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UConn WBB Weekly: Caroline Ducharme making the most of her opportunity

The freshman has stepped up as one of the three healthy guards remaining for the Huskies.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

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With guard depth depleted, Caroline Ducharme is making the most of her opportunity

From the outside, Caroline Ducharme’s recent breakout has been a revelation for UConn women’s basketball.

After totaling four points and three rebounds in 25 minutes through the first five games of the season, the freshman announced her arrival with a 14-point fourth quarter against Notre Dame on Dec. 5.

Over her last four games, Ducharme is averaging 13.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 28.8 minutes per game. Her best performance is also her most recent — a 24 point, eight-rebound effort in the loss to Louisville.

But for those inside the Huskies’ program, Ducharme’s recent play isn’t anything new. She’s been it doing for a while — just not in front of many other people.

“Watching Caroline practice, you knew that there was something pretty good about her. The first scrimmage that we played against Boston College, she played a lot and played a game exactly like today,” Geno Auriemma said postgame on Sunday. “It was almost identical to today’s game that she played. So this isn’t — by any stretch of imagination — something new that we haven’t seen.”

Ducharme’s surprise emergence is following a similar path to her arrival on campus. In the early days of her UConn career during summer workouts, she (briefly) had the nickname “Mute” because of how little she spoke. Ducharme also didn’t impress anyone her first few times on the court — something she admitted herself.

But by the end of the month, Auriemma tabbed her as the team’s most improved player and described an intangible quality about her — one that’s been evident over the last few games.

“They don’t know how she does it but she beats their ass,” he said of Ducharme in June. “But they don’t know how she does it. They just walk away shaking their head.”

Part of the early mystique around Ducharme is from her lack of flashiness. Though she’s a big guard at 6-foot-2, she isn’t overly athletic and doesn’t have a textbook jump shot like Katie Lou Samuelson — someone Ducharme has often been compared to. She just makes plays regardless of the obstacles in her way.

“You say ‘Well, what attracted you? What made you want to recruit Caroline?’ I don’t think it was her blazing quickness or her ability to get off her feet and play above the rim,” Auriemma quipped. “There was a mental toughness part that I find very rare in today’s players. She has it and then she has a sneaky way of getting points on the board.”

Those qualities were clear in Ducharme’s performance on Sunday against Louisville. She scored UConn’s first points of the day after blocking a shot, taking the ball the length of the floor, and finishing with a Eurostep to the basket but then hit a rough patch. Ducharme missed her first three 3-point attempts and had an offensive foul sandwiched in there as well.

She got back on track with a layup at the end of the half and then drained her first shot from beyond the arc in the third quarter.

From there, Ducharme took over. She had a 7-0 run on her own to take the lead back and later scored UConn’s first 10 points of the fourth quarter. Ducharme got buckets in a variety of ways, by hitting 3-pointers, attacking the basket, scoring in transition, or on back-cuts.

Ducharme also tied for the team lead with eight rebounds — three of which came on the offensive end — notched two assists and played well enough defensively for most of the game.

Though the Huskies eventually lost, Ducharme’s heroics were the main reason they were even within five points at the final buzzer.

“Caroline’s really good,” Auriemma said.

Of her 24 points (on 3-of-9 shooting from three) and eight rebounds, 20 points, all three triples, and five rebounds came in the second. The freshman wasn’t bad in the first half, but that type of start would’ve derailed plenty of young players.

“I think I’ve just kind of learned that throughout my career,” she said. “Just try not to get down on little things and if you let a couple bad plays pile up, then it turns into bad game.”

Ducharme’s emergence couldn’t be coming at a better time for UConn. Not only have injuries sidelined all but three of the Huskies’ guards (including Ducharme), they’re also short on playmakers with Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd out along with Christyn Williams in a bad slump. So far, Ducharme has responded as well as could be hoped for.

While she still has to prove she can perform at or near this level consistently — even in just a single game — Ducharme has at least 14 points in three of UConn’s last four contests. In a span of just two weeks, the freshman has gone from little more than a rotation afterthought into a cornerstone of the post-Bueckers Huskies.

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Azzi Fudd has an order named after her at Chipotle:

Morgan Valley got festive at practice recently:

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Photo of the week

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog