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Geno Auriemma breaks down UConn’s rotation battle ahead of exhibition game

The coached talked about which players are most likely to see important minutes this season.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

On Sunday, UConn women’s basketball will take on Fort Hays State in an exhibition game, which will be the first opportunity to see how Geno Auriemma divides up minutes among the roster.

On paper, the Huskies have a surplus of talent, which could make it difficult to find everyone enough playing time. The game will give the coaching staff more data to figure out which players can or can’t be trusted on the floor.

“As we practice more and as we get into the season and as we play games, you can start evaluating how people play in games,” he said. “Then you can really see what the rotation really looks like because in practice, there’s a lot of ups and downs.”

Plus, Auriemma doesn’t believe it’ll be much of a problem.

“I’m not worried about that. They (the players) probably are but I’m not worried about it because at the end when it’s crunch time, people that deserve it are going to get it,” he said. “Does that mean that everybody’s equally deserving? No. Some people are going to deserve it more than others.”

“All this stuff will play out,” he added later.

There does seem to be a group of 10 or so players separating themselves from everyone else, though. The ones who held big roles last season — Paige Bueckers, Aaliyah Edwards, Olivia Nelson-Ododa, Evina Westbrook and Christyn Williams — are going to continue to be central figures for UConn.

“The players that came back from last year are a little bit better and a little bit more experienced,” Auriemma said.

Two other returners — Aubrey Griffin and Nika Mühl — have both been hampered by injuries so far. Griffin hasn’t practiced much due to a high ankle sprain and still has no clear timetable for a recovery while Mühl has been battling through a foot issue.

Even with the injury and the backcourt additions of Azzi Fudd and Caroline Ducharme, Mühl doesn’t seem to be on the verge of losing her spot based on how Auriemma talks about her.

“Nika’s got an impact on our team that very few kids have. She’s got a voice on our team that very few kids have,” he said. “I envision her having that impact.”

“She plays harder than everybody else. She competes harder than other players. She may be physically tougher than the other kids,” Auriemma added. “So there’s a lot of things that go into her makeup that separate her from other kids on the team.”

Speaking of the freshmen, both Fudd and Ducharme have impressed in camp so far. For Fudd, she came in regarded as an elite 3-point shooter and has put that ability on full display so far — including in the scrimmage against Boston College, according to Auriemma. The coach just isn’t sure if the Huskies will take full advantage of that.

“I think because she’s a freshman and because she’s kind of quiet, that she probably hasn’t shown us how aggressive she can be. How many shots she can get,” Auriemma said. “So to me, ‘Is she going to make enough of them?’ is not an issue. It’s ‘Can we get her enough of them?’ And that’s partly on us and partly on her.”

Although Fudd is best known as a shooter, Auriemma also pointed out that the freshman has opened some eyes as a defender this preseason.

“Defensively, I think she’s really impressed everyone because no one’s ever talked about that aspect of her game. It’s always been in her ability to score, her ability to shoot the ball,” Auriemma said. “She was telling me the other day that for the longest time in high school, she liked being on defense better than offense. That was probably until every shot started going in.”

Similarly, Ducharme is best known as a 3-point threat, but has shown to be more that so far.

“She’s been a little bit of a surprise in that the game doesn’t seem to too fast. She’s able to use her length to get to the basket a lot,” Auriemma said. “Between her and Christyn, we’ve probably gotten to the basket more times already this year than we did all last year. It’s something that’s been a point of emphasis for us, but she’s really good at it. She doesn’t need a lot of time. The ball doesn’t spend a lot of time in her hands.”

Finally, UConn brought in Ohio State transfer Dorka Juhász to help solidify the backcourt. Although Auriemma had already theorized that she could be the player to help put the Huskies over the top, he discussed the way Juhász will help the team in more concrete terms.

“She’s skilled around the basket when she’s in a state of calm she makes she makes open shots. She’s a good passer. She works really hard and offensively. She’s got good hands and good feet and she’s long,” he said.

It hasn’t all been perfect for Juhász, though. She missed a month earlier this fall with a pulled muscle in her thigh and is still working to get back to full fitness. Auriemma also mentioned that Juhász can be too over-eager at times and gets sped up.

Regardless, Juhász has locked down a spot in the rotation.

“I don’t think she’s one of the ones that I’m worried about getting minutes for,” Auriemma said. “She’s gonna play. She’s good.”