When most people think of who will take over the reins with star player Paige Bueckers’ recent season-ending injury, Azzi Fudd seems to be the consensus answer. After all, Fudd was terrific for the Huskies last year, particularly after recovering from her foot injury — which is actually still lingering. Although there’s very little stopping Fudd from having the season many are projecting her to have, there’s another name that sticks out to potentially surpass her: Caroline Ducharme.
This might come as a surprise to some or seem a bit outlandish, but the claim is not as crazy as it may seem to be on the surface. Let me explain.
One of the best traits that a player can have is to not be afraid to take and miss shots. As Dion Waiters once told the South Florida Sun Sentinel, “I’d rather go 0-30 than 0-9, because if you go 0-9, that means you stopped shooting. That means you lost confidence.”
Ducharme has sufficiently proved that she possesses this exact attitude, with 11 games last year where she took double-digit shots. This also includes three games where her shot total was in the 20s. Most of those games came without Bueckers on the floor during her previous knee injury, and that opportunity will be right back there for Ducharme this year, not to mention the fact that Evina Westbrook and Christyn Williams have both left for the WNBA.
Ducharme has so many available shots to play with, and she’s not afraid to take them. Fudd also had 11 games with double-digit shots, but only one where she took 20. Although her confidence seemed to grow throughout the year, Ducharme consistently fired with less hesitancy, which was always a massive benefit when others were sitting and watching. Of the returning players, Ducharme has the most shots taken by more than 30. Yes, Fudd missed some time when Ducharme played last year, but Fudd also played a much larger role down the stretch than did Ducharme, which helped even these numbers out.
It’s tough to determine how Ducharme’s efficiency will change though. Last year, she shot 45% from the field and just under 30% from deep, which aren’t great numbers — even for a volume shooter. Two factors are going against each other this year: Increased defensive focus and offseason improvements from workouts, as well as her fixed hip post-surgery. Either way, Ducharme should be able to increase her efficiency just with the extra year of experience, but this is the foggiest area.
Also, this year, Fudd discussed how she might develop a new role that would reduce her shooting a bit. “I played point guard with USA Basketball, so I know I’m capable of it,” Fudd noted in an interview on Thursday. “And J [assistant coach Jamelle Elliott] said that the other day. She was like, ‘With Paige [Bueckers] out, did that even cross your mind, like that you might have to be backup point guard?’ And I was like, ‘No, it did not cross my mind. But I’m ready for it.’ I like a good challenge.”
A key role of a point guard is passing, which is now an extra thing that Fudd will need to worry about. Not to mention that Ducharme is going to be the best option for Fudd to pass to. This new role for Fudd will literally take shots away from her and give them to Ducharme.
As an additional factor, defenses will likely be circling Fudd’s name as the one to focus on as the biggest name on the roster. Thus, less talented defenders will be covering Ducharme, which will make it easier for her to score.
All of the signs role-wise point to a career year for Ducharme. Of players on the team who will have a shoot-only mindset, she will be the best, the value of which I cannot understate.
The last piece in the making for Ducharme’s breakout party is the experience that comes with year two.
“My confidence is a lot higher this year knowing what to expect,” she noted. Having that mentality to be able to come in without any ambiguity is really important.
With all of the time this summer to prepare for life without Bueckers, she’s also had time in practice to prepare.
The bottom line is that Ducharme had her freshman highs and lows. She should have finished her major growing. She knows what it’s like to be a major part of a Final Four team. Now it’s her turn to lead the way in such an effort.
I want to clarify that I’m not saying that Fudd will have a bad year — in fact, signs are pointing to her having a great one — I just think that Ducharme has the most attractive role on the team from a scoring perspective. Fudd will have her hand in many different pots and will have defenses more focused on her, while Ducharme just needs to put the ball in the hoop. She has the same ability to succeed with a better role, which is why in April, we’ll be looking back at this season as the “Caroline Ducharme Year.”