The season came to an end for UConn women’s basketball with a 73-61 loss to Ohio State in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament. This is the first time that the Huskies will not be in the Final Four since 2008, ending their streak of 14 consecutive appearances.
Throughout the whole season, what led up to UConn’s final breaking point?
All of this started before the fall semester even began in Storrs. On Aug. 3, 2022, news broke that UConn star guard Paige Bueckers would miss the 2022-2023 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her left knee.
With Bueckers sidelined for the season, this left Nika Mühl, Caroline Ducharme, Azzi Fudd and Lou Lopez Sénéchal as the only guards on the team. On Aug. 26, 2022, Coach Geno Auriemma announced the late addition of Inês Bettencourt, a guard from Portugal. This gave UConn another body in their backcourt as the Huskies attempted to fill the gaps in the wake of Bueckers’ injury.
The injuries did not stop there for Connecticut as at the end of October, the Huskies announced that freshman Isuneh “Ice” Brady would miss the season after suffering a dislocated patella.
Already down two players before the season even began, the injuries continued to pile for UConn as the regular season commenced. In the second game of the regular season, Dorka Juhász broke her thumb. One positive UConn had going for them was star sophomore guard Fudd; she started the first six games of the season hot, being an offensive weapon. However, with a pair of knee injuries that happened at Notre Dame and Georgetown, Fudd missed 22 of UConn’s next 24 games. Then there’s Caroline Ducharme, who made her first appearance in 2023 on Feb. 23 against Creighton after missing 13 games with a concussion. Ducharme continued to deal with head and neck issues for two months after her initial return.
The only two players that have played in every game for the Huskies are Lopez Sénéchal and Aaliyah Edwards. However, there were still bumps in the road. Lopez Sénéchal had to leave during multiple games while dealing with aliments, and Edwards sustained an ankle injury against Xavier, causing her to sit out for the second half of the contest. After this, the Huskies had to reschedule their next game against DePaul since they only had six healthy players; the official Big East rule is that teams need seven available scholarship players to compete in a game.
The unfortunate occurrences did not end with the athletes and also extended to the coaching staff. Following the national anthem of the NC State game at the XL Center, Associate Head Coach Chris Dailey fainted on the sideline and had to be taken off the court by medial responders. At the end of November, Head Coach Geno Auriemma missed four games after the death of his mother and health issues came about as a result of his grieving period.
This was a year that the Huskies broke more streaks then they would have liked. They lost back-to-back games for the first time since 1993. They failed to reach the Final Four for the first time since 2007. They lost two Big East conference games for the first time since 2013.
Additionally, their final 10 regular season games were decided by 10 points or fewer, and they turned the ball over 608 times: the highest total since the 2002-03 season. Despite all the adversity this season brought, UConn still lost fewer games than 347 teams, 96% of the nation.
However, there are still so many positives that have come out of this season. For instance, consider Edwards’ transformation into an All-American player. After breaking her nose in the preseason, Edwards emerged with a face mask and dominated in the paint all season, averaging 16.0 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. Despite failing to record a single double-double last season, she totaled a whopping 14 double-doubles this season and was awarded the Big East Most Improved Player. In addition, after the Huskies won the Big East Tournament, Edwards earned Big East Tournament Most Outstanding Player as well as AP and USBWA Third Team All-Americans.
Another player of note is Mühl, who took full leadership of the team, carrying them through almost every game. Not only was she the team’s voice, she broke various assists records. Mühl reached a total of 284 assists this season, surpassing the program’s single-game and single-season assist record. The junior guard had 53 more assists than Sue Bird had in her record-breaking year with UConn, the previous holder of the single-season assist record before Mühl’s pure dominance.
On the other hand, Lopez Sénéchal came to UConn for one final year after spending four seasons with Fairfield. Through the constant injuries, she became one of the most important players and an offensive machine that couldn’t have been predicted in the preseason. Her highlighted performances were at Tennessee, where she dropped 26 points, and in the Sweet Sixteen game against Ohio State, where she scored 25 points in an attempt to keep the Huskies in the game.
Looking ahead to next season, Bueckers is on her road to recovery and is getting stronger every day to prepare for her senior season with UConn. The Huskies also have four incoming freshmen to add to next season’s team: 5-foot-9 point guard Kamorea “KK” Arnold, 5-foot-10 guard Ashlynn Shade, 6-foot-2 wing Qadence Samuels and 6-foot-4 forward Jana El Alfy.
El Alfy enrolled at UConn for the spring semester, practicing with the women’s basketball team for the remainder of the season. This time on the team allowed the Egypt native to get a feel for the faster pace of play of college basketball and be coached under Coach Auriemma with her teammates. This will only benefit El Alfy for when she finally makes her UConn debut at the start of next season.
In some eyes, this season could be considered a failure for UConn. On the other hand, given the adversity they’ve experienced in the last nine months, it is extremely impressive to look back on what they have accomplished; expect them to bounce back upcoming seasons.