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UConn WBB Weekly: The Huskies will only go as far as the bigs take them

UConn’s performance in the post will determine its fate in big games.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

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UConn will only go as far as its post players can take it

UConn’s backcourt is off to an electric start to this season.

Nika Mühl set the program’s single-game assists record with 15 against NC State and is averaging 10.3 of those per game — tops in the nation. Lou Lopez Sénéchal has dealt with some inconsistency but still put up 20 points last time out and has scored 16.3 points per game. Azzi Fudd is on a national player of the year pace with back-to-back 32-point nights against top-10 opponents and has made 54.8 percent of her field goal attempts on the season.

That’s all without Caroline Ducharme playing a factor, too. The sophomore has been limited to just 15 minutes while working back from neck stiffness that kept her out of the season opener.

And still, the Huskies’ long-term outlook hasn’t changed all that much through three games. Sure, Fudd and Co. in the backcourt have proven they can carry the scoring load but Geno Auriemma seemed to be expecting that. Even without Paige Bueckers, UConn had more than enough talented guards to play at a high level. This team’s ceiling, though, depends on the frontcourt.

“Might be fair or unfair to say, but I said our post players are going to decide the fate of our season,” Auriemma said after the win on Sunday. “We’re not whole yet. We don’t have everybody there. And I know what’s going to happen. I know how people are going to struggle shooting the ball because they always do...we’re gonna go as far as our post players take us, so they’re gonna have to be great every night.”

On that front, the report card isn’t as spotless. Dorka Juhász held down the paint against Texas with nine boards and six points but broke her left thumb at some point during the game and will now be out at least through the Phil Knight Legacy Tournament this weekend.

As for Aaliyah Edwards, she’s fixed the effort and intensity problems that plagued her last season but she’s still had ups and downs through three games. The junior had a brutal first half against Texas but finished strong with a nine-point, five-rebound second half to help UConn get the win. Edwards performed much better against NC State — a team with a weaker frontcourt than the Longhorns — to the tune of 20 points, 12 rebounds, and four assists.

Ayanna Patterson has struggled with foul trouble early in her collegiate career and currently averages 12.8 fouls per 40 minutes, which is why she’s been limited to 10.4 minutes per game through three contests. While she has grabbed 5.3 rebounds per game, that doesn’t matter much if she can’t stay on the floor.

Finally, Amari DeBerry hasn’t cracked the rotation, even with Juhász’s injury. If she can’t force her way while the fifth-year forward is out, it’ll only get tougher as the season goes on.

Since Napheesa Collier graduated, the Huskies’ frontcourt has, at best, only been able to hold its own against top post players, never better. This year, the goal is to change that, not only for the reason Auriemma stated — UConn’s guards aren’t going to play as well as they have every single night — but also because if the Huskies want to win a national championship, they’ll have to go through Aliyah Boston and South Carolina.

As UConn learned in the title game last April, if the frontcourt doesn’t bring its A-game, that matchup can turn ugly quickly.

The good news? Lot’s of time until the NCAA Tournament starts. The Huskies will get to test themselves against South Carolina in the regular season, and Edwards has time to develop into that go-to player down low.

“You take Dorka out and Aaliyah had to be great tonight,” Auriemma said on Sunday. “You can’t be good because good won’t make it anymore. So between her offensively, defensively, running the floor, I mean all that stuff, she played like when she was a freshman. She played like an All-American type player. Like an All-American type performance.”

That’s a start. Now, it’s a matter of stacking those types of efforts and continuing them when Juhász returns — while also getting Juhász herself to do the same. It’s been a long time since UConn had a dominant frontcourt. If the Huskies can finally flip that trend, they could not only establish themselves as national title contenders, they might even become the frontrunners.

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