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UConn WBB Weekly: Azzi Fudd flashes tantalizing potential in unexpected return at DePaul

The freshman wasn’t even supposed to suit up Wednesday but ended up playing a major role in the Huskies’ victory.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

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Azzi Fudd flashes tantalizing potential in unexpected return at DePaul

One day before UConn’s meeting with DePaul on Wednesday, Geno Auriemma said in no uncertain terms that Azzi Fudd wouldn’t play due to the stress reaction in her foot that had kept her out for 11 games.

“She’s still not ready to go,” he said of Fudd. “It’s been a long time since she’s played basketball and it’s gonna take a little bit to get back into playing shape. She was out there working on some stuff yesterday and she’s going to work out a little bit more today and better build on it every day, I hope.”

But by the time tip-off approached, the situation changed. Auriemma told SNY he hoped to get her “a few minutes” against DePaul. So what happened between Thursday and Friday? The coach’s initial comments seemed to indicate that Fudd’s foot was better but she just needed to get her conditioning back. But after moving around before the game, the freshman felt good enough to give it a shot.

“I decided after shoot-around that I was gonna play and I’m really glad I did,” Fudd told reporters postgame. “It was a lot of fun. Way better than sitting on the side and watching.”

At first, her unexpected return didn’t look like it’d be anything to remember. Fudd checked in at the 4:11 mark of the first half, immediately traveled and went back to the bench after just over two minutes.

Luckily for UConn, that wasn’t the end of her night. Fudd played 22 minutes total and racked up 15 points on 6-10 shooting in her best performance as a Husky.

In her four games earlier this season, Fudd often played timid and didn’t do much besides shoot 3-pointers. While the freshman was clearly hampered by the foot injury, Auriemma still felt that she passed up too many opportunities for herself and deferred to older teammates.

Even when Fudd scored a career-high 18 points against USF, it all came from the three ball. She rarely handled the ball, never tried to drive to the basket and didn’t move off her spot on the perimeter much. Fudd collected just two assists and two steals in those four games as well.

Her early play ran counter to the way Auriemma spoke about her.

“She’s a basketball player, flat-out,” he said after the exhibition on Nov. 7. “She’s not just gonna be out there knocking in a couple and then come out. She’s playing the game of basketball and that’s what’s special about her. It’s not just one dimensional.”

But at DePaul, Fudd looked the part of a No. 1 recruit.

Late in the third quarter, Fudd hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 50 and followed it up with a pull-up jumper from the free throw line to give UConn the lead. Early in the fourth, she made another jumper to put the Huskies back ahead, sunk a triple a few possessions later to extend the gap to eight points and then slashed to the rim for a layup less than a minute later.

After starting 1-5 from the field, Fudd made her next five shots — every one of which seemed to come in a big moment. In addition to the points, she also swiped three steals and added an assist.

Fudd’s performance is even more impressive considering she’d barely participated any basketball related activities dating back to November before Wednesday night at DePaul.

“Morgan (Valley) was pretty impressed that not having played in seven weeks or something that, Azzi’s first workout the other day — whenever it was — she made like 25 straight shots and I bet only one of them touched the rim,” Auriemma said. “(Valley) was just amazed that someone who hadn’t touched the ball or shot the ball live could could still shoot it like that.”

For 22 minutes, Fudd flashed her tantalizing potential and her impact should only grow as she works back to full strength and gets more time on the practice court. Just her presence alone could prove to be a boost for the Huskies.

“When you add somebody like [Fudd] to the lineup, that makes a lot of people feel a lot more confident,” Auriemma said. “Especially me.”

Fudd’s instant impact combined with Caroline Ducharme becoming the team’s go-to scorer, Christyn Williams playing some of her best basketball, Nika Mühl finally back and Paige Bueckers still waiting in the wings, UConn’s depth — one of the main storylines from the preseason — is finally beginning to materialize.

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