“We’re used to being disjointed because every game, there’s something else.”
The UConn women’s basketball team has seen its share of misfortunes this season. Whether it’s been injuries to Paige Bueckers, Aubrey Griffin and several other players, or having games postponed due to COVID-19 concerns, the Huskies have been through hell and back.
Entering their rematch against the Creighton Blue Jays, their journey became worse. Already down Dorka Juhasz for the second straight game to a foot injury, the Huskies suffered another blow as Head Coach Geno Auriemma felt ill and headed to the locker room prior to tip-off. Associate Head Coach Chris Dailey and SNY have since reported Auriemma’s illness was not COVID-19 related. Auriemma will be back on the bench tonight, UConn reported.
That left Dailey in the head coaching position for the first time since defeating Syracuse in the second round of last season’s NCAA Tournament.
A high-flying offense of Tatum Rembao, Molly Mogensen and Lauren Jensen helped Creighton jump out to a 6-0 run in an opening frame that included limiting the Huskies’ offense to six points after eight minutes. UConn’s early offensive woes, which appeared to carry over from the Providence game last Sunday, and Creighton’s timely responses gave the Blue Jays a nine-point lead after the first quarter.
“We weren’t able to get into any rhythm on the offensive end,” Dailey told reporters.
The Huskies’ defense, which has been a focal point of their season, limited Creighton to 12 points in the second quarter, seven of which occurred in the first 150 seconds.
Creighton amassed another 12-point lead after Rachel Saunders made a jumper, but that flipped a switch for the Huskies. Olivia Nelson-Ododa woke up the offense with a fastbreak jumper before her and Caroline Ducharme cut into the Blue Jays’ large lead. Nika Muhl scored the final points of the quarter with a steal-and-score as UConn went on a 12-2 run in the final four minutes of the half to make it a two-point game.
That turned into an 18-2 run in the third when Christyn Williams scored the equalizer on the fastbreak before several rebounds and turnovers, which led to Ducharme’s go-ahead jump shot. Williams dominated the period after sitting out the second quarter due to foul trouble and made her mark with a wonderful layup on the fastbreak following an Azzi Fudd rejection. She finished the third quarter with six points while Ducharme contributed nine points to the 19-8 stretch, which put the Huskies in the driver’s seat with 10 minutes to play.
In their last meeting, Creighton brought the pressure towards the end, going on a 11-2 run in the final five minutes. That was not the case in this contest. Fudd went 2-3 from beyond the arc with both of her made shots in the final frame. The Huskies’ offense, which shot 9-13 from the field in the fourth, was too much for Creighton to answer this time around as UConn walked out of a sold-out DJ Sokol Arena with a 76-56 victory.
“Everyone did something to help and that’s the sign of a really good team,” Dailey, now 13-0 as acting head coach, told the press. “Even with more adversity, we were able to battle back and find a way.”
Five Huskies finished in double figures, with Williams and Nelson-Ododa’s 17 leading the way. Nelson-Ododa also collected 14 rebounds for her fourth double-double of the season. “She kept us in the game in the first half,” Dailey commented.
Ducharme picked up 13 points but left the game after taking a whack to the head near the end of the contest. A school spokesperson has since stated Ducharme is fine.
The Huskies (14-4, 9-0 Big East) have a big slate ahead, including their final non-conference matchup of the regular season.
This weekend, the No. 10 Huskies play half of their four-game homestand.
First up are the Butler Bulldogs (1-17, 0-9 Big East). The Huskies won their last meeting 97-42, and every available player played five or more minutes.
The Bulldogs, who allow over 80 points a game, are led by Celena Taborn (13.5 ppg, 5. 4 rpg) and Alex Richard (8.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg) out front while Trinity White (8.4 ppg) and Zoe Jackson (7.4 ppg) control the backcourt.
The Huskies’ Black Fives Game tips off tonight at 7 p.m. from Gampel Pavilion on SNY and the UConn Sports Network.
On Sunday, the Huskies will compete with the No. 7 Tennessee Volunteers (19-2, 8-1 SEC as of 12 p.m. Thursday). These rivals met in Knoxville last season with the Huskies, then No. 1, winning 67-61.
The Lady Volunteers average 71.7 points a game and limit their opponent to 56.6. Rae Burrell (10.2 ppg) is looking to leave her mark in the series after scoring 18 points against the Huskies.
Jordan Horston has been a superstar. She has 10 double-doubles on the season, her 16.2 ppg ranks eighth in the SEC and her 9.7 rpg is third in the conference behind South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston (11.7 RPG) and Missouri’s Aijha Blackwell (13.4 RPG).
If Horston and Burrell are leading the back and front courts, then Tamari Key is commanding the middle. Like Horston, she is nearly averaging a double-double a game with 10.1 ppg and 8.4 rpg. The Husky frontcourt is going to be hard-pressed going up against Key and Burrell at the same time.
Having someone like Juhasz back would be huge because the Lady Volunteers outrebound their opponent 50.5 to 34.3 per game. To prevent the Lady Volunteers from controlling the boards, the Huskies must crash the glass as often as they can.
The white-out game tips off at 12 p.m. from the XL Center on FOX and the UConn Sports Network. Live stats for both games will be provided by StatBroadcast.