Coming into Sunday afternoon’s Phil Knight Invitational Final against the No. 9 Iowa Hawkeyes, the UConn Huskies were looking like world-beaters. They were coming off a pair of games where they beat top 10 competition by a combined 29 points and were hoping to treat Iowa in a similar fashion. Instead, they were facing several questions, not many answers and an 11 point deficit midway through the third quarter. Thanks to Azzi Fudd’s 22 point second half and another wild assist stat-line from Nika Muhl, the Huskies escaped with a 86-79 victory.
Monika Czinano got things going with an easy inside deuce and Muhl immediately answered with an open layup. McKenna Warnock found herself wide open for the three, but Aaliyah Edwards scored the next two buckets. Aubrey Griffin continually found herself on the offensive glass with a few boards early, subsequently getting rewarded with points.
Griffin helped force a shot clock violation with a massive block and a few possessions later Edwards hit 10 points with a dream-shake out of the post. Griffin and Edwards were the primary catalysts for the Huskies early on, bringing maximum effort on both ends of the floor, helping them to a six point lead at the end of the first frame.
Czinano narrowed the deficit to four with an easy layup and Clark hoisted a deep three off the rim. Clark got a bucket, UConn threw it away and Marshall hit a three, giving the Hawkeyes a surprising lead. Kate Martin splashed a fastbreak deep ball and all of a sudden the Huskies were in their most trying position yet in this young season.
Fudd found her first points of the game with a jumper and Griffin got a layup to get the Huskies back on track. Clark had yet another answer, hitting again then blocking Lou Lopez-Senechal to help balloon the lead to six. Caroline Ducharme, who had been struggling all year recovering from a neck injury, got a layup and then an assist to Edwards to reduce the deficit to two. The Iowa advantage got up to nine with a series of UConn turnovers, and although Ducharme hit a three, the Huskies faced a 41-35 hole at the half.
Fudd and Lopez-Senechal each got shots to fall, but Martin and Warnock pushed the lead back to eleven. Fudd and Patterson went on a combined 11-0 run and UConn had the game tied after trailing by double-digits less than two minutes earlier. Warnock hit a bail-out three to beat the shot clock but Fudd answered with one of her own to keep things even. Muhl got her 10th assist on an Edwards jumper to give the Huskies their first lead since early in the second. The suffocating UConn defense continued to snuff Iowa’s offense as it took a 61-57 lead into the final quarter.
Clark evened the game with her first second half points and Hannah Stuelke took the lead back with a board and score. Martin extended the advantage to five with a long shot, but Fudd stopped the bleeding with a triple. Ducharme and Lopez-Senechal each hit from deep, Muhl forced a turnover and the Huskies were up nine on a 13-0 run, six from Ducharme. Clark found herself wide open for a three on a miscommunication and Fudd silenced the potential run with another trey.
Clark hit a wild three from deep to cut it to seven and she tried to push off Edwards to get free again, but was called for an offensive foul. Marshall cut it to five with a two, but the Huskies managed the free-throw game well, winning 86-79.
As has been the theme for the year, Fudd was just fantastic in the second half. She failed to find her rhythm in the first few frames, but when it was time to turn it on, she pulled through. Amazingly, even with her great scoring efforts so far, Fudd still hasn’t put out a complete game. There’s reason to believe she could stretch a single-game total out to 50 if she played a game as well as she has for a few halves this season, but only time will tell.
Another big time performer was Muhl, who notched 13 assists. It was her third straight game with double-digit assists and as the team’s shot caller, keeping her season average above 10 is within reason.
Although Edwards didn’t have the most stellar second half, she continued to produce and helped keep the Huskies afloat when things weren’t going swimmingly. Her overall line was impressive, as she notched her third straight double-double and her fourth of the season with 20 points, 13 rebounds and six assists. A shell of herself last year, Fudd has seriously turned it on as of late to become UConn’s lead big this season.
Ducharme was also a pleasant surprise Sunday, getting a season-high 15 points. She hadn’t looked great before the Iowa game, still struggling with neck stiffness, but is starting to put it together and will continue to look to do so in the coming games.
The Huskies get a few days to rest before they return home to take on Providence this Friday, Dec. 2, at 7 p.m. at Gampel Pavilion.