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UConn WBB Weekly: Five bold predictions for the season

Plus some team updates from Geno Auriemma, good news for UConn fans outside SNY’s market and more.

Courtesy of UConn Athletics

Welcome to the UConn WBB Weekly, a recap of everything that happened in the world of UConn women’s basketball over the past week.

The Weekly is a newsletter! Subscribe to get it in your inbox every Thursday at 7 a.m. before it hits the site.

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From The UConn Blog and Storrs Central:

Last week’s Weekly:

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In the news

SNY announces out-of-market streaming information for UConn games

Good news for Huskies’ fans outside SNY’s regional market: The network announced that it will air all UConn women’s basketball games on the Fox Sports app for out-of-market viewers. In the past, those games had been on ESPN3. SNY’s primary market consists of Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Fans will need to be “authenticated subscribers who have FOX as part of their television package” and must sign in with their TV provider credentials on the app to view the game, according to the release.

For viewers inside SNY’s market, they can still watch games either on SNY or on the NBC Sports app.

Muhl dealing with a foot injury

Geno Auriemma said on his weekly Coach’s Show with ESPN radio that freshman guard Nika Muhl has been out for the last three or four days (from Tuesday) with a foot injury.

“Hopefully she’ll be ready to go on Saturday,” Auriemma said.

The coach also said that Evina Westbrook still isn’t 100 percent.

Stewart named SI Sportsperson of the Year

Breanna Stewart can’t stop winning awards. After claiming the WNBA title and WNBA Finals MVP this past season, the former UConn superstar was one of five people to be named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year as an “Activist Athlete”. Stewart earned the honor along with NFL players/doctor Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Lebron James, Patrick Mahomes and tennis star Naomi Osaka.

Stewart is actually the second UConn graduate to earn the honor. In 1999, the US Women’s Soccer National Team was named the Sportsperson of the Year after winning the World Cup that summer. Sarah Whalen, who starred for the Huskies’ women’s soccer team from 1994-97, was on the team.


Five bold predictions for UConn women’s basketball’s season

If all goes well over the next two days, UConn women’s basketball will finally begin the 2020-21 season on Saturday against UMass Lowell. With no media access into practices, exhibition games canceled and seven new players on the roster, this edition of the Huskies is quite an enigma.

However, that won’t stop us from making five bold predictions on the upcoming season anyways. Feel free to bookmark this so you make fun of me at the end of the year if I’m way off the mark about anything.

Note: Later this week, keep an eye out for our staff roundtables where we predict who leads the team in scoring, how well Paige Bueckers does, who starts and more as well as our over/unders, where we take guesses on imaginary prop bets. We also made plenty of season predictions on the latest edition of our Chasing Perfection Podcast.

1. Aubrey Griffin gets All-American consideration

UConn women’s basketball has had at least one AP All-American every season since 2008. Though no Huskies made the AP’s Preseason All-American team, there’s enough talent on the roster to figure that at least one player will earn that honor.

Christyn Williams is the likeliest candidate considering she’s a former No. 1 prospect entering her junior season as the team’s top returning scorer. Olivia Nelson-Ododa could also be in the mix, though the number of elite bigs in the country might make it difficult for her to break through.

But a dark horse possibility? Aubrey Griffin. Though she was plenty inconsistent as a freshman, there were times that she looked truly unstoppable — like the 25 point, 12 rebound performance against Seton Hall or the 15 point, 16 rebound effort in the AAC Tournament.

Griffin is already a handful defensively and on the boards. If she has a steady offensive game this year, she’ll be a force for the Huskies.

2. Nika Muhl will start a game (and not due to injury)

UConn has a massive hole at point guard without Crystal Dangerfield’s departure and no obvious choice to fill it. Evina Westbrook is the veteran option, though Auriemma hasn’t exactly sounded optimistic about the health of her knee. Paige Bueckers is the top recruit in the nation and has drawn rave reviews from both coaches and teammates alike throughout the preseason, but she’s still a freshman.

However, Muhl has quietly slid under the radar. Though she’s also a rookie, the difference between her and Bueckers is that the Croatian point guard is older than a typical freshman at 19 years old and played in a professional league prior to UConn — where she recorded an absurd stat line of 11.7 points, 7.2 assists and 5.4 rebounds in the Women’s Adriatic Basketball Association.

So far, teammates have frequently brought up Muhl’s passing abilities unprompted while Auriemma praised her competitiveness and intensity. He also noted that Muhl, Bueckers and Edwards were ahead of the other freshmen prior to the shutdown.

At some point this season, Bueckers is bound to hit a rough patch and Westbrook remains a question mark. Because of that, Muhl will earn at least one start due to her play, not because of an injury.

3. UConn will have its deepest team in years

Over the last few years, Auriemma has employed a short rotation with just six or seven players max. But with a talented group of six freshmen to augment five veterans, UConn is poised to have a deeper bench than we’ve come to expect. With the four returners and either Westbrook or Bueckers likely to start, that means nearly every freshman will come off the bench.

Throughout the preseason, Bueckers, Edwards and Muhl have distinguished themselves from their classmates and all project to play plenty of minutes this season. Add in that Auriemma’s recent scouting report of Mir McLean sounds eerily similar to what was Griffin as a freshman and it’s likely she’ll factor in as well.

All together, those are nine players that are in line for more than just garbage time minutes. That would result in the Huskies having one of their deepest squads in recent memory.

4. Olivia Nelson-Ododa will have the best shot-blocking season in program history

Despite Nelson-Ododa’s ups and downs on the court and the earlier-than-expected end to last season, she still finished with the eighth-most blocks in a single season in program history with 100.

Unfortunately, the junior won’t have a chance to chase that record against this year. In a normal season, the Huskies typically play 35+ games but amid the pandemic, they’ll be lucky to even surpass 20, which means nearly all the program’s single season records are safe.

Even still, Nelson-Ododa will block shots at a rate this year that, if extrapolated over a full season, would give her the single season record.

5. UConn won’t lose a game in the regular season

Okay, I’ll admit I’m cheating here. I’m not predicting UConn will beat both Baylor and South Carolina (though its not like either of those teams have exactly lit the world on fire so far). I think the Big East will either transition to a conference-only schedule or a bubble which would cancel those two games. The Huskies won’t lose to a Big East team this season (or anytime in the near future), so they’ll finish the regular season undefeated.

But I will say this: UConn will beat South Carolina if that game does happen.


Best of social media

Sports Illustrated’s cover with Breanna Stewart on it:

This is art:

Crystal Dangerfield’s a Jump(wo)man now:

Here’s a fun fact:

Quotables

Geno’s evaluations of two of the Huskies’ freshmen:

On Mir McLean: “[She] is a consistent rebounder. She’s a consistent offensive and defensive rebounder. She’s probably as good as anybody on our team at ‘Go get the ball.’ She’s consistently good at slashing to the basket. She just doesn’t [inaudible] about our offense yet. She’s still trying to figure that one out. But defensively, rebounding the ball, attacking the basket when she has the chance, those are things that come natural to her.”

On Paige Bueckers: “I think Paige [is more consistent] than anyone else (in the freshman class). She’s got a really good feel for the game. She’s got a great sense and she’s a really good offensively player so she’s comfortable because she knows she can make shots from different parts of the floor. She sees everybody who’s open. Very, very rarely does Paige miss an open man. So she’s probably been the most consistent.”

Scoreboard

Thursday, Dec. 3

No. 8 NC State 54, No. 1 South Carolina 46

Friday, Dec. 4

No. 5 Louisville 116, No. 20 DePaul 75

Marquette 89, Providence 40

Saturday, Dec. 5

South Florida 67, No. 6 Mississippi State 63

Providence 73, Butler 52

Sunday, Dec. 6

Creighton 88, Butler 41

Villanova 74, St. John’s 65

Wednesday Dec. 9

No. 19 Michigan 93, Butler 54

AP Poll

  1. Stanford (+1)
  2. Louisville (+3)
  3. UConn (—)
  4. NC State (+4)
  5. South Carolina (-4)

Other notes:

  • UConn added two first-place votes despite not playing a game.
  • Stanford picked up 34 first-place votes while Louisville and NC State grabbed two each as well.
  • Baylor dropped three spots to No. 7. DePaul fell four spots to No. 24.
  • None of the Huskies’ other opponents received a vote.