On Tuesday, Feb. 21, the No. 4 UConn women’s basketball team lost to the St. John’s Red Storm 69-64 at the XL Center. It marked the first time since the 2012-13 campaign that the Huskies lost two or more conference games and the first time since 2011-12 that they lost to two different opponents in conference play. UConn had a lead in the third quarter and could have completed another comeback in the final minutes of regulation, but they ran out of gas.
Unfortunately, this has been a theme for the Huskies since Azzi Fudd suffered her second knee injury in mid-January. UConn has not scored more than 70 points in their last five games, their longest streak since 1992, and has not scored more than 80 in a game this month. The Huskies’ average points per game have not improved on a game-by-game basis since they beat the Tennessee Volunteers by 17 at the end of January. Their struggles spread far beyond the offense, one that has not shot over 50% from the field in their last five games. UConn averaged 14.7 turnovers across their first seven games of the season leading up to Fudd’s injury, but that number has ballooned to 17.22 with 10 different occasions of 20 or more turnovers.
No one can be blamed for what the Huskies have experienced this season; it mainly boils down to a matter of fortune. Paige Bueckers has played in 17 games since the start of the 2021-22 season, six of which came before she sustained a knee injury in 2021. In that same span, Fudd has played in twice as many games, but has missed 20 games this year with her own knee injury. There have only been 15 instances where both Bueckers and Fudd have played together, all of which came last season.
Those are not the only injuries UConn has had over the last two seasons, however. The Huskies have had 10 or more players available once this year, a win against the then No. 3 Texas Longhorns in their second regular-season game. While Aaliyah Edwards has missed zero games, other players have been out of action due to concussion protocol, COVID-19, broken thumbs and a slew of other injuries or unlucky issues. While all their cancelled games last year were due to COVID-19 issues or snow, UConn had one game postponed in early January because they had six healthy players, one less than the NCAA minimum.
Despite the absences of two No. 1 recruits, the Huskies have found ways to win and continue to be a top 10 team. UConn has walked into tough environments such as the Finneran Pavilion and D.J. Sokol Center in Big East play and escaped with wins multiple times. The Huskies found a way to stay close in some of their defeats as well, losing to the Wildcats by three points at the XL Center last year and to the Gamecocks by four in the same building in a national title rematch.
Part of the reason for their success comes down to the contributions everyone else has made, but they are starting to become exhausted and crack under the pressure. No one player is at fault, but because of the injuries they have experienced throughout the season, UConn has run the same starting lineup for 15 consecutive games. As a result, each starter has averaged 32 or more minutes throughout the regular season.
Muhl continues to close in on the single-season assists record set by Sue Bird in 2002, but the rate at which she picks up assists has slowed over the last few weeks. Known to rack up assists at will, Muhl has not had a game with more than 10 assists in the month of February but has come close to the mark multiple times. Lou Lopez Senechal has been the scoring guard the Huskies have relied on in the absence of Bueckers and Fudd, but she has had two games over the last 30 days where she scored in single digits. Those have been the only games where she did not score in double figures in a UConn jersey, but the graduate student has made seven threes in her last five games and shot better than 50% from the field just once in that span.
Dorka Juhasz has been the biggest contributor on both ends of the floor, reaching double figures all but once in the first two months of the calendar year. Juhasz has also collected a double-double in eight games since the start of 2023, highlighted by two contests where she had 17 boards while finishing a bucket shy of reaching the 20-point mark. Even though she has dominated offensively over her last five games, the graduate student has had multiple games where she shot under 30% from the floor.
Aaliyah Edwards has also had a strong stretch as she has obtained two double-doubles in her last four games. Despite being a force in the paint, Edwards shot better than 50% from the floor only once since the game against the Volunteers. After a very good stretch in the heart of conference play, Aubrey Griffin has been severely limited over her past three games. Part of that has to do with Caroline Ducharme’s return from concussion protocol, but the redshirt junior has scored 12 combined points on four field goals and one 3-pointer while grabbing exactly six rebounds every time.
Every starter has stepped up and made significant contributions given the circumstances, but these past few games have shown that it might not be enough for the Huskies to make a deep postseason run in March. With that in mind, UConn is going to need something, anything, to refuel them for the postseason. If they cannot get that support by the second weekend of March Madness, then their 14-year streak of Final Four appearances will be in severe jeopardy.
I would like Coach Auriema to get rid of all those weak sisters that cry injury constantly. Azzi Fudd should be transferred because all she wants to do is sit on the bench with Paige Bueckers and play.