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UConn WBB Weekly: Aubrey Griffin just scratching the surface of her potential

The uber-athletic sophomore is the Huskies’ biggest x-factor heading into the home stretch of the season.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Georgetown at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the UConn WBB Weekly, a recap of everything that happened in the world of UConn women’s basketball over the past week.

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From The UConn Blog and Storrs Central:

Georgetown coverage

St. John’s coverage

Last week’s Weekly:

Headlines

  • For the second week in a row, Paige Bueckers was named the Big East Rookie and Player of the Week. She’s the first player in both conference and UConn history to win the award multiple times.
  • 2021 signee Azzi Fudd is one of five finalists for the Naismith High School Player of the Year trophy.
  • Geno Auriemma is one of 15 coaches on the Naismith Coach of the Year late season watch list.

Aubrey Griffin is just scratching the surface of her potential

At this point in the season, UConn women’s basketball’s rotation is mostly set. Eight players see at least 10 minutes per game and each has a mostly defined role on the team. In the backcourt, Paige Bueckers runs the offense and is the go-to player. Nika Muhl assists with point guard duties and sets the tone on defense. Christyn Williams is (usually) a reliable scorer while Evina Westbrook fills in wherever she’s needed.

In the frontcourt, Olivia Nelson-Ododa can score in the paint and anchors UConn’s defense. Aaliyah Edwards comes off the bench to help on the boards and provides physicality and toughness.

Griffin is the the one player that doesn’t fit into any category. The 6-foot-1 sophomore can play down low, on the perimeter and everywhere in between. She doesn’t have a specific role other than to use her length, athleticism and energy to give the Huskies a spark.

This season, that’s resulted in 7.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 0.9 blocks in 19.1 minutes per game for her. When she’s on, few players can have as much of an impact on a game as Griffin.

“She has these little spurts where it’s just like, ‘Damn, do that do that every time,’” Westbrook said.

Griffin’s biggest problem is that she struggles to make that impact on a consistent basis. In her first five games this year, she cracked the 10-point mark just once and only finished with more than three rebounds in one game — though some of that could’ve been due to a back injury that limited her to eight minutes against DePaul in late December.

Over Griffin’s next six games, she scored 10+ points in all but one and grabbed at least six rebounds in five of those contests. Then she banged her knee in practice, sat out most of UConn’s first win over St. John’s and hasn’t reached double-digits in the three games since, though she has totaled at least six rebounds each time out.

“The key thing that we’re trying to help Aubrey with is be consistent and be Aubrey more consistently,” Geno Auriemma said. “You can watch Aubrey play for a minute and you go, ‘This kid should start and play 40 minutes. What’s wrong with the coach?’ And you can watch Aubrey for the next minute and go, ‘This kid shouldn’t play more than one minute any game.’”

Inconsistency has plagued Griffin since she arrived in Storrs, though she’s made strides in that regard. As a freshmen, she would either explode for a huge performance — like her 25 point, 12 rebound game against Seton Hall — or she’d barely register on the stat sheet. There wasn’t much gray area.

This season, she’s found more of a middle ground. Her high points haven’t necessarily been as high but her lows don’t dip as far either. Over her last 10 games (excluding the first St. John’s game), Griffin is averaging 9.7 points and 7.9 rebounds per game.

“More times than not this year we’ve been able to get the Aubrey that I know, that can do what I know she can do and less of the other,” Auriemma said.

Currently, Griffin’s best attribute is her rebounding ability, specifically on the offensive end. She ranks third on the team with 92 total boards — 37 of which have come on the offensive glass.

“She’s a freak athlete,” Westbrook said. “I mean, how many offensive rebounds she gets, it just amazes me every day. I told her ‘I think you have some mind game with the ball because it just magically falls in your lap.’ So I don’t know what’s going on with that.”

While that’s always been evident, Griffin’s overall game has progressed, especially on offense. She no longer scores most of her points from offensive rebounds and instead will post up, show off a midrange game and even take some shots from 3-point range — though she’s only shot 3-14 from behind the arc. Even with those substantial developments, there’s still more Griffin can unlock.

“There’s a lot that Aubrey can do that she’s not doing both offensively and defensively. And I’m asking her to do more and usually when you ask people to do more, they like that,” Auriemma said. “So I’m hoping that we can get her to do more. More of the good things that she does and less of the tentative things that she does.”

There’s reason to believe Griffin’s ascent will continue, too. While it feels like the regular season is nearly over considering we’re midway through February, UConn still has at least seven games left until the NCAA Tournament begins — nearly a third of its season (barring any more major disruptions). It helps that Griffin’s struggles aren’t tied to a lack of talent or confidence, either.

“She knows what to do know. She knows what she’s capable of and I think she just fights herself more than anything,” Westbrook said. “Like ‘Okay, should I do it now? Let me just wait.’ And I can physically see her thinking in her mind, I’m like ‘Hey, just go, just do it. If you mess up, you mess up. Just do it whatever whatever you’re thinking in a moment. Just do it.’”

Griffin won’t suddenly become an All-American type player and single-handedly lead UConn to a national title, a la Breanna Stewart. But if Auriemma can unlock just enough of her vast potential, it could turn UConn into the favorite to win the national title instead of being just one of many contenders.

“She is definitely a freak of nature but I think once once she spots fighting herself, just becomes more consistent, more confident, she’s gonna be a problem — a big problem,” Westbrook said.


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