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UConn WBB Weekly: The Huskies have all the pieces to win the national championship

Why UConn is a favorite to win it all 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.

The Weekly is a newsletter! Subscribe to get it in your inbox every Thursday at 7 a.m. before it hits the site.

Top Links

From The UConn Blog and Storrs Central:

Last week’s Weekly:

Elsewhere

In the news

  • George Washington has parted ways with head coach Jen Rizzotti after five seasons.
  • Former UConn center Kelly (Schumacher) Raimon has joined the Dallas Wings’ staff.

Why UConn women’s basketball will win the national championship

In the 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. Last week, we examined what weaknesses could sink the Huskies’ chances at a 12th national title.

This week, we’ll look at why they’re the favorites.

In March, one player can carry a team a long way and for that reason alone, UConn women’s basketball is in good shape entering the NCAA Tournament with Paige Bueckers.

The freshman has been sensational during her first season in Storrs, leading the Huskies in points, assists, steals, and 3-point percentage while doing so with remarkable consistency, scoring in double figures in all but one game.

Bueckers has also been next to unstoppable in crunch time. In the last five minutes or overtime of UConn’s three games decided by single digits (Tennessee, Arkansas, and South Carolina), Bueckers scored 24 of the team’s 30 points while shooting 9-10 from the field, including 4-4 from three. As we saw against both Tennessee and South Carolina, a bad shooting night doesn’t stop Bueckers from coming up big the end of a game.

After years without a go-to scorer, UConn finally has one in Bueckers. When the Huskies desperately need a basket, Bueckers has proven she wants the ball every time.

The Huskies are also as deep as they’ve been in a long time with seven players averaging over 17.0 minutes per game (excluding Anna Makurat, whose role is unclear coming off injury).

Even if Bueckers has an off night, plenty of other players can pick up the slack, whether it be Evina Westbrook and Christyn Williams on the outside or Aaliyah Edwards and Olivia Nelson-Ododa on the inside.

Aubrey Griffin is also capable of exploding for 15+ points in any game despite only averaging 6.6 points per game. Not only do the Huskies have one of the best offensive players in the nation in Bueckers, but they also have a myriad of options to go with her.

UConn isn’t overly reliant on one method of scoring, either. In the first two games of the Big East Tournament, the Huskies went 6-25 from beyond the arc but dominated in the paint. In the final, UConn made 9-18 from three. Unlike last year, the Huskies don’t need to make shots to win games, especially with the combination of Nelson-Ododa and Edwards in the paint.

The offense isn’t much of a problem, though. While there have been some rough nights scoring the basketball throughout the season, the Huskies have typically found a way to get the job done one way or another.

If the confetti falls on UConn at the end of the season, it’ll be thanks to the defense.

Back in January, Arkansas torched the Huskies to the tune of 90 points — 37 of which were courtesy of Chelsea Dungee. One of UConn’s main problems was it struggled to slow down an opposing team’s top player with not only Dungee going off but Seton Hall’s Lauren Park-Lane racking up 29 points and St. John’s Leilani Correa totaling 33.

That finally changed with the emergence of Christyn Williams late in the year. Out of nowhere, the junior transformed into a lockdown defender, holding her Correa, Maddie Siegrist and Selena Lott to a combined 12 points over three games in the Big East Tournament.

“We’re a championship team if Christyn Williams plays like that,” Auriemma said after UConn’s win over Villanova. “I don’t know if we can be if she doesn’t play like that, but if she plays like that, we’re a championship team.”

Earlier in the year, Auriemma said his team thought they were playing good defense because opponents missed a lot of open shots. Now, the Huskies are forcing teams into a lot of bad looks and many missed shots.

Over the three games in the Big East Tournament, UConn didn’t allow more than 41 points and held teams under 30 percent shooting in every game. That’s not just a small sample size, either. Since Feb. 10, only one team scored over 50 points on the Huskies while none made more than 40 percent of their shots.

All this is a long-winded way of saying that the Huskies are peaking at the right time, something they showcased with their dominant performance in the Big East Tournament.

“I feel like we’re playing our best basketball right now,” Paige Bueckers said after the win over Villanova.

Ever since the loss to Arkansas, UConn has steadily improved — faster at some points than others, but the arrow has consistently pointed. The Huskies have all the pieces to win a national championship: A superstar on offense in Bueckers with plenty of firepower to back her up. It has a lights-out defense, boosted by a lockdown defender in Williams. It also has a hall of fame coach at the helm, whether that be Auriemma or Chris Dailey.

There’s plenty that can still go wrong for the Huskies (which we detailed last week) — but bet against them at your own risk.


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AP Poll

  1. UConn (—)
  2. Stanford (—)
  3. NC State (—)
  4. Texas A&M (—)
  5. Baylor (+1)