UConn women’s basketball had plenty of reason to be happy with its performance in its lone exhibition contest of the season against the Kutztown Golden Bears — and it had nothing to do with the final score, 115-42, the five players in double-figures, or anything else on the stat sheet.
The Huskies put together a strong, well-rounded performance that had almost every player show their stuff.
“The things that you try to monitor in games like this are more or less: How was our approach to the game? And how did we stay consistent throughout the game in terms of what our effort was like? What’s our communication like when the ball was moved? How’s the ball movement?” Geno Auriemma said. “I thought we did those things that we were trying to do.”
After a slow start in the first quarter, UConn was more comfortable on both ends of the floor as the game progressed. The defense settled in while the offense found a groove early and never lost it. The players who entered the game off the bench fit in seamlessly and made an impact.
“We had some mistakes but I think just overall, even in the second half, I just felt like we were starting to get into flow more,” Juhász said.
It started in the backcourt with Lou Lopez Sénéchal. Playing in her first game in a UConn uniform, the Fairfield transfer wasn’t intimidated. She scored the opening points of the game and never thought twice about calling her own number when she had a good look at the basket. Lopez Sénéchal drove to the basket, hit a few 3-pointers, and showed off a midrange game en route to a 22-point effort.
“Lou spent four years at Fairfield and her job, her role on that team was score points,” Auriemma said. “That just carries over and that’s the same role she has with us.”
Next to Lopez Sénéchal, Azzi Fudd had an uneven day, though she showed why her ceiling is so immense. She struggled to find her shot in the first half and settled into a distributor role but once the first shot went down after halftime, Fudd didn’t hesitate.
“I missed a lot in the first half so I had a mixed mindset of ‘How many more can I miss before I make one?’” Fudd said. “But once I got in a rhythm, I was pretty confident they were going in.”
After putting up just six points in the first 20 minutes, the sophomore exploded with 23 points in the second half. She made nine 3-pointers on the day — which would’ve been one short of tying a single-game program record had it come in a regular season contest — and showcased her ability to blow open any game at any point.
“Azzi did what Azzi does,” Auriemma said.
“When she catches a ball, it gets into that same slot every time and it comes out the same way every time,” he added later. “There’s no doubt in my mind (it’s going in when she shoots it). There might be a game where she makes 15 of those — who knows — if she gets enough opportunities. But it’s a game breaker.”
With Lopez Sénéchal and Fudd together — along with Caroline Ducharme, who sat out the game with neck stiffness — UConn expects to have a three-headed scoring monster in the backcourt.
“My hope, my guess, my wish would be that not all three of them are going to are going to play horrible at the same time,” Auriemma said. “That among those three, you’re always going to get at least one (playing well), most of the time two, and on other occasions you’re going to get all three of them...That puts a lot of pressure on the other team.”
In the middle of it all, Nika Mühl can thrive as the distributor for all three.
“It’s great because Nika is content to just pass the ball and make sure that she gets them the number of shots that they need to get,” Auriemma said.
While Mühl finished with 11 assists on the day, the most encouraging part of her performance was the fact that she didn’t commit another foul after picking up two in the first quarter. It wasn’t perfect, but it’s a sign of progress.
Down low, both Juhász and Aaliyah Edwards put in a consistent effort. They were each strong and physical but avoided the bad fouls that plagued them in the past. Edwards wasn’t whistled a single time while Juhász only picked up one foul.
Juhász also showed a shooting touch from deep, going 2-for-2 from three and hitting another from just inside the arc as well. While she showed flashes of that last season, she never consistently put the ball in the basket from the outside. This year, Juhász just needed to stop thinking so much and once that happened, the shots started to fall.
“I had been just kind of overthinking like how to like put the ball in my hands,” she said. “This game, I just caught it and just shot it —”
“Let it fly,” Fudd cut in.
Juhász and Edwards both started alongside Fudd, Lopez Sénéchal, and Mühl. Aubrey Griffin came off the bench to make her first appearance in any game for UConn since the 2021 Final Four.
She looked like the same player — her first touch on the ball was an offensive rebound, naturally — but with more confidence. There were a few plays where she got the ball on the perimeter and immediately burst to the basket for an easy lay-in. Griffin had a consistent impact every minute she was on the floor, which was rarely the case earlier in her career.
“I get mad at Aubrey when she’s not going 100 miles an hour. I get madder when she’s not flying up the floor, filling a lane. I get mad at her when she’s not cutting and taking hand-offs,” Auriemma said. “That’s her game. That’s her skill.”
While there were plenty of positive performances, nobody popped more than freshman Ayanna Patterson. She got after it from the second she stepped on the floor and never let up. Any time there was a loose ball — regardless of where it was on the court — Patterson attacked it. She soared through the air for rebounds and muscled her way to the basket when she got the ball.
“Yanna did what Yanna does every day,” Auriemma said. “She rebounds. She plays D. She blocks shots. She gets after you. She brings a lot of energy.”
UConn dominated Kutztown the way it should have. The Huskies had a significant talent advantage, and the Golden Bears didn’t have the strength to match up with UConn’s post players.
A good performance in an exhibition also isn’t guaranteed to translate into regular-season success. Last season, Juhász dominated in a preseason matchup with Fort Hays State with 15 points and eight rebounds but rarely replicated that effort once the games started to count.
The competition will get a lot stiffer when No. 3 Texas and No. 10 NC State come to Connecticut in the coming weeks. But UConn can only play the team on the other side of the court and while it wasn’t completely perfect, the team has a lot to be happy about after its first live action.