UConn women’s basketball might not have Paige Bueckers, but that doesn’t mean the backcourt is in trouble. The Huskies still have a conference player of the year, a conference defensive player of the year, and two top-five recruits to fill out the ranks.
This group showed its potential in the exhibition on Sunday as both Azzi Fudd and Lou Lopez Sénéchal scored over 20 points while Nika Mühl dished out 11 assists. Once Caroline Ducharme returns from neck stiffness, UConn will have plenty of offensive firepower.
“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,” Geno Auriemma said after the game. “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.”
In the middle of it all, Mühl is the perfect player to pull all the strings.
“Nika is content to just pass the ball and make sure that she gets them the number of shots that they need,” Auriemma said.
Coming off Big East Defensive Player of the Year honors last season, Mühl has already proven to be an invaluable piece for the Huskies. Even before Bueckers went out, Mühl started working on a pull-up jumper to expand her offensive game so she could keep defenses honest. Last year, other teams would often leave her open to double someone else.
Mühl is a capable 3-point shooter when left open (she has a career 34.2 percent mark from beyond the arc through two seasons) and boosted her 2-point percentage by over 12 percent between her freshman and sophomore seasons. Still, she’s a pass-first, defense-first point guard, which means the key to a big season will be limiting turnovers (she averaged 2.8 per 40 last season) and staying out of foul trouble (3.6 fouls per 40 last season).
Even if Mühl’s foul line jumper does come along, it won’t matter if she’s coughing the ball up or on the bench with fouls.
Auriemma hasn’t been shy about putting weight on Fudd’s shoulders this offseason. Without Bueckers, Fudd is expected to become UConn’s next star and the go-to player on offense.
“I think the player that has to be superstar-level for us is going to have to be Azzi,” Auriemma said on The Standard, a behind-the-scenes show produced by the school. “If she is, that can help offset a lot of what we’re missing with Paige not being here. And she certainly can do it.”
Fudd’s shooting ability is undeniable. She led the team with a 43.0 percent mark from deep last season and is capable of turning a close game into a rout in a matter of possessions if she catches fire. The biggest step for Fudd as a sophomore will be showing off the rest of her game.
From the moment she stepped on campus, Auriemma lauded her ability to be an all-around player, not just a shooter. However, a lingering foot injury hampered Fudd throughout the season and she never showed much inside the 3-point line, with over half of her shots coming from deep. That trend continued in the exhibition with just three attempts inside the arc, though it’s hard to complain about a 29-point performance.
There’s a reason Fudd was considered a generational talent out of high school. This season, she’ll have a chance to show why.
It’s scary to think how UConn’s 2021-22 season might’ve gone without Ducharme. At the height of the injury crisis, the freshman stepped up and established herself as the Huskies’ leading scorer. She was so good that when UConn needed someone to take a game-winning shot at DePaul, the coaching staff turned to Ducharme — and she got it done, scoring on a drive to give the Huskies an 80-78 victory.
Then, she suffered a head injury at Creighton, missed some time, and wasn’t the same after returning. Once the offseason began, she also underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in her hip and missed the entire summer while recovering. Injuries have continued to nag Ducharme into her sophomore year as she missed the exhibition with neck stiffness and will sit out the season opener as well.
If she can stay healthy, Ducharme is primed for a big season. She excelled offensively last year despite struggling from 3-point range — something her coaches and teammates insist was an anomaly — and even showed flashes on the defensive end of the floor as well. With an increased role this year, the sky is the limit for Ducharme — if she’s on the floor.
Lou Lopez Sénéchal
After a stellar career at Fairfield in which she earned MAAC Player of the Year honors as a senior and led the Stags to their first NCAA Tournament since 2001, Lopez Sénéchal chose UConn for her Covid fifth year of eligibility. While the jump from the low-major level to one of the top teams in the country is large, Lopez Sénéchal has adjusted well.
Auriemma has raved about her from the day she arrived and recently lauded her consistency day-to-day. She impressed in the exhibition by scoring 22 points in a variety of ways and should help replace Bueckers’ production on the offensive end.
After Bueckers went down, UConn scrambled to pick up another guard to shore up the backcourt. It took all of nines days for the Huskies to land Bettencourt and bring her to campus. A native of São Miguel, Portgual, she played for the U18 Portuguese national team at the Women’s U18 Euros B Division championship this summer and averaged 14.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 3.6 assists.
Bettencourt is a scrappy, high-IQ player who anticipates plays and sees the floor well and doesn’t stand out athletically but holds her own. She made a highlight-reel play in the exhibition when she dished the ball behind the back to Ayanna Patterson on a fast break. Since she didn’t arrive until the start of the semester, Bettencourt may struggle to break into the rotation but should provide depth in case the injury bug continues to bite the Huskies.