How to watch
When: Friday, Feb. 5, 7:00 p.m.
Where: Al McGuire Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Radio: UConn Sports Network (97.9 ESPN and affiliates)
Marquette Golden Eagles
Record: 12-2 (9-1 Big East)
Preseason poll: Third
Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Head coach: Megan Duffy (second season)
Injuries have hit UConn women’s basketball hard this season. In their last game against St. John’s, the Huskies were without Aubrey Griffin, Anna Makurat and Aubrey Griffin while Nika Muhl played through a sprained ankle.
Williams injured her left ankle before the game in shoot-around and ultimately decided she couldn’t give it a go.
“She tweaked it a little bit today at shoot-around and I had no idea she wasn’t going to play until I showed up here for the game and she said she couldn’t go on it. So I guess we’ll know more tomorrow,” head coach Geno Auriemma said after the game.
As for Griffin, she banged her knee in practice and attempted to play through the pain, but asked to sub out just 1:46 into the game.
“She gave it a shot but she just couldn’t move on it,” Auriemma said.
Makurat missed her fourth consecutive game with what has only been described as a lower-leg injury. She picked up the knock in practice a few weeks ago and tried to continue playing before the team ultimately decided to shut her down to avoid a more serious injury.
Auriemma told SNY that the sophomore is “still a ways away from being ready.”
There hasn’t been much normalcy in UConn’s schedule this season with various pauses and postponements keeping the Huskies from playing few (if any) games for weeks at a time followed by stretches where they play as many as three games in a week.
In addition to the current ailments, Paige Bueckers, Aaliyah Edwards and Muhl all missed time earlier in the season because of injury. Griffin was limited with back spams for a stretch but never missed a game because of it.
While bumps and bruises are part of any season, UConn seems to be dealing with an usually higher number of injuries this year. It’s fair to wonder if the circumstances of this season have put an added strain on the players’ bodies — something Auriemma wasn’t sure of himself.
“I don’t know. I mean [injuries are] just part of basketball. It happens every year,” he said. “Are there more this year than past years around the country? I don’t know, I haven’t checked. They all seem to be, knock on wood, manageable but just takes time. Maybe too many stops and goes, too many not sure when our next game is, I don’t know. I don’t know. Or just bad luck. I can’t put my finger on it.”
Luckily, they all seem to be dealing with minor issues outside of Makurat. Auriemma didn’t sound overly concerned about Griffin, Muhl or Williams going forward and hoped the day off on Thursday would help them heal up before Marquette.
“Hopefully with a day off tomorrow, a day between games, we’ll be fine,” he said.
Marquette is the epitome of a solid but unspectacular squad. The Golden Eagles are rated 55th nationally by Her Hoop Stats and have an offense that averages 104.6 points per 100 possession, the 33rd-best mark in the country.
They play at a steady pace without being slow and rely heavily on inside scoring with a free throw rate and 3-point rate (the percentage of scoring attempts that come from either the free throw line or a 3-pointer) that both rank towards the bottom of the nation.
Marquette’s biggest strengths are passing (sixth in the country in assists per made basket at 70.2 percent) and rebounding, where it grabs 40.5 percent of all offensive rebounding opportunities and 57.3 percent of all rebounds, both of which are in the top 15.
Selena Lott is Marquette’s go-to player, leading the team with 16.1 points and 4.6 assists per game. Lauren Van Kluenen and Camryn Taylor are both double-digit scorers as well while Jordan King dishes out 4.4 assists per game. Taylor and Chloe Marotta are tied for the team lead with 6.6 rebounds per game.
UConn holds a 9-0 advantage all-time against Marquette. The two teams haven’t squared off since the 2013 season when the Huskies claimed a 94-37 victory and all but one game has been decided by 15 points or more.
Marquette freshman Liza Karlen, like Paige Bueckers, is from the Twin Cities in Minnesota and the two frequently squared off in high school.
“I played against Liza a whole bunch of times in high school,” Bueckers said. “It’s always fun playing against people you know especially when you’re not in the state of Minnesota where you guys have to play.”
By the numbers
58.3 — Bueckers is hitting 58.3 percent of her shots from beyond the arc this season, good for seventh-best in the nation. UConn’s program record is 49.7 percent, set by Sue Bird in 1999-2000.
66.7 — In Mir McLean’s 12 minutes against St. John’s, she grabbed 66.7 percent of UConn’s misses en route to six offensive rebounds.
47.4 — After starting her career 0-7 from 3-point range, Nika Muhl has made nine of her last 19 shots from beyond the arc, good for 47.4 percent.
What to watch for
Can Bueckers continue her hot streak?
Over her last three games, Bueckers has been borderline unstoppable, averaging 27.0 points per game on 31-50 (62 percent) shooting while also dishing out 7.0 assists each game. She’s reset her career high for points twice in that span and also tied UConn’s freshman record with 12 assists against DePaul. She finally seems to be listening to Auriemma’s request for her to shoot more and appears to be looking for her shot more than she had been. Now, the question for Bueckers will be whether or not she can sustain this level of production.
Do Griffin and Williams play?
The biggest questions entering Friday’s game will be the status of Griffin and Williams, who sat out against St. John’s: Will they return to the lineup? And if they do, will they be healthy enough to play at a high level? While UConn’s freshmen ran the show on Wednesday, Marquette is a far better team and could give the Huskies some trouble if they are without the services of Griffin or Williams.