Women’s Basketball: No. 5 Huskies look to reenergize against Providence

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1/29/2023 WBB vs. Villanova by Sofia Sawchuk. The UConn women’s baskeball team narrowly comes away with a win against Villanova, capturing a 63-58 victory at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn. on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2023. The Huskies’ win broke Villanova’s 9 game win streak, while adding to UConn’s win streak of 13 games on the season.

“Today was the first game all year where we looked really tired,” Huskies head coach Geno Auriemma said on Sunday after their narrow win over No. 21 Villanova. “After that first quarter you could see our energy drained. Somehow, some way, they found a way against a team that wasn’t going away, regardless of what we were doing.” 

After a brutal stretch that saw the Huskies play four games in nine days, they’re understandably tired. Not to mention the fact that Auriemma is really only using five players, all of whom played over 90% of the games against Villanova and Tennessee. It’s hard to see this strategy as sustainable, and it showed against the Wildcats. For the middle 20 minutes of play, Connecticut looked exhausted. There was an eight-minute stretch in which they didn’t score, and there were times when the outcome looked to be seriously in question. Villanova is a good team, but UConn shouldn’t need any late-game heroics to get past them at home. 

Thankfully for the Huskies, they’re moving back into a rhythm that doesn’t have them scheduled for more than two games in a week for the rest of the regular season. They start this final stretch with a road trip to Providence, Rhode Island to take on the Friars. Last year, the team’s bus broke down en route to the state capital, an event that foreshadowed a rough game that saw the Huskies win by just eight. 

The Friars currently sit at No. 120 in the NET rankings and are having a relatively poor season, sitting at 13-10 overall and 4-8 in conference. The Huskies already welcomed Providence to Gampel Pavilion earlier this year and gave them a 98-53 beating. The Friars performed as one of the worst teams in the conference, losing games to two of the bottom three teams. The only surprise was when they went to Omaha, Nebraska to play Creighton, a borderline top-25 team, and took them down 79-75. Otherwise, they haven’t been impressive as the Huskies look to blow them out of their own gym. 

Providence’s team effort is spearheaded by Janai Crooms, who leads them with 12 points and four assists per game. She had an early three-game stretch where she averaged over 22 points, but since then hasn’t passed the 20-point mark. Arguably her best game in her career came in the close loss to Connecticut last year when she erupted for 27. Crooms has been held to single digits in three of her last six games — not a positive trend going into this one. If the Friars want to come close, she’ll need to break out of her slump and get considerable support from her teammates. 

The candidate most likely to step up alongside Crooms is Olivia Olsen. The 6-foot-3 sophomore has done a nice job with her consistency this year, even if her team hasn’t been great. Before the past two games, she had an eight-game stretch where she scored no less than 10 and no more than 13. Two such games were double doubles. Recent Wooden Award candidate Aaliyah Edwards will likely provide her greatest challenge of the season. 

Even though Edwards is the one getting all the national recognition, the player to watch for the Huskies is Lou Lopez-Sénéchal. The guard has been phenomenal for the Huskies all year, but had an impressive streak broken in the Villanova win. She has scored in double figures in every game this year, but netted just six against the Wildcats. The fatigue probably got to her after playing so many minutes in such a short span; look for her to bounce back against a Friar squad that won’t show much resistance. 

The teams will face off at 7 p.m. on SNY at Alumni Hall. 

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