It’s been 215 days since the No. 6 UConn women’s basketball team last played. In that game, they lost to South Carolina in the 2021-22 national championship in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It’s been a long summer since then, and this year’s team looks very different. Four of the top six scorers from last year won’t see the court; three because of graduation and the other is star Paige Bueckers, who tore her ACL during the offseason.
Assuming a full, healthy offseason and a plethora of weapons that got better in her absence last year, Bueckers was expected to finally take the Huskies to the promised land this year. Instead, Bueckers’ injury will force her to miss the entire year and puts much of the burden on the shoulders of a pair of sophomores: Azzi Fudd and Caroline Ducharme.
The duo were by far the biggest contributors when Bueckers was gone last year, and they are the highest scorers returning from last year. Fudd finished the season with 12.1 points per game on 43% from deep and wasn’t at full strength, as she was — and continues to be — managing foot soreness. Her most impressive game was against No. 7 Tennessee, when she put the team on her back and went for 25 points and four assists behind 7-for-9 shooting from beyond the arc.
With Bueckers gone, Fudd is expected to expand her role from just that of a sharpshooter that she exhibited last year. She has discussed her developed abilities to facilitate, which is going to be critical with all of the defensive attention she’s now going to receive. Creating shots for her teammates will be a must.
Similar to Fudd, Ducharme was also nursing an injury throughout last year, which apparently hurt her production. She noted she felt like she was “dragging it along” at times down the stretch, which seems crazy given the level at which she was playing. Now with her offseason surgery, it’s intriguing to find out what a fully healthy Ducharme will look like. If it looks anything like her eight-game stretch last year when she averaged 19 points, then this team could make a deep run in March.
Although it would be nice to see Ducharme dip out of her comfort zone and create offense outside of her own scoring, it’s not necessary. Having her role stay as a fearless, aggressive sniper would be just fine — as long as the rest of the team does its job.
The other major returnees this year are Nika Mühl, Aaliyah Edwards, Dorka Juhász and Aubrey Griffin. Mühl has had trouble so far with her aggressiveness, as she never took more than five shots per game in either of her first two seasons, but she has done a nice job passing to go along with her stellar defense that won her Big East DPOY. Edwards regressed last year after an awesome freshman season, but started to find her groove as the season neared its end. Juhász’s impact grew as last year progressed, but she missed the Final Four games with a broken wrist. Griffin has had a nice impact with her athleticism in the past, but missed last season after getting back surgery.
The notable newcomers are Lou Lopez-Senechal and Ayanna Patterson. Lopez-Senechal was a star guard at Fairfield and will look to translate her success to the Power Six level. Patterson is a five-star recruit with incredible athletic abilities who will pose major issues for any defender trying to match up against her.
This exhibition is merely the season’s hors d’oeuvres ahead of a very rough non-conference schedule that sees UConn playing seven ranked teams. Even though it won’t be a close game, Kutztown is still very good in the Division III context. Last year, the Golden Bears went 26-7 and made the NCAA tournament, but lost in the first round. Four players averaged north of eight points per game, with Casey Remolde as the team’s top returner. Still, expect an outcome similar to last year’s 111-47 romp of D-III Fort Hays State.
The game will be broadcasted on CW-20, and tip-off is at 1 p.m. Sunday at the XL Center in downtown Hartford.