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UConn WBB Weekly: Five bold predictions for the 2021-22 season

Dropping some hot takes about how the Huskies will perform this year.

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Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

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Five bold predictions for UConn’s 2021-22 season

The countdown is officially on.

On Sunday, UConn women’s basketball will take the court for the first time this season for an exhibition against Fort Hays State before hosting Arkansas in its official opener one week later.

That means it’s time to make some bold predictions. Last year, we went just 2/5, correctly guessing that Nika Mühl would start a game based on merit, not due to injury, and that the Huskies would have their deepest team in years.

The misses were pretty bad, though. We thought Aubrey Griffin would gain All-American consideration (she didn’t come close), Olivia Nelson-Ododa would have the best shot-blocking season in program history (she had the fewest rejections of her career) and UConn wouldn’t lose a regular-season game (Arkansas got in the way of that).

That won’t stop us from trying again this year.

1. Paige Bueckers will improve her numbers despite a stronger supporting cast

As a freshman, Bueckers became one of six UConn players to average 20.0+ points per game in a single season, joining Maya Moore (2010-11), Kerry Bascom (1988-89, ‘89-90, ‘90-91), Nykesha Sales (1997-98), Napheesa Collier (2016-17, ‘18-19) and Katie Lou Samuelson (2016-17).

Until Christyn Williams emerged in the postseason, Bueckers was UConn’s only reliable scoring option and often had to carry the team — especially in big games, such as the Huskies’ win against South Carolina in which she scored all nine of the team’s points in overtime.

This season, Williams should be more equipped to carry the scoring load while further development from returners and the additions of Dorka Juhász, Azzi Fudd, and Caroline Ducharme should give Bueckers a better supporting cast to work with. While the guard is naturally a pass-first player, this won’t result in a dip in her numbers.

Bueckers will maintain her scoring average and will see the rest of her stat line improve as a sophomore en route to a second straight sweep of the national player of the year awards.

2. Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Christyn Williams will be named All-Americans

The first three years of Nelson-Ododa and Williams’ careers have been wildly inconsistent. Both players have shown flashes of greatness but have also been hampered by poor performances in big moments.

Williams seemed to finally turn the corner during the postseason when she became an elite secondary scorer to Bueckers and a lockdown defender. For Nelson-Ododa, one of the worst performances of her career came in the Final Four loss to Arizona.

Still as seniors, both players will finally put it all together. Williams will play like she did in the Big East and NCAA Tournaments all season long while Nelson-Ododa will finally figure out how to perform at a high level night-in and night-out with more help around her in the frontcourt. As a result, both players will be named All-Americans. Williams will be a consensus selection, Nelson-Ododa will not.

3. Evina Westbrook will record a triple-double

For as successful as UConn has been over the last 25+ years, triple-doubles have been a rare occurrence. There have been just five in the history of the program: Laura Lishness vs. Providence in 1989, Stef Dolson vs. Oregon in 2013, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis vs. St. Joseph’s in 2014, Kiah Stokes vs. ECU in 2015, and Gabby Williams vs. ECU in 2017.

Westbrook came close last season. In the Sweet Sixteen vs. Iowa, she had 17 points, 10 assists, and 9 boards. Considering the NCAA Tournament was the best Westbrook had felt all season, that performance could be a preview of what’s to come during her senior year.

As UConn’s do-it-all Swiss Army Knife, Westbrook is used to racking up numbers in a lot of different categories. Because of that, she will become the sixth player to record a triple-double in program history.

4. UConn will be one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the nation

In 2019-20, UConn led the nation in 3-point percentage. Last season, the Huskies struggled to consistently knock down shots from beyond the arc. Bueckers hit at a 46.4 percent clip from three — and was responsible for over a quarter of the team’s makes — but the rest of the team only made 32.1 percent from deep, which would’ve ranked 125th nationally.

Luckily, UConn added some reinforcements over the offseason. Azzi Fudd is already regarded as an elite 3-point shooter and her jump shot has been praised by both Geno Auriemma and Steph Curry. Caroline Ducharme is also a threat from the perimeter while Dorka Juhász can stretch the floor, too.

Those newcomers, along with some improvement from Nelson-Ododa, Westbrook, and Williams, will help turn the Huskies into a team that couldn’t rely on 3-pointers into one of the most dangerous in the country from behind the arc.

5. UConn will lose a game to a team other than South Carolina

UConn has a loaded non-conference slate that will potentially feature two matchups against preseason No. 1 South Carolina as well as five other games against teams in the AP Poll. While the Huskies, along with the Gamecocks and Stanford, are clearly a step above everyone else in the country, they still have a young team with freshmen and sophomores accounting for nine of the 14 players on the roster.

Although some of those sophomores played important roles last season, there will be some growing pains. Considering how difficult the schedule is, UConn will slip up at some point and drop a game to a team that isn’t South Carolina. Oregon and UCLA feel like the most likely candidates.

In fact, it might be beneficial for UConn to lose a game or two during the regular season. The loss to Arkansas last year proved to be an important wake-up call for the Huskies and from there, they turned the season around.

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