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UConn WBB Weekly: Examining the Huskies’ biggest weaknesses entering the NCAA Tournament

What could prevent the Huskies from winning the national championship this season?

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament-Connecticut vs Marquette 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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In the news

  • UConn signee Azzi Fudd was named a Naismith First Team All-American. Amari DeBerry and Caroline Ducharme both made the third team while Isuneh Brady garnered honorable mention.
  • Olivia Nelson-Ododa is one of five finalists for the Lisa Leslie Award, which goes to the best center in the nation.

Why UConn will (and won’t) win the national championship

Over the next two weeks before the NCAA Tournament, we’ll have a two-part series looking at why UConn women’s basketball will (and won’t) win the national championship this season. First, we’ll examine what weaknesses could sink the Huskies’ chances at a 12th national title.

Though UConn women’s basketball could be the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, this team isn’t a runaway favorite like some of Geno Auriemma’s past squads. While the Huskies are playing their best basketball at the right time, they aren’t invincible — at least, not yet.

This is one of the youngest UConn teams in recent memory. The Huskies have no seniors, three juniors and 10 underclassmen. In particular, Auriemma relies on three freshman and two sophomores — depending on how much Anna Makurat factors in. While those players got their first taste of the postseason during the Big East Tournament and handled it like veterans, young players are unpredictable and the NCAA Tournament is a different beast.

The stage could prove to be too big for them this early in their careers. While Stewart rose to the occasion and led UConn to a national championship in 2013, Diana Taurasi went 1-15 with four points in a 2001 Final Four loss to Notre Dame.

Even without the fans, the Final Four is a spectacle unlike anything else and only two current Huskies have played in one — Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Christyn Williams. There’s no way to know how everyone else might handle the pressure until they get there.

This year’s team is also be dealing with the unprecedented circumstances of the pandemic. While they’ve lived in a pseudo-bubble on-campus all season long, they could still get out to go to the gym, the grocery store or for a walk. When they went to the bubble Mohegan Sun for the Big East Tournament, they were in it for less than a week.

During the NCAA Tournament, the Huskies will be locked down for over three weeks if they advance as far as the Final Four. That’s a much larger task to handle and one that’s impossible to prepare for both physically and mentally.

“Once we get down there, it will be an environment — this was only three, four days,” Auriemma said. “We’re down there five days before we even play a game. The quarantine, the whole thing, all the protocols. So we’re going into an area that’s never been occupied before, as are the other 63 teams that are going to be down there. So I have no idea what’s going to happen. I usually have a pretty good idea what’s coming up in the NCAA Tournament but this year is unlike any other.”

UConn answered plenty of questions with its performances in the conference tournament but nothing is ever certain in March. The Huskies — and Williams — look like a legitimately great defensive team but still haven’t been challenged much. Of the three opponents they dominated this weekend, Marquette had the best offense at 70.8 points per game — 82nd nationally. They didn’t exactly shut down any prolific, high-octane offensive teams at Mohegan Sun.

Even some of the best defensive teams can have bad games in the NCAA Tournament. UConn’s 2017-18 squad featured two of the best defenders in program history — Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams — and had the top defense in the country, according to Her Hoop Stats Defensive Rating. Even still, that team gave up 91 points in an overtime loss to Notre Dame in the Final Four.

Offensively, the Huskies aren’t “the worst 3-point shooting team in the country” as Auriemma declared earlier in the season but they are inconsistent. Overall, UConn makes 34.8 percent from beyond the arc — the 57th-best mark in the nation — but has shot under 30 percent in 10 games, between 30 and 40 percent in four games and over 40 percent in 11 games.

The Huskies also don’t have a consistent threat from beyond the arc besides Paige Bueckers, who hits at a 47.4 percent clip. Nobody else on the team is better than 35 percent.

Clearly, UConn is capable of having good shooting nights but it’s just as likely to have a bad one. The Huskies have proven they can still win games without making shots but that requires a big night inside from Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Aaliyah Edwards in particular.

For example, UConn went just 6-25 from beyond the arc in its first two Big East Tournament games but averaged 45.0 points in the paint in each game. The Huskies also made just 2-15 from three against South Carolina and scored 36 points in the paint but needed an otherworldly 31-point effort from Bueckers to pull off the win. UConn can survive a bad shooting night but it could just as easily sink it.

There’s also the possibility the Huskies just get beat. For as good as UConn is — and they are one of, if not the best team in the country — they could meet a team like Stanford, play well and still not come away with the win.

UConn’s four-year championship drought has shown us just how difficult it can be to win a national championship — even if the Huskies made it look easy at times. Even though UConn had the best team in both the 2017 and 2018 NCAA Tournaments, they still came up short. A lot needs to go right to end up on top and this year will be no different.


Best of social media

Who ya got?

Photos taken moments before disaster:

The two new UConn superteams in the WNBA battled it out on Twitter:

The UConn Effect:

Pretty cool shoutout for Caroline Ducharme:

AP Poll

  1. UConn (—)
  2. Stanford (+2)
  3. NC State (—)
  4. Texas A&M (-2)
  5. South Carolina (+2)
  • This is the penultimate AP Poll before the NCAA Tournament.
  • DePaul fell out of the rankings.
  • Marquette missed out by one point.