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UConn WBB Weekly: How did the Huskies stack up to preseason expectations?

Looking back at the biggest storylines and predictions from the preseason.

Arizona v Connecticut Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

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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Top Links

News/general coverage:

Arizona coverage:

The “Paige Bueckers winning awards” section:

Last week’s Weekly:

In the news

  • Former UConn forward Lexi Gordon committed to Duke as grad transfer. She spent the last two seasons at Texas Tech.

How did UConn stack up to preseason expectations?

With UConn’s season now over, we decided to look back at some of the biggest storylines during the preseason as well as our predictions for the year to see how they all ultimately panned out.

Storylines

The freshmen

“By the looks of it right now – if you come to some of our practices – there are times when Aaliyah Edwards and Nika Muhl, those guys, sometimes look like they’ve been playing college basketball for a while because they fit right in, they slide right in. So Paige, Nika Aaliyah, they mix really really well with our returning players.”Geno Auriemma on Oct. 14.

The reviews from both coaches and players have been overwhelming positive and at least three [freshmen] — Bueckers, Muhl and Aaliyah Edwards — appear to be in line for significant roles. — From a story on Nov. 19.

Even in the preseason, Paige Bueckers, Aaliyah Edwards and Nika Mühl were impressive, and each one played a “significant role” this year — though Mühl didn’t join the rotation until late January after butting heads with the coaching staff earlier in the season.

Bueckers was easily UConn’s best player wire-to-wire, leading the team in points, assists, steals and 3-point percentage. Edwards struggled with fouls early in the year but developed steadily throughout the year and become a force in the paint by the end of the season.

Defense

“Our defense needs to sharpen up a little bit. But like, that’s understandable too, but we’re getting there. It’s a work in progress.”Christyn Williams on No. 19.

Though UConn seemed to play well defensively against Big East teams early in the year, it never passed Auriemma’s eye test and came crumbling down in a 90-87 loss to Arkansas in January.

The Huskies ultimately used that game to turn their season and they eventually transformed themselves into an elite defense team by the end of the year.

3-point shooting

The Huskies still need to figure out who can be a consistent three-point threat. He joked that a lot of players want to shoot, but nobody has proven they can make the shots yet.

“I hear them talking to me all the time: ‘I can shoot from there. I can shoot from there.’ I hear that like 15 times a day,” Auriemma quipped. “I said ‘I can shoot from there too. I’d really like somebody that can make them from there.’ That’s what we’re working on now.” From Oct. 14.

3-point shooting proved to be a persistent problem for UConn this season. Though the Huskies weren’t the “worst shooting team in America” like Auriemma declared at one point, they weren’t great, either.

UConn made 35.6 percent from beyond the arc — 33rd best in the nation — but rarely hit them on a consistent basis. Bueckers was the team’s only consistent threat from three at 46.4 percent and nobody else shot better than 35 percent from deep. The freshman was responsible for more than a quarter of the Huskies’ triples, so if you remove her contributions, the team shot just 32.1 percent from three — roughly 125th nationally.

Bold predictions

In the final Weekly before the regular season, I made five bold predictions for the 2020-21 season. Let’s see how they panned out:

  1. Aubrey Griffin will get All-American consideration — Yeah, way off the mark on that one. Griffin was better as a sophomore and even earned five starts but never became more than a role player for the Huskies to merit All-American consideration.
  2. Nika Mühl will start a game (and not due to injury) — Nailed it. Mühl struggled at the beginning of the year but worked her way into the rotation in late January and got her first start against DePaul on Jan. 31. Mühl held onto that spot for the next 15 games until she suffered a high ankle sprain against High Point.
  3. UConn will have its deepest team in years — Eight players saw over 15.0 minutes per game for the Huskies, though Anna Makurat missed a large chunk of the season due to injury, so the rotation was only seven deep for most of the year. UConn also played seven players for 15+ minutes per game in 2019-20, so this prediction fell short.
  4. Olivia Nelson-Ododa will have the best shot-blocking season in program history — Nelson-Ododa’s shot-blocking numbers dropped precipitously from 100 in 32 games (3.1 per game) as a sophomore to just 53 in 30 games (1.7 per game) as a junior.
  5. UConn won’t lose a game in the regular season — This prediction came with a caveat: I didn’t think the Huskies would play their big non-conference games against Baylor, South Carolina or Tennessee due to COVID (which wasn’t too far off). The Arkansas game also wasn't on the schedule at that point either, though I picked UConn to win leading up to it.

Roundtable predictions/prop bets

Ahead of the season opener, we put out our roundtable predictions and prop bets with myself, Megan Gauer, Ian Bethune and Dan Madigan. These are some of the highlights:

Leading scorer
Our picks: Christyn Williams (3), Paige Bueckers (1)
Reader poll: Williams (49%), Bueckers (26%), Anna Makurat (10%), Olivia Nelson-Ododa (9%), someone else (5%)

Not many people were expecting Bueckers to have the freshman season that she did. Madigan was the only one on our panel to pick her along with 26 percent of readers.

Team MVP
Our picks: Nelson-Ododa (2), Williams (2)
Reader picks: Williams (40%), Nelson-Ododa (38%), someone else (22%).

Technically, there’s no wrong answers here since there’s no way to quantify which player was most valuable. You could make an argument for Nelson-Ododa, Williams and especially Bueckers this season.

Breakout player
Our picks: Aaliyah Edwards (2), Makurat (2)
Reader picks: Makurat (51%), Edwards (27%), someone else (22%)

The buzz around Makurat’s sophomore season at the start of the year was real and looking back now, it’s even more disappointing now that she’s transferring out. Two of us nailed the Edwards prediction, though, as did 27 percent of voters.

Christyn Williams: 20.0 points per game
Our picks: Over (1), under (3)
Reader picks: Over (8%), under (92%)

Every except me got this one right. At least I was right that one Husky would hit 20.0 points per game, it was just Bueckers, not Williams, who did so.

3.5 starting lineup combinations
Our picks: Over (3), under (1)
Reader picks: Over (91%), under (9%)

While UConn was lucky not to suffer any major injuries outside Makurat’s stress fracture, the Huskies dealt with nagging injuries throughout most of the campaign. That resulted in six different starting lineups this season with the combination of Bueckers/Muhl/Nelson-Ododa/Westbrook/Williams being used the most (13 games).

How far do they go?
Our picks: Final Four (4)
Reader picks: National championship (46%), Final Four (49%), Elite Eight (3%), Sweet Sixteen or before (2%)

All of us said the Final Four. Good job, us.

Craziest thing Geno Auriemma says/does this season

It doesn’t matter what we all guessed. This is the correct answer:


Best of social media

UConn got a shoutout from the Ted Lasso cast as a great ensemble:

The Final Four drew strong ratings this season:

Azzi Fudd and Caroline Ducharme recently competed against each other a 3-point contest: