On Dec. 5, 2021, Paige Bueckers sustained a knee injury late in a home win against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish that sidelined her for over two months. 364 days later, an apparent knee injury befell Azzi Fudd and kept her out of action in the second half of a loss against the Irish. This cast a large shadow over the entire weekend, which included opening conference play with a win against the Providence Friars.
Despite the injury and her not playing in the second half, head coach Geno Auriemma does not express major concern about Fudd’s status.
“I think she will be alright,” Auriemma commented. “She tried to go again [after playing almost four minutes in the second quarter], but obviously it did not look like she could move, so rather than take any chances, I thought we should take some precautions instead.”
Before adding another chapter in the historic rivalry with Notre Dame however, the Huskies opened their Big East slate against the Friars. Aubrey Griffin scored 10 of the team’s 29 points in the first quarter as UConn jumped out to an 8-0 run in the opening three minutes and never looked back.
Providence had no answer for a potent Huskies’ offense that scored 54 first-half points with five players scoring at least five points. Despite the offensive fireworks, it would be Lou Lopez-Senechal who generated the most noise from the sellout crowd. Lopez-Senechal marched down the court following a missed basket and drained a three-pointer as the buzzer sounded, causing Gampel Pavilion to erupt in applause.
Lopez-Senechal continued to turn it up as she scored all 10 of her second half points in the third quarter while making half of UConn’s six field goals. After playing toward the end of four different games, Ines Bettencourt scored her first career points when she drained a three-pointer early in the fourth quarter. She drained another three later in the period and the Huskies routed the Friars 98-53, scoring their most points in a Big East game since beating the Butler Bulldogs 103-35 in 2021.
Everyone contributed offensively as Griffin and Lopez-Senechal led the way with 18 points while Fudd scored 16 with three shots from beyond the arc. Aaliyah Edwards picked up her fifth double-double of the season with 14 points and 10 boards while Griffin had her first in two seasons with 10 rebounds. Nika Muhl recorded her fourth straight game with double-digit dimes as she made 12 of them.
Grace Efosa led Providence with 11 points off the bench while Logan Cook had 10 and eight rebounds. Olivia Olsen finished close to a double-double with eight points and eight rebounds while Janai Crooms had four points and seven assists. The Friars shot 38% from the field.
Two days later, UConn played in its fourth top 10 matchup of the season as they visited the seventh-ranked Fighting Irish in the Jimmy V Women’s Classic. After a 19-point Husky victory in Storrs last year, Notre Dame looked to end a two-game losing streak.
Despite both teams struggling to make a basket in the first five minutes, Olivia Miles made an immediate impact on the game, scoring 13 points in the first quarter. UConn seldom found itself in a hole, but momentum swung in the Irish’s favor when Fudd had to check out due to her knee injury. Following the first media timeout, Edwards accidentally got pushed into Fudd’s right knee by KK Bransford and trainers checked her out before she went to the locker room.
Everything came up Notre Dame in the second quarter as the Huskies were stunned by Fudd’s absence. Even with Fudd returning to play nearly four minutes, the Irish dominated the frame as they outscored UConn 23-11 and limited it to three field goals.
Momentum in the game shifted both ways in the third quarter. The Huskies found their footing as they went on a 16-5 run while crashing the glass and forcing turnovers. Notre Dame burned a timeout after Griffin buried a three to cut the deficit to single digits, which temporarily stopped the bleeding before Ayanna Patterson made it a 12-2 run on two free throws.
But then Miles got assessed an intentional foul after elbowing Muhl in the face. Initially called an offensive foul, this allowed Lopez-Senechal to make it a five-point game on two free throws and gave the Huskies the ball with a chance to make it a one-possession game. However, Sonia Citron’s steal and Griffin getting fouled jolted Notre Dame’s offense awake as Miles got back to making shots and they finished the quarter on a 9-2 run.
Despite doing everything to have a chance to win late in the game, including bringing in Amari DeBerry for five minutes, the Huskies lost their first game of the season 74-60. The 14-point win is the largest margin of victory for the Irish against UConn since 2001, when they won 90-75 in the Final Four, and gives Niele Ivey her first win against the program as the head coach.
Miles added her name to the historic rivalry with 21 points on 10-18 shooting with eight rebounds and four assists to boot. Maddy Westbeld nearly earned a double-double with 17 points and nine boards while Lauren Ebo had 12 off the bench.
Notre Dame dominated every part of the game, outrebounding the Huskies 39-26 and outscoring them 46-16 in the paint. Lopez-Senechal led UConn with 21 points in 40 minutes. Edwards did not obtain a double-double, being limited to five rebound despite scoring 14 points, while Muhl picked up 11 points and just five assists.
The non-conference gauntlet only continues for the Huskies (6-1, 1-0 Big East) who welcome head coach Carla Berube back to her alma mater and the Princeton Tigers to Storrs on Thursday, Dec. 8 at 7 p.m.