Stratton’s Stand: How far will UConn WBB go this March? 

Illustration by Kaitlyn Tran/The Daily Campus

It may feel early to be talking about March, but if you look at the calendar, it’ll tell you that the second day of the Big East tournament is just 39 short days away. At this point, the UConn women’s basketball team is one of the more confusing teams in the country.  

They boast a 17-2 record going into Monday’s DePaul game that was not taken into account at the time this article was written. Looking at the team holistically, they have a legitimate argument for a No. 1, but injuries make it cloudy. They lost Paige Bueckers and Ice Brady before the season even started, leaving coach Geno Auriemma with just 10 players on day one – already pretty thin.  

Caroline Ducharme missed only one game due to a neck injury, but she didn’t look like herself again until getting a few games under her belt. When you top it off with the fact that neither Ines Bettencourt nor Amari DeBerry were truly ready to play this year, you’re down to seven players plus a recovering Ducharme. They played two of their first three games against top-10 opponents Texas and NC State, winning both comfortably.  

The biggest contributor was Azzi Fudd, who scored 64 points across the two outings. Fudd played out of her mind in her three full games against top-10 teams, averaging over 29 points. Others stepped up, but Fudd was the alpha, looking like an early favorite to take home national player of the year honors. Consistent with the Huskies’ luck as of late, Fudd injured her knee early in the loss to No. 7 Notre Dame and was out for a month. She came back for a game and a half and reaggravated it, now out indefinitely–a massive blow to the Huskies ahead of a tough stretch.  

During that span, Ducharme and Patterson each faced minor injuries too, missing chunks of time. The three players that have really stepped up amid all the absences are Aaliyah Edwards, Lou Lopez-Sénéchal and Dorka Juhász, although there are more. They have been keeping things afloat with their heroic efforts.  

Edwards has looked phenomenal this year. She had a promising freshman campaign and a letdown of a sophomore season, but she has really been big. One of two Huskies to not miss a game, Edwards averages 17 points, nine boards and three assists, growing her game. She’s now a capable shooter from 15 to 20 feet out, which has really opened things up for her. The defense can’t afford to leave her open from that range, so she’s able to either shoot if they’re giving her room or blow past them if they’re not. Edwards’ energy has been astronomically higher this year on the glass and it shows. 

The other player to not miss a game is Lopez-Sénéchal, who serves as a wonderful replacement guard with Bueckers and Fudd out. She shined last year at Fairfield and continues to do so in Storrs, scoring 17 points a game on 49% shooting from deep. Lopez-Sénéchal has been able to make the right plays and hit shots when UConn needs her to, also developing as a slasher. Not many would have expected her to have this significant of a role this year, but injuries and her stellar play have earned it for her. 

Juhász broke her thumb two games into the season, forcing her to sit for a month–a span of time that saw the Huskies lose their only two games. In the 12 games she has been active for, the Hungarian forward averages 14 points and a team-best 11 boards to go along with four assists and 1.5 blocks. She makes an impact in all facets of the game and can make defenses pay for not guarding her on the perimeter.  

It’s tough to say where the Huskies would be without these three, but Aubrey Griffin and Nika Mühl have also had greatly improved seasons. Looking at things from an NCAA tournament perspective, you end up with a similar issue as last year when Paige Bueckers was injured, but back for March.  

The team has played much of the year with just seven available players, but will likely have closer to nine or 10 when all is said and done. If we assume that Patterson and Ducharme are able to return to form shortly, that puts the team at nine. If–and this is a big if–Fudd is able to return before March and look anywhere near as good as she’s been when she’s been healthy, then they’re at 10.  

With this lineup back, the Huskies would have an incredible luxury. They’d have their true No. 1 option in Fudd on the floor right along with Edwards, Lopez-Sénéchal and Juhász, who have all taken turns being the top player. With Fudd still a ways away from being back, the other three have chances to get even better in five games against top-30 competition, including one against No. 1 South Carolina and a pair versus No. 22 Villanova.  

With all of this coming together, the ceiling feels like it would be as high as any other team not named South Carolina. No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 LSU are both undefeated, but there are cracks in both teams. There’s no reason the Huskies shouldn’t be able to get to the Elite Eight with everyone back (excluding Bueckers and Brady) and the Final Four is potentially attainable too. It’s hard to see them winning the title, but making it? Absolutely within reason.  

If Fudd doesn’t return, the final four streak of 14 could very well come to an end. The pieces are there with the starting lineup, but if they end up as a No. 2 seed and play a rough No. 1, an off shooting night wouldn’t leave any room for error. With the NCAA getting more crowded talent-wise, things aren’t getting any easier, even when Fudd is there. 

The team is excellent when they’re healthy and they may outperform the Huskies team that beat three top-10 teams in their first five games earlier this year. It’s hard to assess this early, but we should know more about Connecticut as the pieces start coming back together and the calendar rolls over to March.  

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