It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t even close. But as they say, a win is a win, regardless of how painful this game was to watch and as a result, UConn is going to the Sweet 16 for the 28th straight year.
“I can honestly say that given the kind of season we had I thought I’d seen it all, but this was a new experience for me,” Coach Geno Auriemma noted. “It was what we expected: I
it was difficult, ugly looking. We could have easily let it get away from us, but we didn’t. I’m not sure how we won this game, but we did. By going through that, I think I’m a changed person.”
On a gorgeous Monday night in Storrs, CT, the UConn Huskies took on the UCF Knights in a complete defensive showdown, collecting a 52-47 victory. This win was largely thanks to the efforts of freshman Azzi Fudd, who scored 16 points in the win.
“The atmosphere was amazing,” Fudd noted. “That made the game a lot of fun and helped with our momentum. When my shot wasn’t falling, my teammates continued to find me”
To start this one off, Olivia Nelson-Ododa made her presence felt. She hit the first bucket of the game with a tough layup, then blocked a shot at the other end. On the rebound, Tay Sanders grabbed the ball and got it to go, before making another shot close. Paige Bueckers responded with a euro-step layup in transition and UCF netted a pair of free throws, which was followed by a Masseny Kama deuce and an Alisha Lewis three.
Fudd cut the deficit to four with the three and Bueckers added the cause with a 12-foot jumper. Diamond Battles got her first bucket of the game with a monster 3-pointer, where she was fouled, but missed the free throw. After a bit of a scrum involving a tie up, Brittney Smith added a hook shot, but Fudd nailed another deep ball to close the quarter with UCF leading 18-12.
Early in the second quarter, Bueckers got fouled late in the shot clock on a triple and hit just one of three. After a slew of sloppy possessions that included missed layups, UCF got the first field goal of the quarter–by either team–2:30 in via a Kaba layup. The Knights got over the limit just 3:30 into the quarter, giving the Huskies a lot of free throws in the ensuing minutes. Nelson Ododa then made an extremely scrappy play, blocking a shot and then drawing a charge all within five seconds, but UConn couldn’t score any points to show for it on the other end.
Nika Muhl then rattled in a clutch three at the end of the shot clock to retake the lead, but bailed UCF out at the other end with a foul late in the clock, which ended up becoming another shot clock violation. An empty UConn possession gave way to a shot-clock buzzer beating three by Battles, but Williams responded with a mid-range swish. The Huskies got back-to-back blocks to end the half, taking a 26-23 advantage into the locker room.
Battles and Christyn Thomas each hit jumpers to start the frame, giving the Knights the lead back less than a minute in. Bueckers answered with a jumper to tie things up, but Smith bounced one in to grab the advantage. This didn’t last long though, as Fudd drained her third three of the game to get ahead by two. Edwards extended the lead to four with a jumper and the Knights threw it away on the next possession. Williams hit a tough layup to take an eight-point lead into the final quarter, largely thanks to a 9-0 run that held the Knights scoreless for 5:15.
Late in the clock, in the Huskies’ first possession of the quarter, Fudd dropped in a three to make it a double-digit ballgame. Sanders cut into the deficit with a three of her own, but Williams immediately restored it to 11 with her own deep ball. Battles increased her personal total to 10 on the jumper. Fudd drew a foul on her jumper and hit both free throws. Bueckers hit a jumper to force a UCF timeout with 4:50 left in the contest.
Smith swished a wide-open jumper and Sanders hit one from the corner to cut it to seven. Smith narrowed it to five with another and a Nelson-Ododa offensive foul gave the ball back to the Knights. Smith got fouled in the low post but missed both free throws. Williams missed a bunny on the other end, but Kaba returned the favor with an easy miss of her own. With the shot clock winding down for UConn, Bueckers hoisted a three, but airballed it with 1:17 left. Battles got into the lane and drew a foul, hitting both free throws to cut it to three.
Bueckers missed a three and Dorka Juhasz got the offensive board but bricked the putback. Smith drew a foul after a timeout, but her foul shooting troubles continued as she missed one. The second one went in, but it didn’t matter, as the Knights jumped early for a lane violation. Williams was fouled and hit both but committed a bizarre foul on the other end on Smith, who nailed both. The Huskies hit a few more free throws and then dribbled the ball out, eking out a 52-47 win.
“It was a battle the whole game,” Williams noted. “Coming into the game, we knew they were going to be aggressive. It was very ugly, but we got the dub and that’s all that matters.”
“There’s always value when you have to struggle to get something,” Auriemma added. “Looking around the country, these games are supposed to be difficult.”
“I thought we were very poised down the stretch,” Williams mentioned. “Kudos to Azzi. She did a great job handling the ball in the backcourt. I’m proud of our team that we held it together down the stretch.”
The Huskies will next take on Indiana this Saturday in Bridgeport for the Sweet 16.