In a dual set of matchups against Big East rivals Seton Hall University and St. John’s University, the previously-ranked No. 10 UConn Huskies brought out the brooms for two double-digit wins.
The first Husky field goal of the weekend was Dorka Juhasz’s and-one layup right in front of the basket. This set the tempo for her bounce-back 12-point, nine-rebound effort that led UConn to victory against the Seton Hall Pirates. After emerging as a key option for the Huskies in December, Juhasz had only scored a combined nine points in her previous two games. This performance is a welcome sight for UConn fans, as she will be critical for the upcoming tougher stretch of games.
“Dorka was really disappointed in herself after Monday’s game,” coach Geno Auriemma noted. “She expects a lot more from herself. Today was a great opportunity for her to get back on track.”
The Huskies put on a show Friday, dominating former UConn player Andra Espinoza-Hunter and the rest of Seton Hall. The Pirates never scored more than 11 points in a quarter and couldn’t develop a flow on offense. Espinoza-Hunter scored six points over her former team.
“Obviously it’s a bad matchup for us because we’re so small,” Auriemma mentioned. “I thought we did a great job of not allowing their shooters a lot of space. When they got into the lane, we forced them to make tough decisions with the ball. I thought we played more as a group today than we were on Monday [against Oregon]. The communication and chemistry were better today.”
UConn senior Olivia Nelson-Ododa had a strong game, feasting off Seton Hall’s lack of quality interior defense. Nelson-Ododa finished with 17 points, 14 boards, five dimes, three steals and a pair of blocks. The big has been unstoppable as of late, scoring double figures in her past four games before Sunday.
Nika Muhl followed suit, with several gutsy plays for the Huskies. The guard had 11 points, seven rebounds, four steals and three assists on Friday, a key player in the win. She was responsible for three of UConn’s collective six 3s, her season high on points outside of the circle.
Sunday’s contest against St. John’s didn’t start out as smoothly. UConn and the Red Storm went back and forth for the early portion of the contest, with the lowly Red Storm leading 17-13 with two minutes left in the first quarter. A Muhl 3 brought the Huskies within one point and a Ducharme fadeaway baseline jumper put UConn ahead for good. With a few seconds left in the quarter, Ducharme dished the ball to Aaliyah Edwards on the fastbreak to get a three-point lead into the intermission. This was part of a 12-0 run that had the Huskies up 25-17 early in the second.
The Huskies continued to pour it on throughout the second quarter of play, hitting 3 after 3 and stringing together a nice set of defensive possessions. Although they let up a bit at the end of the session, UConn went into the half winning 42-31.
The third quarter was not an impressive one for the Huskies, with their lead continually alternating between 11 and 13. A St. John’s missed jumper gave way to a Ducharme transition layup on the other end, preventing the lead from getting into single digits for the time being.
The Johnnies came into the final period guns blazing, opening on a 7-0 run to close the lead to just eight. Juhasz and Ducharme countered with a 10-0 run of their own, putting the game away and giving UConn a 75-57 victory.
“We still haven’t gotten over that hump. We have a tendency to let teams back in,” Auriemma noted. “St. John’s is way better than their record. They’re hard to play against. We made a lot of progress this past week or so. We’re a better team than the one that went to Oregon. We’re fighting our way through it. We’re not perfect. We’re not flawless. We don’t have the answers for everything. We’re pretty gritty. That’s two games in a row now where we’ve doubled our opponents in rebounding. There isn’t that same smooth flow that we used to have, but we’re finding ways to win. We’ve become more of a team in the past few weeks.”
Ducharme was incredible Sunday, netting a career-high 28 points to go along with five boards and three dimes. She looked like a seasoned veteran out there, continually making plays in key situations that kept the Huskies out of danger. The game was closer than anyone wearing navy blue would have liked, but Ducharme’s ability to put the ball in the basket kept things from getting disastrous.
“I like when people who can score take a ton of shots,” Auriemma said of Ducharme. “Shooters shoot and scorers score. Silver lining: Who would’ve thought she would be doing this? We thought she was good, but she’s really, really good.”
Nelson-Ododa contributed to another win as she got a double-double while scoring just three points, dishing out 10 assists, grabbing 18 rebounds and swatting two shots. The senior is playing the best basketball of her career, and will get the chance to really prove herself against stiffer competition in the coming games.
“Olivia played an old-school game,” Auriemma noted. “Play good defense, rebound the ball, be a good ball handler. Everyone’s gotta do what they’re good at. We can’t win it by ourselves. We gotta have our best selves every night and Olivia showed that.”
The Huskies are lined up to travel to Columbia, South Carolina to take on the No. 1 Gamecocks this Thursday for their second nationally televised game in two weeks.