This past weekend, the No. 8 UConn women’s basketball team traveled to Raleigh, N.C. for their second contest of the season. Given the Huskies’ typical track record against unranked teams, it wasn’t expected to be much of a game, even if State was better than anticipated. After all, last year when the teams played, Connecticut won by a whopping 22 points, when the Wolfpack was ranked No. 10.
Instead, Sunday, UConn gave up an early lead, and things fell apart in the third quarter when Paige Bueckers picked up her third foul. They ultimately put themselves too far behind to come back. This year’s roster was supposed to resemble all-time great Husky teams coming into the season. On paper, they still do. But their struggles against N.C. State resembled another squad instead: the 2021-2022 Huskies.
Many remember that team as the one that went to the national championship game, but they were also one that was mired by early struggles. Those hitches weren’t for a lack of talent; the team had three No. 1 overall recruits on the roster. They were a result of Bueckers. Bueckers is not the problem, though. She has—and will almost always be—fantastic. Nobody wearing a Connecticut jersey did more Sunday to contribute to the futile winning effort.
However, Bueckers’ greatness leads to an entirely different issue: her teammates get too comfortable with her on the floor. Players with the capability of being aggressive, as many were last year, don’t do as much as is needed for the win. Sometimes, one or two players will come close to Bueckers’ production, but not as many as the team needs. None of this is an issue when playing poor in competition like Dayton or the bottom half of the Big East, but when a team like N.C. State comes around, problems arise, hence why Bueckers needed to score 27 points.
Think back to the team’s 2021 opener against Arkansas when Bueckers scored 34, 16 more than the next best on the team. Only two others had more than nine points. Or against South Florida when Bueckers had 21, Azzi Fudd had 18, Christyn Williams had 10 and nobody else scored more than five. Perhaps more notable was the loss to South Carolina when Bueckers scored 19, Evina Westbrook had 14 and nobody else broke 10.
Then came Bueckers’ injury that forced her off the floor for the next few months. While she was gone, others were forced to step up, though the team did have considerable growing pains. When Bueckers did return, the others knew how to contribute better alongside their star. It shouldn’t take something so extreme for the Huskies to succeed, but they need to find a similar revelation.
Aaliyah Edwards had 21 points, and freshman Qadence Samuels had 14 Sunday. That should be Edwards’ production on a nightly basis as a returning All-American, but Samuels shouldn’t need 14. She’s in her second game and is supposed to be the least talented of the freshmen. It wouldn’t be crazy to expect that total from KK Arnold or Ice Brady, both ranked in the top five coming out of high school, but early production needs to flow better from returners.
That’s why it’s concerning when those returners do so little. Fudd scored nine points on 13 shots, which can potentially be chalked up to an off-day shooting. She missed six of her seven threes, which tends to be her bread and butter. Caroline Ducharme, who has had a career plagued by injuries, also played poorly. She scored just two points and took three shots. The junior hasn’t looked like herself since sustaining a number of head injuries last season, but the Huskies need her to return to form if they want to make it back to glory land.
Aubrey Griffin and Nika Mühl, two seniors known for their abilities to impact the game without scoring, weren’t amazing either. Mühl had six assists, which is solid, but Griffin didn’t pull down boards like she often does and wasn’t as effective on defense. The pair combined for six points in 46 minutes, which is not enough, regardless of their role.
With all of this said, the match against the Pack could have been a fluke. It could have been a one-in-100 game where everything goes wrong. But it needs to not become a trend. If this team gets caught up in these old habits over and over again, this could be a rough season.
The Huskies have so many talented players. Five out of their nine players in the rotation finished as top 10 recruits in their class. One of the other four is an All-American, and another is a two-time Big East defensive POTY. There’s no shortage of ability. However, those who aren’t Bueckers need to step up throughout the game and make plays as they would if she wasn’t there. They can do it; it’s just all about keeping the foot on the gas so that things don’t fall apart the second Bueckers needs a moment of rest.