Women’s Basketball: Caroline Ducharme’s return fuels No. 6 Huskies’ comeback against Creighton

2/5/23 WBB fs USC by Erin Knapp The UConn Women’s basketball team takes on South Carolina at the Hartford XL Center on Sunday, Feb. 5. Despite leading in the first quarter and tying in the second, UConn was defeated 81-77 by South Carolina. This is the first time the two teams have played against each other since the final game of March Madness in 2022, when South Carolina beat UConn.

4.8 seconds left on the clock and Caroline Ducharme.

That is what it took for the No. 6 UConn Women’s Basketball to snatch a 62-60 victory from the Creighton Blue Jays in a pivotal Big East conference battle. As the sophomore drove to the lane trying to make the potential game-winning basket, Carly Bachelor got assessed a shooting foul that sent Ducharme to the line. Facing the biggest opportunity of her collegiate career, Ducharme did not shy away from the spotlight and buried two crucial go-ahead free throws.

“She is just one tough individual who is not at all what she looks like,” head coach Geno Auriemma said about Ducharme. “When the pressure’s on and when it is most important, she finds a way to make a play.”

Fittingly, the game came down to two critical free throws after Aaliyah Edwards fouled Lauren Jensen with less than one second remaining. She had the chance to force overtime and silence a Gampel Pavilion crowd energized by UConn’s fourth-quarter comeback, but missed both free throws as Creighton got swept in the season series. Those two free throws from Ducharme, playing in her first game since December 31, were only part of a dominant final frame as she scored all 10 of her points on a perfect 3-3 shooting in seven minutes.

“It has been great to be back out there,” Ducharme said after missing the team’s last 13 games with a concussion.

Lou Lopez Senechal also came up huge in the final two minutes, making the go-ahead shot for the Huskies’ first lead of the half and tying the contest on a jumper in the final minute in response to a Morgan Maly three. Four days removed from a season-low five points against the Georgetown Hoyas, Lopez Senechal finished with 17 on 7-11 shooting despite making one three.

Both teams went back-and-forth in the opening five minutes, but the Huskies countered Jensen’s 5-0 run and four threes from the Blue Jays with a 4-0 run that helped them stay ahead in the first quarter. UConn started to separate themselves from the Blue Jays on both ends of the floor throughout most of the second quarter. In over five minutes, five different players made a bucket as the Huskies went on an 11-0 run while coming up with several steals and defensive rebounds. With nine healthy players for the first time since December 21, it seemed as though UConn had overcome their second quarter woes and would rout Creighton like they did in their first meeting.

But even as the deficit they faced stretched further and further, Creighton rallied as halftime approached. It started with a driving layup from Kiani Lockett and another three from Jensen to end the Huskies’ run and start one of their own. Not even a second-chance free throw from Nika Muhl could stop the Blue Jays as Rachel Saunders buried a triple to take a two-point deficit into the locker rooms.

With momentum on their side following that three, Creighton came out aggressive and opened the third quarter on an 11-0 run in the first five minutes. While the Blue Jays cooled down following a hot start from the field, UConn could not capitalize off of their stout defense as they missed each of their first six shots.

After a two-minute scoring drought on either end of the floor, Dorka Juhasz made her first three to put the Huskies on the board in the frame and light a spark in the team. It did not come around for a few minutes as they continued to be shut down offensively, but two floaters and a free throw from Lopez Senechal gave UConn a fighting chance despite the nine-point deficit they faced.

Saunders gave Creighton their largest lead of the night with a jumper to begin the final frame, but threes from Muhl and Ducharme, the latter of which led to an uproar of applause, gave the Huskies more momentum. The Blue Jays continued to attack on offense with several threes and free throws, but UConn punched back by chipping into the lead.

In the blink of an eye, the Huskies made it a one-possession game as Ducharme’s three-point play got the crowd on their feet. Edwards capitalized off a Maly turnover by scoring in the paint to make it a one-point game, but once Jensen missed a three and Edwards secured the defensive rebound, Lopez Senechal provided the fuse that caused the sold-out crowd to explode. Even with a three from Maly to give Creighton the lead, the final minute tilted in the Huskies’ favor as they maintained sole possession of first place in the Big East.

“It is hard to win against really good teams that shoot the lights out,” Auriemma said about the game. “It is hard to win against really good teams that take advantage of your mistakes.”

While Edwards finished one rebound shy of a double-double, Juhasz finished three assists and three rebounds short of a triple-double while scoring 10 points with two threes. On a night where they were far from perfect, the Huskies turned the ball over seven times, marking the first time all season they recorded single-digit turnovers in a game.

Maly scored 13 points in the second half to finish with 15 points while both Saunders and Jensen scored 13 during the entire game. The Blue Jays shot twice as many threes as UConn at a better clip and outrebounded them 39-31, but could not overcome Emma Ronsiek’s absence from the scoresheet (the first time she has been shut out all year) or getting outscored 22-13 in the fourth quarter.

The Huskies (23-4, 15-1 Big East) go from one critical conference battle to another as they take on Maddy Siegrist and the No. 14 Villanova Wildcats in Pennsylvania. Tipoff is scheduled for Saturday, February 18, at 2:30 p.m. on Fox.

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