In each of their past 28 tries before this year, the UConn women’s basketball team has advanced to the Sweet 16, a testament to their longstanding dominance in the first weekend and the sport as a whole. This season was no different, as the Huskies came out in both rounds and got the job done. Making this all the more special, they got to do it at home in front of their loyal fans. On Monday night, the No. 2 seeded Huskies took care of No. 7 seed Baylor 77-58 in front of a sold-out Gampel Pavilion.
“There was a period of time during that game where I thought we were in really big trouble because we were having so much trouble executing the defensive gameplan,” coach Geno Auriemma noted. “We came out in the 2nd and I don’t think there was ever a time when I didn’t think we’d win. It’s one of the more gratifying wins I’ve had in this building.”
Connecticut outrebounded the Bears 42-31, indicative of their effort and size on the interior. They also took advantage of their offensive boards when they did come, scoring 13 second- chance baskets to Baylor’s four. The Bears outshot UConn from beyond the arc, hitting 12 triples, but it wasn’t enough to pull off the upset and overcome their 9-32 mark from the inside.
Lou Lopez Sénéchal and Aaliyah Edwards helped the Huskies jump out to an early 4-0 run, but seven unanswered points from the Bears gave them the lead. An intentional foul gave Azzi Fudd a chance at a free throw and she followed it up with a massive three to tie it.
“I think everyone played an important role tonight,” Fudd mentioned. “It was important to stay aggressive and make sure to keep taking my shots.”
Fudd didn’t have a first half to remember, scoring a measly six points on 2-8 shooting from the field. She struggled into the beginning of the second half, but at a certain point, the switch flipped and Fudd became unstoppable. She was hitting all the shots she hit in her tear at the start of the season. She scored 16 in the half, en route to 22—her highest scoring total since November. If this Fudd is the one that the Huskies see for the rest of the tournament, they’ll have quite a few games left.
“Azzi is trying to be humble, but if she’s missing 100 shots in a game, I’m still getting her the ball at the end for the win,” Nika Mühl said of Fudd. “She has a perfect shot. Azzi got hot today and I can’t wait to see what she does for the rest of the tournament.”
Baylor took the lead back with a triple as things began to go back and forth. After the Huskies briefly got ahead, Baylor stormed back, getting ahead by six. A 7-0 UConn run fueled by a Caroline Ducharme three and two shots by Edwards helped the home squad get back in the driver’s seat, and the Bears were forced to burn a timeout.
Edwards picked up her third foul late in the first half, facing an enduring struggle to stay on the court. When she did play, she looked like the All-American she was tabbed as just last week. The Canadian notched 19 points on a hyper-efficient 9-11 from the field, although posting a plus/minus of just two. If this is an off-game for the breakout junior, it’s scary to imagine what this team is capable of when she’s on her A-game.
More makes from a number of different Huskies helped open up a nine point cushion and it felt like Connecticut finally began to put together some momentum. Alas, this was snuffed as fast as it began, with Baylor scoring six and drawing Edwards’ third foul. With mere seconds left in the half, Mühl took the ball up the court and tossed up a deep prayer, which was answered, as the Huskies entered the break up five.
That was Mühl’s lone field goal of the game, but her impact reached far beyond the point-column. She dished out a team-high 10 assists and added a pair of steals, with her effort and energy making an impression on everyone in the arena. She was the most intense player and, as usual, it rubbed off on the rest of the team positively. Mühl has reliably been the Huskies’ leader and rock and she led them to victory with purpose Monday.
Very early in the half, Ja’Mee Asberry erupted for a three, then got a steal and score, leading to a UConn timeout. Fudd was a massive part of the Huskies’ response, scoring four points, which Dorka Juhász followed with a one that set Gampel Pavilion on fire.
It felt like it took years, but after two Fudd misses and two Aubrey Griffin offensive boards all in one posession, the sophomore got her first three of the night without hesitation. Then another. And a layup too. All of a sudden Connecticut was up by 12 going into the final frame, seemingly with the game in hand.
Ducharme rattled off a layup and a deep ball to start the fourth and Edwards got three points the old fashioned way as Baylor continued to stay just within striking distance. Edwards made a few more shots from the interior and from there the game was out of range, as the Huskies finished with a 19 point win.
A final note on the game is that it’ll be the last ever played on the current Gampel Pavilion court, as it is being replaced after the season concludes. Next up for UConn is No. 3 seed Ohio State, Juhász’s former team Saturday.