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Dorka Juhász impresses in her UConn debut

The Ohio State transfer may be the missing piece for a frontcourt that has been challenged by stronger opponents.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

In UConn’s exhibition win over Fort Hays State, Dorka Juhász was the third post player to enter the game. Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Aaliyah Edwards got the start while Juhász came off the bench at the 4:41 mark of the opening quarter.

Based on her performance, it’ll be difficult for Geno Auriemma to keep her out of the lineup. Juhász had the best day of any of the Huskies’ bigs with 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting and eight rebounds. While the numbers only mean so much against a Division II opponent, Juhász looked the part from the moment she stepped onto the floor.

Offensively, the transfer showed off her ability to score from all three levels. She drained a 3-pointer from the top of the arc, made a few impressive post moves to score in the paint, and hit a mid-range jumper as well.

“She’s skilled in the lane,” Auriemma said. “She’s really long and can get the ball up on the rim a lot of different ways. It doesn’t take her much. It was really good to see her make that three... If she can make a couple of those on a regular basis, I think that’s a huge help for what we’re trying to do.”

Juhász also rebounded well and took full advantage of her 6-foot-5 frame in the lane — something not all players with that height do. Defensively, she made plays everywhere on court, whether it was a steal near the half-court line or a block closer to the basket.

What’s most impressive is that Juhász did it all despite missing a significant chunk of the preseason due to a thigh injury. Though she had summer and fall workouts to get integrated with the team, the grad student only started to put it together in the lead-up to the exhibition.

“She’s still getting caught up,” Auriemma said. “This was probably her best week of practice. You could tell.”

“It was hard to just watch them for like three, four weeks and kind of took me out of like rhythm and everything,” Juhász said. “As we got closer, obviously [going into] the game, I just felt my confidence and everything just went higher and higher.”

Juhász is still getting her fitness back after the injury, playing the fewest minutes (15) of the nine players that project to fill out the rotation. That means Sunday’s performance could be a sign of things to come.

“One thing you notice, Dorka plays exceptionally hard, right? She competes,” Auriemma said. “She’s got an aggressiveness about her. You can see that she has played a lot of basketball.”

Ahead of UConn’s first official practice in October, Auriemma said Juhász had the potential to be the player that put the Huskies over the top. Even against a heavily overmatched opponent, it was easy to see why — especially considering both Nelson-Ododa and Edwards are foul-prone and each picked up three in the first half.

All three players will have important roles this season, even if those exact roles are still being sorted out. For Juhász, a back-to-back All-Big Ten First Team selection at Ohio State the last two seasons, she knows the presence Nelson-Ododa and Edwards will only help her.

“We have a really deep frontcourt,” Juhász said. “It just kind of took a little bit of pressure off all of us. I think we know like, everybody comes off the bench or something. Everybody brings something.”

While Nelson-Ododa posted eight points, five rebounds and three assists, the addition and emergence of Juhász should benefit her over the course of the season. In the past, the senior has struggled in big spots — like UConn’s losses to Arkansas and Arizona last year. The Huskies’ frontcourt as a whole hasn’t been very reliable since Napheesa Collier graduated.

If Juhász can be a consistent scoring threat in the post, that will allow Nelson-Ododa to be a true point forward on offense — the way she played during the NCAA Tournament when Edwards averaged 13.2 points per game — which better fits her skillset.

Chemistry between the two is still a work in progress, though that should improve as they get more time on the floor together both in practice and during games.

Although everything that happens during an exhibition needs to be taken with a grain of salt considering the quality of the opponent, Juhász made a strong first impression. Even with a freshman class that includes Azzi Fudd and Caroline Ducharme — who both looked good as well — Juhász might be UConn’s most impactful newcomer this season.