Welcome to the UConn WBB Weekly, a recap of everything that happened in the world of UConn women’s basketball over the past week.
The Weekly is a newsletter! Subscribe to get it in your inbox every Thursday at 7 a.m. before it hits the site.
From the UConn WBB Weekly Premium:
- UConn just needs one (1) healthy ball handler
- With injuries piling up, Aubrey Griffin needs to become UConn’s rock
- UConn fights through injuries and chaos to earn gutsy win over Princeton
- Inês Bettencourt’s “baptism by fire” helps freshman play unlikely hero for UConn
- How UConn plans to replace Azzi Fudd
From The UConn Blog:
- Chasing Perfection: UConn’s most far-fetched week yet
- UConn women’s basketball guts out win over Princeton, 69-64
- Two more starters depart with injuries in UConn women’s basketball’s win over Princeton
- Photo gallery: Princeton Tigers at UConn women’s basketball
- No. 6 UConn women’s basketball loses at No. 20 Maryland, 85-78
Last week’s Weekly:
- Geno Auriemma’s mother, Marsiella, died last Thursday.
Our thoughts are with the Auriemma family— UConn Women’s Basketball (@UConnWBB) December 12, 2022
How UConn’s current injury problems compare to last season
The first couple months of UConn’s 2022-23 season has followed an unfortunately similar track to the team’s last campaign when it comes to injuries. The Huskies have once again been decimated, losing stars and key players, resulting in losses and close games against teams they otherwise (probably) would’ve beaten.
They just can’t catch a break, again. The Huskies have not been fully healthy in over a year.
Christyn Williams went down with Covid, Olivia Nelson-Ododa missed time with a nagging groin injury, Caroline Ducharme suffered a head injury that derailed a promising freshman campaign, Dorka Juhász fractured her wrist in the Elite Eight and Azzi Fudd dealt with an illness ahead of the national championship game. There was also the Covid outbreak that canceled three games after Christmas as well.
So how exactly do the two seasons compare?
Azzi Fudd and Paige Bueckers
In each of the last two meetings with Notre Dame, UConn has lost its leading scorer to a knee injury. Last season, Paige Bueckers went down in the final seconds with a non-contact tibial plateau fracture and torn meniscus that ultimately kept her out until the end of the season. This year, Azzi Fudd suffered a right knee injury when Aaliyah Edwards was pushed into her in the first quarter.
While Bueckers’ injury didn’t affect the outcome of the game in which she was injured, Fudd’s occurred in the first quarter with the Huskies holding a 11-9 lead. They ultimately went on to lose that game. The immediate result of Fudd’s injury (a loss to the Irish) was worse than Bueckers, but the long-term impact should be less severe. Fudd is expected back in 3-6 weeks while Bueckers sat out until Feb. 25.
The injury pile-up
In addition to losing its top scorer early in both this season and the last, UConn has dealt with many injuries to other key players. Last year, the Huskies shut Fudd down due to a foot injury in November and did the same with Nika Mühl after the Notre Dame game. They were down to eight players at one point — and just three guards — at one point.
This year, UConn has been without Juhász due to a broken thumb and lost Mühl to a concussion against Princeton. Caroline Ducharme missed a game with neck stiffness and still doesn’t look like herself. Lou Lopez Sénéchal is also dealing with a strained foot that forced her to the bench late in the win over Princeton.
Although the number of injuries is similar, the Huskies had better players available last season. A backcourt of Williams, Evina Westbrook, and a freshman Ducharme is an upgrade over Lopez Sénéchal, a sophomore Ducharme, and Inês Bettencourt.
The following games
After UConn lost Bueckers (and Mühl), it went down to Georgia Tech for Nelson-Ododa’s homecoming and put in an uninspired effort on the way to a 57-44 loss. Without their superstar to stop the bleeding, the Huskies scored just five points in the fourth quarter and finished with their fewest points since 2006.
This season, UConn showed much more resiliency after its superstar went down. The Huskies hosted Princeton — a better team than Georgia Tech but similarly defensive-minded — and were winning comfortably before injuries to Mühl and Sénéchal in the second half burned the little backcourt depth they had. UConn held on for dear life in the final minutes and needed Bettencourt to hit game-sealing free throws to win.
There’s little comparison between the response of both teams. Last year’s squad struggled. This year, the Huskies didn’t flinch so far, but we’ll see how they handle it.
The respectable loss
Both teams have dropped close contests to ranked teams despite being so shorthanded. Last year, it was No. 6 Louisville at Mohegan Sun, 69-64. This year, it was at No. 20 Maryland, 85-78. The two games were similar — UConn kept it close until the other team pulled away in the fourth quarter.
The fact that the Huskies put up a good fight in both games said a lot more about the team than the result itself. They weren’t — and shouldn’t have been — expected to win either one and out-performed expectations.
The long-term outlook
Last season, UConn knew its goal was to just stay afloat until Bueckers could return. Regardless of who else might be out, the sophomore could cover up any problems if she returned at full health — at least that was the thinking at the time.
But with this year’s team, the Huskies could very well have everyone back by the time the calendar flips to 2023. Juhász is on the mend, Fudd could — in theory — be back after Christmas and while concussions are tricky, Mühl should return relatively soon. Even if Fudd is on the later end of the 3-6 week timeline, UConn should have her back by February and might have a fully healthy roster for the final month of the regular season.
Of course, that would require no further injuries at this point.
The season-long injuries
There is a caveat to the last point: The Huskies will never be fully healthy because they have two players out for the year: Bueckers (torn ACL) and Ice Brady (dislocated patella). Obviously, Bueckers is not only the most significant loss to any team in the nation this year, it’s one of the most impactful injuries in UConn’s program history.
Last season’s squad did have to make do without Aubrey Griffin, though. She missed the early part of the season with leg and ankle injuries before her back flared up and eventually required surgery. Considering how well the redshirt junior is playing so far this season, her absence probably hurt the team more than we accounted for at the time.
When comparing the in-season injury troubles for UConn between this year and last, neither one is markedly worse than the other. Each is without the leading scorer and a few key pieces as well. The current squad might have fewer numbers but the difference isn’t all that significant.
However, being without Bueckers — who Geno Auriemma called one of the best players to play at UConn in recent memory — makes the Huskies worse off this year by a wide margin.
Best of social media
The NIL merch everyone has been waiting for:
Aaliyah Edwards is on a different level this season:
Aaliyah Edwards vs. Maryland: 25 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists— UConn Women’s Basketball (@UConnWBB) December 13, 2022
Aaliyah Edwards vs. top-25 teams this season: 18.0 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 3.8 APG
UConn giving back:
It’s PJ Day at Connecticut Children’s! We’re wearing pajamas today to help raise money for kids fighting cancer.— UConn Women’s Basketball (@UConnWBB) December 9, 2022
A special shoutout to our friend Abby as she goes through treatment! pic.twitter.com/hLjpKy8vKT
Play of the week
Carla Berube returned home last Thursday:
Welcome back to Storrs, Carla Berube! pic.twitter.com/xbpgWjEU4F— UConn Women’s Basketball (@UConnWBB) December 9, 2022