The Coleumn: Held back by injuries, a fully healthy Caroline Ducharme could be UConn’s X-factor 

UConn’s 2023-24 roster features eight players who ESPNW ranked among the nation’s top 15 recruits between the classes of 2019 and 2023. Photo by Zach Moller/The Daily Campus.

When the preseason polls came out ahead of Big East Media Day on Oct. 24, the UConn women’s basketball team had three Preseason All-Big East Team selections, the Preseason Big East Player of the Year in Paige Bueckers and the Preseason Freshman of the Year in KK Arnold. Junior guard Caroline Ducharme was not among those recognized, despite being on the Preseason All-Big East Team last year. 

UConn’s 2023-24 roster features eight players who ESPNW ranked among the nation’s top 15 recruits between the classes of 2019 and 2023. Five of those eight are five-star athletes with a 98 grade, with Bueckers and Azzi Fudd being the top recruits in their classes. Ducharme does not receive as much attention as others do despite being the No. 5 prospect in the Class of 2021, but that does not mean she has not shined in the spotlight. 

Starting with a 14-point fourth-quarter performance against the then-No. 24 Notre Dame Fighting Irish in 2021, the Massachusetts native took the college basketball world by storm as injuries started mounting around the Huskies’ program. From the Never Forget Tribute Classic versus the UCLA Bruins on Dec. 11 until the week Bueckers returned from a knee injury two months later, Ducharme scored in double figures all but once and buried at least one triple in every game. 

Her role diminished during the last week of the regular season and Connecticut’s run to the national championship game, but the 6-foot-2 guard earned an All-Big East Second Team selection along with her unanimous selection on the All-Big East Freshman Team. Ducharme’s scoring prowess took a step back as a sophomore, going from 9.8 points to 7.4 on average, but despite her rebounding increasing from 3.2 to 4.1 a game, something always held the Massachusetts native back. 

Part of the reason Ducharme saw an overall decline in her second year in Storrs occurred because of injuries. Notably suffering a concussion during a practice this past January and sitting out the season opener with neck stiffness, the junior guard played in just 23 games as a sophomore and has missed 19 across her two-year collegiate career thus far. But with no offseason surgery and three exhibition appearances as part of the team’s European foreign tour in August, all signs point toward a strong campaign for Ducharme. 

“She is in the best shape she has ever been,” head coach Geno Auriemma stated about the Massachusetts native. “She looks better than she has ever looked.” 

Ducharme participated in the three-point contest during First Night on Oct. 13, getting paired up with men’s basketball guard Cam Spencer for two rounds. Before Big East Media Day, she one-upped her performance in a scrimmage between teammates by shooting 8/9 from beyond the arc. 

“Everyone just loves how she is actually playing, and you can play alongside her instead of the uncertainty or the what-ifs,” Aaliyah Edwards said. 

While the junior guard can let it fly from downtown—her 59 triples over the past two years rank third on the team behind Fudd and senior Nika Mühl—her lengthy wingspan can go up against some of the nation’s best perimeter defenders and help her score from within the perimeter. 

“She is so long and versatile,” Fudd commented. “Her finishing around the basket in so many different ways is something that no one else can do.” 

It is more than just the offense doing the talking for the one social media calls “Carol Bird.” Through two years in Storrs, Ducharme has 153 defensive rebounds, 37 steals and 21 blocks, all of which came without recording a double-double or double digits in any of the three categories during any game. With how her practices have gone over the past few weeks, the junior guard might come close to those numbers in the upcoming season. 

“She is more active defensively,” Auriemma highlighted. “Maybe it was an optical illusion, but she was in a [defensive] stance for a whole possession [during practice]. She is working her butt off at both ends of the floor.” 

That work ethic might not earn the Milton, Massachusetts native a spot in the starting lineup because of the Huskies’ deep guard department, but it may provide a spark for the team while the stars catch a breather. Both the National Basketball Hall of Fame and the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association recognized this, putting Ducharme on the Cheryl Miller Award watch list given to the nation’s best small forward for the second straight season. 

“It is not easy going through what she has been through,” Auriemma noted. “I am thrilled where she is.” 

Edwards had the same sophomore slump that the Massachusetts native did last season but rebounded by earning Third Team All-American honors as a junior with 14 double-doubles to boot. While Ducharme might not have as big of a breakout season as the reigning Big East Tournament Most Outstanding Player had, especially with how much depth there is at the guard positions, she possesses as much value to the team’s success as the starting lineup does. 

“She has been working really hard in the weight room, in the training room, on the floor. You can definitely see a difference and improvement,” Fudd explained. “She is constantly proving to us that she can be relied on and be a key part of our team this year.” 

Whether that means being one of the first guards off the bench or checking in for a forward when Auriemma may opt for a small ball lineup, the many ways the Massachusetts native can be utilized on the court could throw a wrench in how opponents plan against UConn. With both a game-winning jumper and two deciding free throws under her belt, do not be surprised if Ducharme earns another All-Big East Second Team selection or puts up the potential game-winning shot come the postseason. 

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