It is a battle of the Huskies, but not on the ice, as the No. 6 UConn women’s basketball team hosts Northeastern to begin the 2022-23 regular season. With their lowest preseason ranking since 2006, UConn looks to take care of business before they go into their gauntlet of a non-conference schedule that includes home games against the No. 3 Texas Longhorns and the No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks as well as road games against the No. 5 Tennessee Volunteers.
While the 115-42 exhibition victory against the Kutztown Golden Bears served as a “warm-up” game for UConn, this season opener is the real deal. Despite the loss of multiple key players to the professional leagues as well as injury, there were a lot of positive takeaways from the exhibition that should help the team compete with the nation’s best.
Azzi Fudd, a Preseason All-Big East Team selection, is looking for consistency in her three-point shots after making two threes in the first half and seven in the second. Fudd’s game heavily relies on the three-point basket, and once she gets into a rhythm, she can be a problem for anyone who guards her.
As Fudd highlighted in the postgame press conference, Lou Lopez Sénéchal is another player that teams could have a hard time guarding. In her UConn debut, the Fairfield transfer dropped 18 points in the first half and secured six total rebounds. Having Lopez Sénéchal, the 2021-22 MAAC Player of the Year, helps fill a huge scoring hole while bringing in a player who impacts every aspect of the game.
Dorka Juhász, another Preseason All-Big East Team selection, hopes to be the next big center after Olivia Nelson-Ododa left for the WNBA. Juhász made all but one shot in the exhibition, looking like she had not lost a step in her first game since the Elite Eight. If Juhász builds off that performance and exceeds her numbers from last season (7.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG), then she will surely succeed on the hardwood floor.
Nika Mühl thrives on what earned her the Big East Defensive Player of the Year award. When she is not taking shots, she is grabbing rebounds and forcing turnovers as well as setting up big plays for her teammates. In a sense, her actions on the court speak louder than what is displayed on the final stat lines. If Mühl does not get on the scoresheet often, it is because she is establishing herself in other areas.
Preseason Big East Freshman of the Year Ayanna Patterson grabbed a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds in her debut and showcased a unique skill in her game as six of her boards came on the offensive glass. On top of her ability to dunk, Patterson can be a force to be reckoned with on offense, especially if she is given more than one chance to score.
Aaliyah Edwards, a Preseason All-Big East Team selection, had a quiet 17 points in the exhibition, but is on the right track to improving from a sophomore season where she averaged 7.9 points and 5.1 boards. As long as Edwards stays out of foul trouble, she will attack the paint and force opposing forwards to miss.
Just like last season, where Aubrey Griffin did not play all year due to a back injury, UConn’s depth will be tested. On top of Paige Bueckers and Ice Brady being out for the season, UConn has to play through the absence of Caroline Ducharme, a Preseason All-Big East Team selection who will sit out the season opener while recovering from a stiff neck. There is no timetable for her return and there is a chance she may have to deal with the injury all season long.
Northeastern (1-0) enters after opening their season with a one-point victory against the Boston University Terriers this past Monday. Derin Erdogan, who shot the game-winning free throws, led the way with 24 points and three steals on 9-14 shooting while Gemima Motema, a Preseason All-CAA Honorable Mention, had 16 points and three blocks.
Having pieces like Erdogan, who averaged 1.1 points per game for the Arizona Wildcats last season, and Motema will be critical to Northeastern’s success under second-year head coach Bridgette Mitchell. The team lost a lot of scoring and veteran experience as Kendall Currence (15.9 PPG in 2021-22), Claudia Soriano (11.8 PPG and 99 steals), Katie May (8.2 PPG) and Emily Calabrese (7.4 PPG, 5.5 RPG) left at the end of the season.
That means several players who did not experience as much time on the court are going to have to step up, and Mitchell has the pieces to do just that. Amongst the returning players are people such as Maddie Vizza, Camille Clement, who had 2.5 PPG in 24 games, and Connecticut native Asha Parker, who played 30 games off the bench but averaged 2.3 points.
But Mitchell built most of this season’s roster in the transfer portal, picking up Erdogan, Halle Idowu from Toledo, JaMiya Braxton from Northwestern State, Deja Bristol from Virginia and Jaelyn Batts from Boston College. Mitchell started three of the transfers in the season opener and is expected to give most of them minutes as she likes to play the veterans.
Northeastern may be expected to finish eighth in the CAA this season, but they can bring a lot of fight to the competition. That said, the key in this game is going to be rebounding. UConn averaged 38.6 boards per game last season while Northeastern averaged 35.2. Northeastern is not known for their defense, unlike UConn, but their ability to crash the glass helps them stay in games. Whoever comes up with a missed shot off the boards more often will come out victorious.
The season tips off at 7 p.m. at Gampel Pavilion. Fans who cannot catch the action in person can watch the game on SNY.