With Dorka Juhasz announced to be out with a broken thumb on Saturday, No. 5 UConn needed to make sure they locked in against the No. 10 NC State Wolfpack Sunday. Even withstanding the distraction of associate head coach Chris Dailey fainting in the moments before tipoff, the Huskies managed to get the job done, winning their second straight top ten game, 91-69. Nika Muhl had a school-record 15 assists, contributing to her incredible facilitating start to the season and Azzi Fudd didn’t do too bad herself, scoring 32 points en route to the big victory.
Aaliyah Edwards got things started out early with a spin move out of the high post and Fudd wasted little time hitting a triple of her own. Edwards got loose for an inside bucket and then the UConn press forced a turnover, resulting in a Fudd bucket that made it 9-0 early. Jada Boyd finally gave NC State the answer they needed before the Wolfpack went on a 5-0 run to close the lead to four.
Aubrey Griffin blocked two consecutive passes, stealing the ball both times and finishing in transition for her own 4-0 run. Fudd hit a contested midrange jumper and then got inside for the layup. Muhl threaded the needle for a pass to Edwards, who got the easy finish. A 4-0 run kept NC State within striking distance, but it was still a 10-point Husky lead after a quarter.
Fudd got another open layup to start the second off the nice Edwards backdoor feed. Edwards then got a bucket herself, but Diamond Johnson converted on a pair of threes. Fudd had the answer two threes herself to advance the lead to nine. The Wolfpack continued to fight, scoring in pockets among the bigger UConn runs, helping them stay in it.
Further helping the NC State cause, Fudd became the third Husky to pick up their second foul in the second quarter. Johnson cut it to five again with the pump fake and jumper and the Huskies turned the ball over for the 10th time on the next possession. Mimi Collins hit from close, Caroline Ducharme traveled and the Huskies needed to respond.
The Huskies found that answer in a steal and transition deep ball by Fudd to make the lead six again. Johnson hit again from beyond the arc, but Edwards got another layup to respond. Ducharme got the tough steal with five seconds left in the frame, she passed it up to Muhl, who skipped it to Edwards for the buzzer-beating shot, to make it 40-33 at the break. Fudd had a fantastic half, collecting 22 points, many of which coming from Muhl passes, who went into the locker room with seven dimes.
Griffin got the second half started with a turnaround jumper and then a fastbreak bucket. Camille Hobby and Jakia Brown-Turner each hit close shots but Lou Lopez-Senechal converted on a four-point play for her first points of the game. A series of hustle plays and free throws helped the Huskies to a 12-point lead, causing Wolfpack coach Wes Moore to go to his bench. Baldwin, one such bench player, infused energy into the team helping towards a 6-0 run, but Fudd hit another three to keep NC State at arm’s reach.
Lopez-Senechal got the deep two with little to no room to operate and Fudd added a three. Lopez-Senechal got an and-one bucket off a no-look Muhl pass and a jumper, increasing the lead to 17 late in the third. Lopez-Senechal’s 12-point quarter punctuated the 15-2 Husky run, making it a 66-47 game with one period to go.
Griffin improved the lead to 21 early in the fourth but NC State continued to try to fight back with a Jessica Timmons long ball. Lopez-Senechal answered with a three of her own, however,, silencing those who doubted her ability to play at the next level. Fudd got to 30 with another jumper and Muhl’s first points of the game sealed the win.
Fudd recorded her second consecutive 32 point effort, the only two 30+ point games of her young career. She didn’t contribute heavily in too many other areas, but had an impressive impact and this was her most aggressive offensive game at UConn.
Muhl’s impact on the team can’t be understated, as her ability to share the ball is the best in the country. She now averages 10 assists per game and while she hasn’t scored much, she hasn’t had to. The junior has just been spectacular so far and there’s no reason to believe she can’t keep it up as the season goes.
Edwards had her best performance of the year too, scoring 20 and adding 10 boards. She helped the Huskies start strong and played super well as the game went. She also managed her fouls well, which was something she’s historically struggled with.
Lopez-Senechal started out quiet, but finished with 20 points, igniting the Huskies on their incredible second half run. She scored all her points after halftime and will look to build on that as the season goes.
UConn returns to the hardwood in Oregon this Friday, when they take on Duke in the first round of the PK85.