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How does Aubrey Griffin fit in after being sidelined by injuries last season?
UConn’s frontcourt looks a lot different now compared to the last time Aubrey Griffin played in a game. During her sophomore season in 2020-21, she played alongside Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Aaliyah Edwards. As Griffin prepares for her redshirt junior campaign, the Huskies have Edwards, Dorka Juhász, Amari DeBerry, Ice Brady and Ayanna Patterson.
Early in her UConn career, Griffin saw significant playing time in part because she had to — there weren’t many options for Geno Auriemma to turn to down low. Of course, she also earned those minutes by establishing herself as a menace on the boards and a defensive spark who could also explode for big scoring nights on occasion.
But after Griffin missed all of last season with a combination of ankle, leg and back injuries — the latter of which required surgery in January — there’s plenty of uncertainty surrounding her this year.
The good news is all Griffin’s health issues appear to be in the rearview mirror. That’s step one.
“If you’d asked me five months ago, ‘Do you see Aubrey playing?’, I would say I don’t know. Well, if we played tomorrow, she’d definitely play,” Auriemma said in September. “How many minutes? How effective? (I don’t know) but least I have confidence that we can put her on the floor and she’ll be able to contribute.”
“Right now, she’s 100 percent healthy physically and hopefully she can remain that way for the rest of the year,” Jamelle Elliott said in September.
While Griffin is fully healthy — at least according to the coaches — that doesn’t mean she can just pick up where she left off. The hallmark of her game was her athleticism, which allowed her to sky over opponents for rebounds and guard most players on the floor. But back surgeries are tricky, and there’s no guarantee she’ll have that bounce back right away.
But if all is well in that regard, there could be a silver lining to Griffin’s extended absence. For as much potential as she showed through her first two seasons, she struggled to capitalize on it on a consistent basis. For every 25-point, 12-rebound effort, there were plenty more nights where she was largely invisible. Auriemma hopes the year watching from the sidelines will ultimately help Griffin in the long run.
“Aubrey’s biggest struggle since she’s been at UConn has never, never been physical. It’s been more trying to understand mentally: ‘What am I good at? Where’s my confidence level at today? Where is it relative to where it needs to be?’” he said. “Some days, that confidence level is extremely high and some days, it’s frustratingly low. I think there’s a much more mature approach and I think that’s going to help her tremendously.”
UConn won’t just be counting on the redshirt junior to contribute on the court, either. With Nelson-Ododa, Evina Westbrook and Christyn Williams off to the pros, Griffin is now the longest-tenured player on the team. The two players older than her — Juhász and Lou Lopez Sénéchal — both transferred in and everyone else is at least a young younger than her. As the Huskies enter a season of uncertainty without Paige Bueckers, Griffin will need to help set the standard and lead by example.
“She’s a senior now. She’s the elder statesman. She’s been around the longest,” Elliott said. “From a leadership standpoint, we’re dependent on her to continue to uphold the culture and what’s expected from our program and I think she’s ready to do that.”
It’s impossible to know what UConn will get from Griffin until the season begins and even then, she might need time to knock the rust off. But if she can re-find her old form — even if the consistency still isn’t there — she’ll provide a big boost for the Huskies.
“People didn’t really recognize how much we missed her,” Bueckers said. “But I know how much we missed her, the coaching staff knows how much we missed her, and she’s such a key element to our team and she does everything on the floor. I’m excited to see here back healthy and back playing.”
Best of social media
Behind the scenes of media day:
Media Slay pic.twitter.com/SVwLCqLYBs— UConn Women’s Basketball (@UConnWBB) October 4, 2022
Coach @paigebueckers1 came ready for Media Day— UConn Women’s Basketball (@UConnWBB) October 3, 2022
Just wait until you see the actual photos pic.twitter.com/iYzTc7Fjq6— UConn Women’s Basketball (@UConnWBB) October 3, 2022
KK Arnold and Qadence Samuels were at the Wooten Camp together:
Stewie has another trophy to add to her collection:
Breanna Stewart and USA Basketball are #FIBAWWC Champs! pic.twitter.com/3q5U8yhSK4— UConn Women’s Basketball (@UConnWBB) October 1, 2022