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UConn women’s basketball position preview: The backcourt

The Huskies have one of the deepest and most talented guard groups in the country.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn once again has one of the best backcourts in the country. While last year’s guards were among the nation’s elite, the addition of two top-five recruits in Azzi Fudd and Caroline Ducharme, alongside the already great core of Paige Bueckers, Christyn Williams, Evina Westbrook and Nika Mühl likely makes this the deepest and most talented guard groups in the nation. Here’s a look at what to expect from each of the Huskies’ guards this season:

Christyn Williams

We got a sample of Williams’ full potential in the 2021 postseason. Not only did she emerge as the Huskies’ best on ball defender, fully shutting down the toughest players in each of UConn’s Big East Tournament matchups, she was also explosive on the offensive end, scoring 20 or more points in each of the Huskies’ last three NCAA Tournament games.

The biggest point of emphasis for Williams this season will be consistency. If she can string together performances at the level she brought in March last year, she’ll easily be one of the best two-way players in the country. Williams did struggle with her shot some last season and while she didn’t want to blame the elbow that she had surgery on this offseason, it’s hard to imagine it didn’t have at least some impact on her shot. Expect to see a more consistent shooting performance from her this season as well.

Evina Westbrook

As good as she is on the court, the leadership Westbrook brings to this team is probably the most critical part of her impact. Strictly in basketball terms, Westbrook has a knack for doing exactly what UConn needs of her each night and she makes her presence felt on both ends of the court regardless of whether it shows up in the stat sheet.

Westbrook was also the most efficient scorer inside the arc in UConn’s backcourt last season, shooting 57.7 percent from two-point range. Her three point shooting is streaky at times, but if she can knock down shots from deep on a consistent basis this season, she’ll be one of three or four players on the court that have to be guarded everywhere on the floor.

Additionally, Westbrook commented in the offseason that she didn’t have full confidence in her knee last year, but that has improved going into this season. It will be interesting to see how that translates into her game on the court.

Paige Bueckers

Consensus National Player of the Year, 20.0 points per game, 12.9 Win Shares — it’s hard to imagine how Bueckers gets better from her freshman season. While her total points may decline a bit with the Huskies’ depth, Bueckers is still the best offensive weapon on this team with her ability to create her own shots and knock down threes at a high volume more efficiently than almost anyone in the country.

While her scoring may decrease, expect Bueckers’ assist numbers to improve in 2021-22. She already led UConn last season with a team high 5.8 dimes per game, but this year’s roster offers even more opportunities for her to set up her teammates for success.

The one area of her game where Bueckers can make the biggest improvement is on the defensive end. She’s already the best player in the country, but if she can become a stronger one-on-one defender, it will be hard to argue against her repeating for this year’s national player of the year awards.

Nika Muhl

Muhl’s presence on the floor is something that can’t be replicated by any other player in the Huskies’ lineup. She brings a defensive intensity which changes the Huskies’ look on the floor and can impact the game quickly. This was on full display in the exhibition game where Muhl came up with a steal and transition bucket within seconds of taking the court.

Muhl’s minutes may decrease this season given the sheer amount of talent in UConn’s backcourt, but expect her to still play substantial minutes and be a critical part of the Huskies’ rotation. In addition to her defense, her ability to distribute on the offensive end as a pass first player is extremely valuable on a roster with so many scoring options.

Azzi Fudd

Sunday’s exhibition game confirmed that Fudd’s jumper is as smooth as advertised. She shot 50 percent from deep, knocking down three triples. Fudd’s 3-point shooting alone has the ability to change the game for UConn but it’s unlikely her role will be limited to that.

Other than her shot, the most striking part about Fudd’s game is her commitment on the defensive end. She takes pride in playing defense and brings a focus on the other end of the floor that’s not typical in a freshman which, combined with the shooting ability that has her tabbed as a generational talent, should make Fudd among the most important pieces in UConn’s backcourt.

Caroline Ducharme

While much of the attention for this recruiting class has focused on Fudd, Ducharme is also likely to be an important part of the Huskies’ rotation as a freshman. At 6-foot-2, Ducharme’s size presents the option for UConn to stretch the floor when they play her at the four. Doing so also lets the Huskies to play four guards at once, allowing them to take full advantage of the depth of backcourt talent on the roster.

Saylor Poffenbarger

Poffenbarger sits at the bottom of the guard rotation, with six players ahead of her who will likely play significant minutes. It’ll be tough for Poffenbarger to break into the rotation on this year’s squad — especially considering she’s dealt with a host of injuries and ailments. For this year, it will be interesting to see what Poffenbarger can accomplish in the minutes she will get.