UConn announced just 46 minutes before tip that star freshman guard Caroline Ducharme would be out for precautionary reasons after she took a few tough hits the past two games. With the game in doubt even before it started, the Huskies needed someone to step up. That person was Azzi Fudd, who got a new career high on the way toward UConn’s 75-56 statement home win, all while wearing a throwback jersey.
“I think they’ve tried to stay pretty positive,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “It’s been challenging and they’ve had to roll with it in a lot of different ways. There was a time where we asked: ‘Are we going to see the other side of this?’ If we can accomplish what we did today plus adding Paige and Caroline, we can do a lot.”
The contest opened up with a Fudd three, who was starting her first career game with Ducharme injured. Tennessee responded with Tamari Key’s layup and Sara Puckett’s triple. UConn’s Dorka Juhasz and Tennessee’s Jordan Horston traded buckets. The Huskies hit dual Evina Westbrook and Fudd deep-range shots, stretching the lead to five going into break.
Westbrook started the second quarter scoring quickly with a backdoor cut to the layup, increasing the advantage to seven. Christyn Williams missed a three, which preceded a crazy possession with five Husky offensive boards that eventually led to a Fudd three that took the lead back to seven.
The teams teetered between seven and nine going into the end of the half. On Tennessee’s last possession, there was a sizable collision between Lady Vols’ Rae Burrell and UConn’s Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Juhasz. The resultant call was an offensive foul, but things could’ve gone either way. The half finished out with a Fudd three, preserving the Huskies a 32-25 advantage. Horstan had a phenomenal half for the Vols, scoring 13 on 4-9 shooting, while Westbrook had 11 for herself.
The second half started out well for the Huskies, with a bizarre Tennessee turnover off the opening inbounds play. Williams hit a free throw and then bounced in a three on the soft rim. Another Volunteer turnover gave way to a Nika Muhl triple, increasing the lead to 14 and forcing the Tennessee timeout. Williams hit a nice midrange shot and Muhl drained a three. Muhl then picked off a pass and laid in the fastbreak bucket, sending the XL Center into a frenzy and forcing another Volunteer timeout with the Huskies up 46-25.
Horston finally broke up the 14-0 run with a pair of free throws, but Fudd answered with a 15-foot jumper. Nelson-Ododa had a pair of blocks on the defensive end, leading to a break where Aaliyah Edwards drew a foul, splashing one of two from the line. She made up for the miss though, drawing a charge just ten seconds later. Fudd then drained another long-range shot, increasing the advantage to 25 points.
Puckett gave Tennessee their first field goal of the quarter, seven minutes in with a three, and Horston followed with a deuce of her own. A missed heave by Jordan Walker at the buzzer gave the Huskies a 55-36 lead going into the final period of play.
Tennessee started the quarter off with a Tamari Key block and score. The ensuing play saw Key pick up her fourth foul, forcing Tennessee Coach Kellie Harper to remove her. Nelson-Ododa made one of two and on the other end Horston completed a strong and-one finish. With the lead down to 13, Edwards hit her first three of the season to keep things at a distance and Fudd added her fifth, sixth and seventh long range shots of the game, grabbing a new career high of 25 to close out the win.
“Aaliyah worked real, real hard at the little parts of the game,” Auriemma noted. “It doesn’t really matter the number of points you score, but she was active and had a positive impact.”
“Today was the first game where she took it upon herself to be present in the entire game,” Auriemma added. “We looked for her more, we ran stuff for her more and she took good shots. If you watched the game you’d think she was an upperclassman out there. Azzi looked happy playing basketball today. She looked like a machine. If we make the NCAA tournament, we’re going to be a tough out,” Auriemma joked.
“It’s hard to not be happy when your team gets you a lot of open shots, and I was smiling the entire time,” Fudd noted. “This game definitely helped with being out so much and seeing so many of my shots fall. Hopefully I’ll be able to carry it over to these next few games,” She said.
“Azzi’s like a walking bucket,” Westbrook noted. “When the ball leaves her hand, we know it’s going in.”
Horston gave it her all for the Vols in the loss, scoring 26 points to go along with eight rebounds and three dimes.
“Tough night for us,” coach Harper noted. “Obviously we wanted to come out and perform better than we did. Our defense hung tough, but it just wasn’t tough enough. We started the second half 0-6 and they were 5-5, which turned it pretty quick. During that stretch, we didn’t have great ball movement which hurt.”
The Huskies will stay in Hartford for a matinee against the Villanova Wildcats this Wednesday, Feb. 9 at 7 p.m. EST.