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UConn WBB Weekly: Huskies finding a silver lining to their injury troubles

While Ducharme, Fudd and others have stepped up and shown star potential, everyone will have to adjust to new roles once again when the team is fully healthy.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

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“We’re gonna be a nasty team with everyone healthy”

Through UConn women’s basketball’s season of constant bad luck with injuries and illness, there’s been a persistent undercurrent of hope: Maybe, possibly, it would make the Huskies a better team once everyone gets healthy.

Recently, that idea has become a rallying cry of sorts. It started from an unlikely source: Azzi Fudd, the soft-spoken freshman who had only played in eight career games when she delivered a declaration to the media following the Huskies’ win over Tennessee.

“It’s gonna be really scary — and definitely scary for our opponents — because we’re gonna be a nasty team with everyone healthy,” she said.

“Nasty. Just nasty,” Evina Westbrook chimed in later.

Fast forward a couple of weeks when Nika Mühl was asked about Paige Bueckers participating in team drills for the first time since her surgery. She didn’t hesitate in her response.

“We’re gonna be a nasty team when she comes back,” Mühl said with a smile.

UConn’s confidence isn’t unfounded. Caroline Ducharme went from playing a total of 25 minutes in the Huskies’ first five games — including one where she didn’t even leave the bench — to the team’s leading scorer in the 12 contests after Bueckers’ knee injury, scoring 16.3 points per game.

When Ducharme went down with a head injury, Fudd stepped up with 25 points against Tennessee followed by a 29-point outing against Villanova and a 24-point outing against Marquette. In the four games without Ducharme, Fudd has averaged a team-high 20.5 points per game while shooting exactly 50 percent from 3-point range.

This past week, Olivia Nelson-Ododa was unexpectedly unavailable. Dorka Juhász stepped up with a 22-point, eight-rebound effort in the win over DePaul followed by 21 points at Marquette.

That doesn’t even mention Christyn Williams, Westbrook — who Auriemma said had “probably the best game that she’s played since she’s been at Connecticut” against Marquette — or Aaliyah Edwards, who have all proven they can be game-changing players at their best.

As a team, UConn has always persevered through all the absences from injury or illness. While the Huskies usually struggle right after losing someone, they’ve also bounced back multiple times.

Last week when they lost to Villanova after Nelson-Ododa’s injury but responded with wins over two good teams in DePaul and Marquette despite being down their three most important players, UConn earned those victories.

“The fourth quarter of the Marquette game was probably as well as we played this year, offensively and defensively,” Auriemma said. “Can we get three or four quarters of that?”

The Huskies have seen what all their pieces can do at different times and they’ve shown they can play at a high level in spurts. Can they put it all together, especially with March just two weeks away?

Bueckers, Ducharme, and Fudd have not played a single minute together on the floor. As tantalizing as that combination’s potential may be, they’ll need time to develop chemistry. That won’t happen immediately, especially since Ducharme and Fudd are freshmen. It’s not like three seniors picking up where they last left off.

“There’ll be a period of period of adjustment for sure,” Auriemma said. “When you’re only playing with six players... they get to develop a chemistry together because there’s no substitutions. Now, all of a sudden, when you start mixing and matching different pieces, it changes a little bit and you’re going to have to adjust to the changes.”

In addition to dealing with those adjustments, Auriemma will also have to find the best way to utilize everyone once seven players who are acclimated to starting roles are all available.

But the Huskies will be happy to cross that bridge when it comes to it because that’ll mean everyone is healthy and back. Until then, UConn will continue to showcase its future stars as the team attempts to push through the next obstacle.


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Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog