“You’ve got to be the same every night from here on in.”
The motivational words of head coach Geno Auriemma highlight the level of energy that the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team will need to bring as it wraps up its regular season this week. The rest of the games may be at home, but each game is a fight to the finish, starting with a tough team in the Marquette Golden Eagles.
The Huskies (19-5, 13-1 Big East) are returning to full form, scoring 179 points while allowing 84 in their weekend slate of games. With their offensive masterpieces, they are now averaging 73.7 points a game.
Azzi Fudd has taken center stage. Since her return, Fudd has scored in single figures twice while scoring more than 20 points three times. In 13 games, Fudd is shooting 44.6% from beyond the arc and 48% from the field. Three days removed from Stephen Curry’s MVP-level performance in the All-Star Game, look for Fudd to take all the shots from downtown.
Christyn Williams, fresh off an ankle-snatching masterpiece, has been the leader of the bunch with 15.2 points per game (PPG), having been limited to single digits once since Paige Bueckers went down. Speaking of versatile guards, Caroline Ducharme has provided a sparkplug off the bench, but is set to take back a starting role soon. Her 12.3 PPG and 12 blocks put her in contention for Big East Freshman of the Year.
Evina Westbrook has scored 16 points in two games since covering men’s basketball with UCTV Sports, but look for that to change against Marquette, a team where she dropped 15 points off the bench last time out. Westbrook is a field general who sets up great plays, as proven by her team-leading 85 assists.
No offense can be complete without their defense, and that has been Nika Muhl’s main contribution as she is coming off a six-steal showcase. Now up to 31 steals, Muhl also sets up great passes as the steals lead to golden breakaway opportunities. Olivia Nelson-Ododa has played two games since she returned from injury but remains the closest to a double-double with 9.8 PPG and 7.9 rebounds per game (RPG). Expect her to start against a rebound-heavy team like Marquette.
Dorka Juhasz and Aaliyah Edwards both provide extra trouble on the frontcourt. Edwards (7.0 PPG) makes over half of her shots and can catch the opponent sleeping in a variety of ways. Juhasz (8 PPG and 6 RPG) has contributed to the offense and defense with one double-double and multiple games with double-digit rebounds.
The Golden Eagles (18-8, 11-6 Big East) ended a three-game skid with a 64-57 victory against the Georgetown Hoyas last Friday. This will be Marquette’s third destination on its five-city road trip.
When these two foes last squared off 10 days ago, UConn used a strong fourth quarter to escape Milwaukee with a 72-58 win. Fudd and Juhasz lit up the court with over 20 points apiece. Marquette’s biggest contributor was Liza Karlen, who scored 15 points and grabbed nine boards.
Karlen, who averages 9.4 PPG and 6.8 RPG, has scored in double figures in four out of her last five games and has been one of the top scorers for the Golden Eagles lately. Her three double-doubles make her a dangerous threat from the paint who can grab second-chance opportunities. Against UConn, she was joined by Jordan King, who had 14 points and five assists. King averages 11.7 PPG and has scored in double figures in seven out of her last eight games.
Lauren Van Kleunen, who was limited to seven points and seven rebounds, has been the offensive focal point, averaging 13.3 points a game to go alongside 6.7 rebounds a game. Van Kleunen has been contained to single digits lately, possibly due to the opposition figuring out her two-way abilities. The Huskies will need another strong performance on the glass to make sure she is contained on both ends of the floor again.
The Huskies also need keep an eye on Karissa McLaughlin, who averages 12.4 PPG and leads the team with a 43% shooting clip from beyond the arc. She made 10 points on two threes in their previous matchup and is coming off a 14-point performance that saw her go 4-5 from three-point range. If the Huskies want to limit Marquette offensively, they will need to stop McLaughlin.
One person who could be an X-factor in this game is Chloe Marotta. She scored eight points in the first meeting and finished with nine rebounds, proving her worth all over the court. Averaging 6.2 PPG and 7 RPG, the Huskies need to contain all facets of her game if they want to win the battle of the boards and the shots.
The storylines remain the same. The only major difference is that Ducharme and Nelson-Ododa are both available, providing depth and defense against the 65th ranked team in NET. Expect rebounding to be the focus again as Marquette averages 41.3 RPG and allows 32 compared to UConn’s 37.8 RPG and 32.5 allowances.
In addition, both teams produce 18 assists a game and allow almost 12, setting up the opportunity for some highlight-reel passes both in the paint and to the perimeter.
This game is critical for both teams. Marquette is fighting for a first-round bye in the Big East Tournament with the Seton Hall Pirates. Both teams split their regular season meetings, but the Golden Eagles could increase the chances they get a bye with a win or Seton Hall loss. UConn needs a win tonight to clinch the No. 1 seed as both second and third place, Creighton and Villanova respectively, have four conference losses with three conference games to play.
The fan appreciation game, rescheduled from Dec. 29, tips off at today, 7 p.m. from the XL Center on SNY and the UConn Sports Network. Live statistics will be provided by StatBroadcast.