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UConn WBB Weekly: Williams in protocol is the latest gut punch for a snakebitten team

The Huskies have barely had enough players to field a team lately.

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Losing Christyn Williams was the latest gut punch in snakebitten season for the Huskies

In its first three games of the new year, UConn women’s basketball finally seemed to turn a corner in its season. After losing two of its first three games without Paige Bueckers and riding out a 21-day stretch without games due to the holidays and COVID problems, the Huskies had two of their best performances of the year against Butler and Xavier.

Even against weak competition, UConn played the way it wanted to and started to figure out the formula for how to win without Bueckers. The Huskies were flying high for the first time all year.

Then, Christyn Williams entered COVID protocols prior to UConn’s game at Oregon. Without the senior, the even more shorthanded Huskies couldn’t handle the Ducks and fell 72-59.

For UConn, it’s another blow to morale that is really out of its control.

“It’s another punch in the gut for our team,” Geno Auriemma admitted on Monday.

While no team has gotten by without being hit by some combination of injuries or COVID, the Huskies have weathered a non-stop barrage.

During summer workouts and the preseason, at least nine of the team’s then-14 players dealt with some sort of injury or ailment. While a few — like Paige Bueckers, Piath Gabriel and Christyn Williams — underwent planned operations, others were sidelined or limited by new problems.

During the preseason, Dorka Juhász suffered a leg injury that set her back a few weeks and slowed her integration into the team. Aubrey Griffin had a back injury and recovered, only to go down with a high ankle sprain shortly after returning. Then as the ankle healed, the junior hurt her back again and eventually progressed to a point where she needed season-ending surgery.

When the new campaign kicked off, both Azzi Fudd and Nika Mühl were hampered by foot injuries — though we didn’t know it at the time. Both players were shut down in December. Mühl didn’t get back on the court until Jan. 9 while Fudd is still working to full health.

Obviously, nothing changed the course of UConn’s season more than Paige Bueckers’ knee injury against Notre Dame on Dec. 5. That too had an element of bad luck to it since it was non-contact and came in the final minute of the game — though some argued she shouldn’t have been in since the Huskies already held a comfortable lead.

With Bueckers, Fudd and Mühl all unavailable, UConn had just three guards left for most of December. The Huskies struggled in the interim and went just 1-2 before Christmas.

“After the first injury that we had to Paige, it took us a little bit of time to regroup,” Auriemma said.

At the conclusion of a difficult first semester, the players had a chance to rest and reset when they returned home for the holidays. However, that might’ve only created more problems for the team. One player tested positive for COVID at home while a handful of others came down with the virus after they got back to campus.

“Having those four games canceled I think really set us back, “Auriemma said. “It took us a while to catch up.”

That brings us to the past couple weeks. Just when it looked like the Huskies were through the worst of it and had finally experienced a breakthrough on the court, they lost Williams to COVID protocols before one of their biggest non-conference matchups of the season.

UConn’s Era of Good Feelings lasted roughly five days — from Wednesday night after beating Butler game until the lead-up to Oregon when Williams was declared out. The Huskies are back to having just three guards available for the foreseeable future until Williams — or maybe even Fudd, who is starting up basketball activities — can return.

To this point, UConn’s season has been snakebitten. From here, the Huskies will need to grab a rabbit’s foot and hope the law of averages helps them out down the stretch.

If UConn’s luck ever does turn, it’ll be in great position to capitalize. The Huskies have a significant amount of new players getting experience, which will only make them better in the long run. They’ve also faced as much adversity as any other team in the country, and any UConn team in recent memory, so getting punched by another team shouldn’t faze them.

Based on the way the last few months have unfolded, UConn might be better off preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.


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