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UConn women’s basketball position preview: Frontcourt

The Huskies have plenty of options down low, but lots of uncertainty on who the leaders will be.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Even before Paige Bueckers went down, Geno Auriemma made it clear that improved frontcourt play needed to be a priority if UConn wanted to seriously compete for a national championship.

“We have to be able to do two things better than we did last year,” the coach said in June. “We have to score more in the lane and we have to defend better in the lane.”

The Huskies have struggled in the paint ever since Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck graduated. Napheesa Collier and Gabby Williams were elite post players but didn’t have much help and struggled against teams with size. More recently, UConn has dominated smaller teams but can’t handle the elite frontcourts — with the national championship game vs. South Carolina being the prime example.

This season, the Huskies have made a concerted effort to fix those problems. Their freshmen class included two highly-rated post prospects (though Ice Brady is now hurt and out for the year) and as a result, they have a frontcourt that is deep and versatile — at least on paper. UConn has height (Dorka Juhász and Amari DeBerry are both 6-foot-5), physicality (Aaliyah Edwards), athleticism (Aubrey Griffin and Ayanna Patterson), and skill (Juhász, DeBerry).

The problem? None of those players have proven themselves at this level. Edwards, Juhász, and Griffin have flashed potential but have yet to find consistency: DeBerry had an underwhelming freshman season, Patterson is a freshman, and Brady is out. There are a lot of options but a lot of question marks that go with them.

Dorka Juhász

Juhász’s first year at UConn was cut short in the Elite Eight after she fractured her wrist against NC State. Now that she’s back in full health, the Huskies are counting on her to anchor the frontcourt alongside Edwards.

Last season, Juhász averaged 7.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game as an inconsistent option off the bench. She struggled with nagging injuries throughout the year — a quad in the preseason, a foot during the campaign — which affected her conditioning level and contributed to her volatile season. When Juhász played well, she dominated. When she got tired, she was anywhere between invisible and a liability.

While the recovery from wrist surgery kept her off the court this summer, Juhász made injury prevention and conditioning a major priority over the offseason. She also flashed a more consistent jumper in the exhibition contest on Sunday — something UConn has lacked in the frontcourt for years.

Quote of note: “I don’t think we saw the real Dorka last year...I think she’s going to have a big year. I’m excited for Dorka.” — Auriemma

Aaliyah Edwards

An up-and-down sophomore season culminated with a strong NCAA Tournament for Edwards, but now she’s in search of consistency. Her physicality and toughness down low give UConn an element that few teams can contain but she didn’t capitalize on that advantage enough last season.

Edwards had a big summer with the Canadian U23 national team, winning gold at the GLOBL JAM Tournament while taking home MVP honors, and will try to translate that success to the Huskies. She got off to a good start with a steady effort in the exhibition but now she’ll have to continue that once the competition ramps up. If she does, Edwards will have a breakout campaign and will help relieve pressure off UConn’s unproven backcourt.

Quote of note: “She has a physical game and she has to play to that physicality every day. If she does, then that’s the next step for her. There were flashes of it last year for long stretches, but not enough of it and not for the whole season. So I know that’s a big point of emphasis for her.” — Auriemma

Aubrey Griffin

Griffin missed all of last season with ankle, leg, and back injuries, culminating with back surgery to repair a ruptured disc in January. She made her first appearance back in the exhibition and seems to have retained the athleticism that made her such a factor during her first two years with the Huskies. If Griffin can find the confidence to play to her abilities every game — and knock down more shots from the perimeter — she’ll be a real weapon for UConn this season.

Quote of note: “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. That’s her game. That’s her skill.” — Auriemma

Ayanna Patterson

Patterson is UConn’s most highly-rated freshman and is as athletic as they come. She’s gone viral on multiple occasions for dunking and she also has a non-stop motor which she uses to go after every rebound and loose ball that she can. At 6-foot-2 with a strong physique, Patterson is a force in the lane and should put up big rebounding numbers for the Huskies. If she can find a softer touch around the basket, she’ll rack up the points as well.

Quote of note: “Yanna did what Yanna does every day. She rebounds. She plays D. She blocks shots. She gets after you. She brings a lot of energy.” — Auriemma after the exhibition on Sunday.

Amari DeBerry

Aside from a few flashes, DeBerry didn’t do much as a freshman. She struggled to adapt to the speed of the college game and also drew the ire of her coach at times for not working hard enough. Even still, Auriemma — and her teammates — have gushed over DeBerry’s skill level and talent.

Once Juhász went down, she got a chance to play in the national championship game and held her own. Afterward, Auriemma spoke highly of DeBerry’s potential.

“She has so much to give,” he said. “She’s got this great attitude, this great skill set and she’s already committed to being there all summer long to work on her game. I’m excited about what she’s going to do.”

Even after spending the summer on campus, it remains to be seen whether or not that work will pay off. DeBerry didn’t play until the fourth quarter of the exhibition, which isn’t a good sign.

Quote of note: “I definitely took the first year maybe a little too lightly.” — DeBerry

Ice Brady

The freshman will miss the entire 2022-23 season after suffering a dislocated patella in October. While the injury occurred before UConn’s secret scrimmage with UMass, Brady was projected to play important minutes in the frontcourt. She’ll have four seasons of eligibility remaining at the start of next season.

Quote of note: “Everybody was just really disappointed for Ice because she had worked really, really hard and she had made so much progress and fit in so easily into what we were doing —offensively, defensively.” — Auriemma said.