The No. 10 University of Connecticut women’s basketball team was all over the place this past week. Evina Westbrook reported a men’s basketball game for UCTV Sports, Paige Bueckers practiced without a brace and with the team and the Huskies played two Big East games against the Xavier Musketeers and the Georgetown Hoyas.
In addition to Bueckers’ rehabilitation, Caroline Ducharme and Olivia Nelson-Ododa returned to the Husky lineup after sitting out due to injury. Neither player started both games, but provided key moments off the bench.
Following five minutes of back-and-forth basketball where neither team got ahead, Ducharme checked in and made a midrange jumper on her first possession. Ducharme provided an impact like she has all season, finishing with 11 points and four rebounds in 13 minutes off the bench.
“She’s an all-around good basketball player,” head coach Geno Auriemma said of Ducharme’s performance. “When we have her in the game, I feel like we’re not going to have any droughts scoring.”
Instead of a scoring drought, the Huskies experienced a scoring flood in the second quarter. Ayanna Townsend made a jumper with six minutes left, but the Huskies showed their might by going on a 19-0 run. Westbrook, Caroline Ducharme, Azzi Fudd, Dorka Juhasz and Williams scored as the Huskies forced seven turnovers and made eight field goals on 12 attempts.
The Huskies kept it going in the third via a 16-0 run, culminating into a 35-0 run that spanned over 14 minutes of play. All good things must come to an end, though, as Mackayla Scarlett clogged the flood with two free throws and Kaysia Woods made a three-pointer for Xavier’s only field goal of the frame.
Up 43 after 30 minutes, the Huskies turned to their bench. The frontcourt dictated the offense, but it wasn’t just Nelson-Ododa and Aaliyah Edwards in charge. Piath Gabriel and Amari DeBerry checked into the game, playing 15 combined minutes. Gabriel had a career night as she scored 11 points on 5-7 shooting with four rebounds. DeBerry scored five points on 2-4 shooting with three assists.
Xavier scored 11 points in the final frame, their most in a single quarter, as UConn clinched a first-round bye in the Big East Tournament 89-35. Every player who was available scored at least five points, led by Williams’ 13, while four others finished in double figures.
With the regular season winding down, Auriemma said, “You’ve got to be the same team every night, and every player has to show up and be the same every night. Whatever your best is…we need that every night.”
The opening minutes against Georgetown were a testament to that quote. Both teams battled early in the first, carelessly turning over the ball four times in five minutes despite a Nika Muhl three-pointer 15 seconds in. The Huskies then got in a groove, using an 11-0 run to jump ahead and control the tempo. Fudd was all over the court, providing seven first-quarter points.
With 5:23 left in the half, Milan Bolden-Morris hit a three-pointer, but in an almost similar fashion to the Xavier game, the Husky offense got right to work. They could not get a 19-0 run this time, so they went on a 17-0 run instead, closing out the half 19-2. Edwards, Juhasz, Fudd, Westbrook and Williams made several great jumpers and amazing layups.
The halftime break impacted the momentum as Georgetown scored on consecutive buckets, but the Huskies used free throws, passes and layups to keep the margin at 30 points. With four minutes left in the third, Williams took a great pass from Ducharme and made it an even better play. While in motion, Williams snatched her defender’s ankles and made the behind-the-back layup.
“I did not know she fell like that because I was just focused on making the layup. I just saw it like five minutes ago,” Williams said about her ankle-breaking play.
That set the tone for the rest of the game, as Ducharme rained down buckets to put it out of reach. The pieces were coming together for the Huskies at the right time. For the second consecutive game, all 10 available players saw time on the court as DeBerry and Gabriel checked into the game.
DeBerry got the crowd on their feet with 3:29 left as she nailed a three-pointer, her second in as many games, to go alongside her seven points. Behind their bench, the Huskies went on to beat Georgetown 90-49. Williams led the way with 19 points on 7-11 shooting while Fudd scored 12 with five boards.
If this game proved anything, it’s that “everybody eats.” Muhl put up eight points against Xavier but had a balanced performance against the Hoyas. In 23 minutes, Muhl scored 11 points with four rebounds and four assists, but the highlight of her performance was the six steals she forced. The Huskies imposed their defensive will, as they forced 21 steals and outrebounded Georgetown 37-26.
“We’re not even thinking of a national championship. We’re going to stay in the moment and take it one step at a time,” Williams made clear to the press.
In addition, Auriemma stated that Bueckers will not play in the Huskies’ final stretch of regular season conference games. Despite this news, seeing her practice and get reps on the court without a brace is a sign of the progress that she has made this season.
“There’s days when she feels like she could play tomorrow, but there’s days where she’s not feeling it,” Auriemma said of Bueckers’ condition.
The Huskies (19-5, 13-1 Big East) continue their home stretch with a rescheduled rematch against the Marquette Golden Eagles on Wednesday, Feb. 23, at 7 p.m. on SNY and the UConn Sports Network. Originally slated for Dec. 29, this game was postponed due to COVID-19 issues. Live stats will be provided by StatBroadcast.