The road to the No. 1 seed in the Big East Tournament had bumps and cracks; the road to the Big East championship has hot coal.
The University of Connecticut women’s basketball team may have everyone but Aubrey Griffin back for their postseason campaign, but the path to a Big East title will not be as smooth as in years past.
“I think we can go far. We have a lot of potential. We have a lot of work to do, but we’ll have a good shot,” All-Big East First Team member Christyn Williams commented in anticipation of the Huskies’ Big East Tournament experience Sunday.
It starts with Paige Bueckers. She’s averaging 17.1 ppg, shooting over 55% from the field and averaging 4.8 rpg. The team has changed in her absence but look for her to contribute in more ways than one to push the Huskies to come out on top.
Bueckers has contributions in all the right places. Williams is the second-leading point getter, averaging 14.9 ppg while collecting 61 assists. She’s scored in double figures all but twice since the Notre Dame game.
Big East All-Freshman Team member Azzi Fudd is showing what made her the No. 1 recruit in this year’s class. In 16 games, she’s averaging 13.2 ppg while shooting 51.3% from the field and 48.3% from downtown. If you leave her open from behind the arc, the shot’s going to go in.
All-Big East First Team member Olivia Nelson-Ododa is the team’s unofficial center, averaging 10 points and 7.6 rebounds a game while rejecting 46 shots. She can do it all, whether it’s offensively (she’s shooting 60.9% from the field) or defensively.
Dorka Juhasz and Aaliyah Edwards are competing for the final spot in the starting rotation. Juhasz is coming off her second double-double of the season, averaging 7.8 points and six rebounds a game. Edwards is averaging 7.5 ppg and 4.6 rpg while providing an additional scoring option in the paint.
The bench is full of depth and players who have experience in starting roles. Caroline Ducharme, a Big East All-Freshman Team and All-Big East Second Team selection, averages 12.0 ppg while shooting 46.2% from the field. Evina Westbrook averages 9.4 ppg and has 97 assists to her name while shooting 43.3%. Nika Muhl’s 39 steals garnered her Big East Defensive Player of the Year honors, marking the second consecutive season a Husky has won it. If the starters get into foul trouble early, then the bench will step up and continue to give the opposition a hard time.
Through several injuries, two transfers and a COVID-19 pause, one of the team’s mantras is that “everybody eats” and that’s where Amari DeBerry and Piath Gabriel come into play. They both produce with their given minutes as Gabriel is averaging 3.2 ppg and 2.1 rpg while DeBerry averages 1.8 ppg.
Who could the Huskies (22-5, 16-1 Big East) play in their first game? They have two options, the eighth-seeded Providence Friars (11-18, 6-14 Big East) and the ninth-seeded Georgetown Hoyas (9-18, 4-15 Big East), who clash today at 11 a.m. Head-to-head results do not matter, but the Huskies went 3-0, averaging a 41-point margin of victory against these two.
Providence is led by All-Big East Honorable Mention Janai Crooms, who averages 13.7 ppg and 7.3 rpg and has scored in double figures in her last five games. After her, the scoring comes from Alyssa Geary (9.8 ppg) and Big East All-Freshman Team member Kylee Sheppard (9.6 ppg). The Friars can go toe-to-toe with anyone on the glass, collecting and allowing 38 boards a contest.
Georgetown is built in a similar way. Milan Bolden-Morris (12.6 ppg) and Kelsey Ransom (12.0 ppg) scored a combined 14 points against the Huskies and will look for revenge coming off recent double-digit performances. Their x-factor is Jillian Archer, who is shooting 55.9% from the field while averaging 8.7 ppg and 7.1 rpg.
Should the Huskies win on Saturday, they will play either the fourth-seeded DePaul Blue Demons (22-9, 14-6 Big East) or the fifth-seeded Marquette Golden Eagles (20-9, 13-7 Big East), who square off tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. UConn won all four games against these Midwest foes, escaping nail-biters on the road but taking care of business at home, winning by an average of 27.5 points.
Big East Freshman of the Year Aneesah Morrow has had a Bueckers-like season. She leads the team with 21.5 ppg and 14 rpg and met those averages in both meetings against UConn (30 and 14 in the first meeting, 20 and 16 in the second). She’s also a defensive threat with a team-leading 56 blocks and 82 steals. All-Big East First Team member Sonya Morris (18.0 ppg) missed the last meeting against UConn and could affect the third round of this heavyweight bout. The Blue Demons, who average 88.4 ppg as a team, have three other double-digit scorers in All-Big East Honorable Mention Deja Church (14.2 ppg), Lexi Held (12.8 ppg) and Darrione Rogers (10.3 ppg).
UConn’s two lowest scoring games since losing to Villanova were against the Golden Eagles, who have done so with a defensive-minded game. All-Big East First Team member Lauren Van Kleunen is their scoring machine, averaging 13.2 ppg. Karissa McLaughlin (12.3 ppg) and Jordan King (11.3 ppg) can strike from anywhere as they both shoot over 40% from the field and downtown. Liza Karlen continues to be their X-factor, averaging 10 points and seven rebounds a game. Include Big East Sportsmanship Award winner Chloe Marrotta’s 7.1 rpg and the Huskies need to bring their defensive might to take home round three of this season’s series.
As the No. 1 seed, the Huskies start tournament play on Saturday, when they face either the Providence Friars or Georgetown Hoyas at noon on FS1. The Huskies are hungry for another Big East title, so embrace yourselves because the tides of March are coming.