Just under a month ago, the UConn women’s basketball team suffered one of its bigger injuries in recent history when incoming junior sensation Paige Bueckers tore her ACL. Bueckers, a former National POTY, missed roughly half of last season with an injury to the same knee, but returned just in time to lead the Huskies to the championship game. This year, there’s no doubt she’ll be gone for the entire season. There’s no more merely staying afloat until Bueckers comes back—it’s do or die with the remaining players to extend the school’s record streak of 14 straight Final Fours. So who will lead the way and step up?
Muhl was a killer defensively last year, earning herself Big East Defensive POTY, which is especially hard for a UConn player to do with coaches focusing on developing lesser-known names. This helped her gain more crunch time minutes, but Muhl had a pedestrian year on offense. Although she did a nice job dishing the ball with three assists per game, she lacked in the scoring department with less than four points. With Bueckers gone, the Huskies are losing 15 points of production per game, not to mention the 32 other points that walked out the door when seniors Christyn Williams, Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Evina Westbrook were drafted.
Muhl will need to attack more on offense. Sure, it was nice to see her get the occasional three or fastbreak layup, but she needs to be scoring closer to 10 points on a regular basis to make up for losing 63% of the team’s points. She’s capable, though. She has a nice stroke from deep and is quick inside, but hurts herself by taking only 3.5 shots per game. Her number will be called this year and for the Huskies to succeed, she’ll need to be ready as the best true point guard left.
A lot of people are saying this is Fudd’s team now that Bueckers is gone. That’s not a crazy claim, as she was tied for the most points per game (14.8) when Bueckers was out last year. She will need to deal with the fact that the defense will be able to hyperfocus on her, though. It’s a shooter’s dream to have a defense’s primary focus be on the primary ball-handler. Now, with that ball handler on the sidelines, Fudd won’t have as many easy catch-and-shoot opportunities. She’ll need to create on offense and improve her ball handling, which was undistinguished last year.
Fudd hit 43% from deep last year, so she’s capable of anything, as demonstrated in games against No. 23 USF, No. 7 Tennessee, Villanova, No. 4 NC State and Marquette, when she eclipsed 18 points on torrid shooting. Her three-pointer will need to be on fire all year, as Fudd will need to score better than 16 points per game if the Huskies want to succeed. In her first fully healthy season though, she can do it.
Ducharme kicked off the season with a relatively slow start, waiting until December to break out with 14 points against No. 20 Notre Dame in the contest where Bueckers was injured. After a poor showing against Georgia Tech, Ducharme exploded for over 19 points per game over her next eight efforts. This included a 19-point outing at DePaul that saw the freshman nail the Huskies’ first true buzzer-beating game-winner in over a decade.
All this is to say that Ducharme has that “it” factor. Even if her shooting can be poor, she’s able to will the Huskies to wins and score points in the process. Ducharme saw her role diminished once Bueckers returned, only scoring in double figures once, but now with the team all to herself, there’s nothing stopping her. The share of shots to take is there and all of a sudden she’s the second most experienced guard left on the roster. If she can clean up her efficiency a bit and continue to keep her foot on the pedal, this year is a massive opportunity to make her a household name in college basketball.
Juhasz wasn’t spectacular last year, scoring just seven points per game, but she did have a positive effect on the team. With her point total, she added six rebounds, a number that should improve with Nelson-Ododa out of the fold. Depending on how many bigs that coach Geno Auriemma decides to play and how she performs in practice, Juhasz may be poised for a starting role. She had a lack of consistency last year, breaking the 15 point mark just five times. With her level of shooting and height, there shouldn’t be anything stopping her from 12+ points per game.
Granted, she isn’t the strongest player on the floor at any given moment, but she is tall enough to make a difference on the interior. All she needs is more opportunities to shoot and more willingness to do so, and she’s in prime position to be a force on both ends. Even though she isn’t a guard, Juhasz can still benefit from the increased minutes available, and there’s no reason not to see a big jump from the graduate student this year.