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UConn women’s basketball wins thriller over DePaul, 80-78

Caroline Ducharme hit a game-winner with 1.6 seconds left to lift the Huskies past the Blue Demons.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Caroline Ducharme hit a game-winning basket with 1.6 seconds left to give UConn women’s basketball an 80-78 win over the DePaul Blue Demons in Chicago.

After DePaul’s Aneesah Morrow tied the game with a pair of free throws with 8.3 left, the Huskies used their last timeout to advance the ball. Nika Mühl received the inbounds at the top of the arc and quickly handed it off to Ducharme. The freshman started towards the basket, held up at the 3-point line, then charged to the rim and scored off the backboard to put UConn ahead by two.

With no remaining timeouts, DePaul’s full-court heave fell short to give the Huskies the hard-earned victory.

In a game with nine lead changes and five ties, UConn came out on top at the end of 40 minutes to extend its win streak against conference opponents to 167 games.

Ducharme led the Huskies with 19 points while Christyn Williams, in her first game back from COVID protocols, dropped 17 points. Azzi Fudd made a surprise appearance after Geno Auriemma said she was “not ready to go” on Tuesday and finished with 15 points — including a pair of big shots in the fourth quarter to give UConn the lead.

After playing just six minutes in the first two quarters due to foul trouble, Dorka Juhász had a big second half with six points and seven rebounds as part of an eight-point, 12-rebound day. Mühl also chipped in with 12 points and five rebounds.

DePaul’s Morrow had a game-high 30 points and 14 rebounds while single-handedly taking more free throws (nine) than UConn’s entire team (eight).

UConn’s offense struggled in the early going. The Huskies were stagnant and disjointed in the half-court which made it difficult to find many good looks. They started 1-5 from the field and allowed DePaul to get in transition off the misses. As a result, UConn fell behind 6-2 in the opening minutes.

It didn’t take long for the offense to wake up, though. The Huskies went on a pair of 7-0 runs in the first quarter and led 20-11 after 10 minutes.

UConn held DePaul at arm’s length by trading baskets early in the second period and even pushed the lead to double-digits twice. However, the Blue Demons took just two 3-pointers in the first quarter — both misses — despite entering the game with the the eighth-most attempts in the nation.

Lexi Held hit DePaul’s first triple of the game at the 5:48 mark of the second quarter and from there, the basket opened up for the hosts. The Blue Demons went on a 24-2 run as part of a 29-point second quarter in which they shot 72.2 percent. As DePaul came alive, the Huskies fell apart.

“We completely lost our composure,” Auriemma told SNY at halftime.

UConn threw the ball away five times in the second quarter, which led to nine points the other way. The Huskies made just 4-12 from the field and took six fewer shots than DePaul. Despite leading by 10 with six minutes left before the half, UConn went into the locker room trailing 40-31.

After the break, the Huskies scored four quick points to get out on the right foot and used a 7-0 run a few moments later to pull within two points. Juhász, who played just six minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, made an immediate impact to start the third quarter. She got UConn on the board with a second-chance basket, scored on the drive, dished an assist to Ducharme and came up with a block on the other end.

The Huskies got the deficit down to one possession multiple times but struggled to pull ahead even or take the lead. That finally changed when Fudd nailed a 3-pointer with 3:21 left in the third period to tie the game at 50-50 and followed it with a pull-up jumper from the free throw line to give UConn its first lead of the second half.

The freshman wasn’t done after that. When DePaul went up with a pair of free throws to start the fourth quarter, Fudd hit a deep jumper to put the Huskies back ahead. Evina Westbrook and Fudd then hit back-to-back triples to extend UConn’s advantage to seven points, which forced the Blue Demons to take a timeout.

The short break did the trick. DePaul soon responded with a 9-0 run to re-take the lead, which set up a wild final five minutes. The Blue Demons clung to a narrow advantage until Ducharme scored five straight points and hit a 3-pointer in the corner to put the Huskies back ahead.

DePaul briefly grabbed the lead back with a jumper but Williams answered with two straight layups that gave UConn a 78-75 advantage. But then, the Huskies turned it over on back-to-back possessions and on the second giveaway, they sent Morrow to the line for a pair of free throws. Though she only made one of two, Mühl traveled on the ensuing possession which gave DePaul a chance to tie the game or go ahead with 24.1 remaining.

While the shot clock was turned off, the Blue Demons gave it to Morrow in the paint with plenty of time remaining and she was subsequently fouled by Juhász. Morrow made both shots from the line and UConn called a timeout to set up the winner by Ducharme.

With the victory, the Huskies improve to 12-4 on the season and 7-0 in Big East play. Next, they will travel to Providence on Sunday for an 11 a.m. tip-off against the Friars at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.