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UConn WBB Weekly: Huskies finding their groove at the perfect time

UConn’s best performances of the year came in its final two games of the regular season.

The UConn women are playing some of their best basketball of the season as the Big East Tournament approaches.
Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Welcome to the UConn WBB Weekly, a recap of everything that happened in the world of UConn women’s basketball over the past week.

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UConn finding its groove at the perfect time

UConn women’s basketball saved its best for last — at least when it comes to the regular season. The Huskies’ final two performances before the Big East Tournament were by far their best of the season as they crushed St. John’s 93-35 and followed it up with an 88-31 bludgeoning of Providence.

Against the Red Storm, they set a season-high in first half points (41), margin of victory (55), assists (27) and shooting percentage (63.5). In the regular season finale, they tied the high for first half points and set a new high mark for margin of victory (57).

The Huskies opened up a 17-0 lead to start the St. John’s game and ripped off a 24-0 run on the Friars after shaking off the emotions of senior day. The two games were also the second and sixth-highest scoring outputs while simultaneously being the fewest and third-fewest points allowed of the season.

Realistically, it was only a matter of time until this UConn team finally arrived. After a season of injuries, illness and strange scheduling, the Huskies have played their first real stretch with practically everyone available along with a regular cadence of games. It just took some time for everything to come together.

“I think we knew that there was going to come a point in time where we were going to click,” Evina Westbrook said Sunday. “...Over this past week, two weeks, it’s been clicking.”

There’s a few factors in UConn’s recent surge. Obviously, the return of Paige Bueckers played a part. While the sophomore only logged 26 minutes in the two games against St. John’s and Providence — Bueckers had never played fewer than 28 minutes in a single game prior to her injury — her presence alone infused the Huskies with a newfound confidence and swagger they hadn’t shown before.

“She gives them confidence,” Geno Auriemma said after the win over St. John’s. “Teams’ confidence sometimes waivers — goes up and down. But if you have somebody like Paige on the floor whose confidence never wavers, that kind of is infectious.”

To give all the credit to Bueckers wouldn’t be fair, though. UConn’s rise began with a stunning 72-69 loss to Villanova — its first conference defeat in nine years. Even though the Huskies were without Caroline Ducharme and lost Olivia Nelson-Ododa just before tip-off because of injury, they still didn’t show up until the final three minutes when they mounted a furious comeback that ultimately fell short. That game proved to be a much-needed wake-up call.

“The Villanova game was maybe a game where we had a chance to see ourselves as an okay team when we don’t necessarily operate in a way that we need to operate,” Auriemma said. “Since that game we’ve been different. We’ve had a different mentality, a different energy level.”

After pulling out good wins over DePaul and Marquette despite being shorthanded, UConn turned a corner with a win at Xavier on Feb. 18 — just its second game since November with everyone except Bueckers (and Aubrey Griffin, who’s out for the year) healthy.

The Huskies blasted the Musketeers 89-35, followed it up with a 90-49 drubbing of Georgetown and then beat Marquette 69-38.

Those wins allowed UConn to build chemistry with nearly the entire roster instead of the handful of players who were actually healthy enough to play on a given day. It could finally start moving forward instead of simply trying to survive.

“We’re over that hump now and I think we’re better from it,” Christyn Williams said. “Sometimes you have to go through stuff like that to be better on the other side.”

Even though both St. John’s and Providence have records below .500, the Huskies hadn’t beaten anyone as thoroughly as they dispatched both squads in the final two regular season games. UConn still has to prove it can play at that level against better competition — both in the Big East and nationally — but the team believes it’ll only get better.

“I think we can go far. We have a lot of potential,” Williams said. “With this team just getting everybody healthy, we obviously still have a lot of work to do and a lot of things to work on and sharpen up before the NCAA Tournament but I feel like we have a good shot.”

Not only should the Huskies get better as a team with each passing day, Bueckers should only become more impactful as she gets more comfortable with her knee and knocks the rust off. Those two factors should help UConn develop at an exponential pace compared to everyone else.

“I don’t know what the future is going to be but every other team is probably going to improve in the postseason,” Auriemma said. “But we improved by who we added and I don’t know that anybody else is adding somebody like that.”


Best of social media

Quite the shot:

UConn honored its senior practice players before Friday’s game:

Always a Husky:

In honor of Christyn Williams’ senior day:

A look at the Big East Tournament bracket:

Top play

Photo of the week

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog