekend, but once she returns to the lineup, she’s going to be a significant pickup. 

The first challenge for the Huskies is the Seton Hall Pirates (8-7, 3-4 Big East). The Pirates got their revenge against the St. John’s Red Storm with an aggressive second half comeback on Wednesday. 

The last time these two teams met, UConn beat the Pirates 74-49 in New Jersey. Paige Bueckers was playing in that game and Andra Espionza-Hunter was not due to a violation of team protocol. The stakes are different for this go-around as Bueckers is injured and Espionza-Hunter is available. 

Espionza-Hunter, who was named to the Preseason All-Big East team, continues to prove herself as one of the best players in the conference. Her 25 points against the Johnnies puts her at 16.7 points per game and her team-leading 103 assists makes her a dual offensive threat. 

She was not the leading point-getter in Wednesday’s contest. That belonged to junior and Preseason All-Big East teammate Lauren Park-Lane, whose 31 points against St. John’s, her second 30-piece in a row, puts her at 18.1 points per game. Both players rank in the top five in scoring in the Big East and the Huskies will need to impose a lockdown defense if they want to limit their prowess. 

Add redshirt senior Sidney Cooks (13.5 PPG, 7.7 RPG) and the Pirates have three outstanding players who can score from all over the offensive zone and contribute in more ways than one, whether it is through helping their teammates out or collecting the loose ball. 

The other big scorer for the Pirates is junior Mya Jackson, who averages a quiet 9.5 PPG but otherwise has had an impressive season. Together, this leads the Pirates to average 68.8 points a game as a team while averaging 35.3 rebounds a game. 

Two days after their second go-around with the Pirates, the Huskies travel to Queens to take on the St. John’s Red Storm (5-11, 1-5 Big East). The Red Storm just came off a close loss to the Pirates in which they were up 21-9 after the first quarter. 

Their record does not show how dominating the Red Storm offense is. Junior Leilani Correa leads the entire conference with a whopping 20.4 PPG clip. Add her 5.2 RPG and 23 steals and she is one of the most dangerous all-around players in the league. 

Speaking of balance, consider senior Rayven Peeples; 10.2 points, 11.5 rebounds in which she averages a double-double per game. That alone should prompt the Huskies to contain her the entire game in the hopes she does not pick up another double-double. 

The other two big scoring threats are senior Kadaja Bailey and junior Unique Drake. Bailey averages 14.9 PPG while Drake averages 10.3. Together, the two give the Johnnies four legitimate scoring options that will force the Huskies to pick and choose who they want to contain.  

While UConn averages 70.6 points a game, St. John’s scores 74.1 and allows 74.7, so this will be a high-scoring matchup.  

The Huskies will have their hands full, but again, it’s not about the size of the dog in the fight, it’s about the size of the fight in the dog. 

The Huskies meet up with the Pirates tonight in Gampel at 7:00 p.m. before playing the Red Storm at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday. Both games will be on SNY and the UConn Sports Network with live stats provided by StatBroadcast. 

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