On March 28, 2022, the second-seeded UConn women’s basketball team advanced to their 14th straight Final Four in a thrilling double-overtime victory against the top-seeded NC State Wolfpack in Bridgeport. 237 days later, the two top 10 teams meet in a rematch at the XL Center in the Insurance Capital of the World, the final game before UConn travels to Portland, Oregon for the Phil Knight Legacy tournament.
The No. 5 Huskies lost a lot of their scoring from that Elite Eight game. Paige Bueckers led UConn with 27 points on 10-15 shooting, but her season-long absence combined with the departures of Christyn Williams and Olivia Nelson-Ododa means that other players will need to provide the points.
One player who will do so is Azzi Fudd, whose game has completely changed between her freshman and sophomore seasons. No game signified that change more than the game against the No. 3 Texas Longhorns when she scored a career-high 32 points on four second-half three-pointers.
Fudd, who has made one out of every three shots from beyond the arc this season, tends to have a quieter first half before erupting for a significantly stronger second. Once her shots start going in, she transitions from the two-pointer in the paint to the three-pointer that finishes off the games and makes people wish they guarded her.
Lou Lopez Sénéchal has become another strong piece in the Huskies’ offensive scheme. Lopez Sénéchal has a balanced scoring attack, as she shoots 47.6% from the field and 46.2% from beyond the arc, but she is also known for her ability to draw fouls. Lopez Sénéchal has been fouled four times, but also drawn six fouls that either force turnovers or free throws depending on the situation.
Lopez Sénéchal is tough, but no guard is tougher than Nika Mühl. Mühl can be both an offense’s worst nightmare and a defensive trickster with 16 assists and nine steals, both of which lead the team. While she does not generate many points, she runs the court as well as any professional floor general.
Aubrey Griffin has been effective on the court and has become a strong bench weapon since her return from injury. Griffin currently averages 13.5 points a game and 4.5 rebounds, which makes her as dangerous as any starter. She is a solid shooter, making 70.6% of her shots despite having just 17 attempts, and can strike from any distance. When she checks into the game, she can spark an offense immediately.
Losing Nelson-Ododa in the frontcourt was significant, but Aaliyah Edwards and Dorka Juhász have stepped up in a big way. Edwards averages 12.5 points and 10 boards a game as she continues to improve from her sophomore season, while Juhász averages 10 points and 10 boards a game since her return from injury in the Elite Eight. While they cannot truly replace the block parties that Nelson-Ododa hosted, they can help UConn’s game both on the perimeter and in the paint as the season goes along. Every piece is going to be needed in the Huskies’ second top 10 matchup in a one-week period.
The No. 10 Wolfpack enter with a 4-0 record after beating their opponents by an average margin of 41.8 points a game, most recently doubling up the Charlotte 49ers 96-48 on Wednesday night. This will be NC State’s first game away from Raleigh and should serve as a key early-season test for a team that lost significant talent.
Three of the five starters from that Elite Eight game, Reina Perez, Elissa Cunane and Kayla Jones, have moved on to the WNBA. Diamond Johnson and Jakia Brown-Turner, the other two starters, have stepped up following these departures. Johnson has done it all so far, leading the team with 12.5 points per game, 14 assists and eight steals. Brown-Turner has produced just as much as she did last year, but she can also stay on the floor for long periods of time, as she averages 25.3 minutes a game.
Johnson is not the only player averaging double figures for the Wolfpack. Madison Hayes has made a significant leap from her sophomore to junior year, she averages 11.5 points and 5.8 rebounds a game. Hayes is a versatile weapon, leading NC State with five blocks while shooting an impressive 61.5% from the field. She does not take many shots, but they almost always find the basket.
Jada Boyd has also continued her ascension to one of the top forwards in the ACC, scoring in double figures all but once and averages 11.3 points a game. She may only collect 4.3 boards a game, but she knows how to score from anywhere, as she shoots 51.6% from the field and perfect from beyond the arc. Aziaha James meanwhile is known to be an underrated team player like Mühl. She averages 9.3 points a game in 18 minutes, but is very good at stopping possessions and setting up big plays as she is second on the team with four steals and 10 assists.
This is a battle of two-evenly matched programs, and the key to victory here is going to be who scores more points. As the Wolfpack have not played any ranked opponents, it would not be fair to compare most of their stats with UConn, a team that has already upset ranked competition. Both teams average over 88 points a game despite losing numerous top scorers to the WNBA and injury, and as a result, several new talents have had to step up and provide the buckets on either end of the floor. With that in mind, whoever can get their offense going first should hold the upper hand for most of the contest.
The rematch between the two packs is set to go down on Sunday, Nov. 20, at 1 p.m. on FS1.