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UConn WBB Weekly: This is Azzi Fudd’s team now

With Paige Bueckers out for the year, Azzi Fudd needs to step up as the Huskies’ star.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

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This is Azzi Fudd’s team now

There’s an alternate universe where Azzi Fudd spent the entirety of her four-year career at UConn alongside Paige Bueckers. Now, it’s more than plausible that the two never play a full season together.

On Wednesday, the Huskies announced that Bueckers will miss the 2022-23 campaign after tearing her ACL in a pickup game on Monday. The would-be junior is eligible for the 2023 WNBA Draft and it’s possible (though unlikely) that Bueckers never plays another game in a UConn uniform.

In the first scenario, Bueckers never would’ve gotten hurt and could’ve used her bonus COVID year to play a fifth season during Fudd’s senior year. Had we lived in that world, Bueckers and Fudd could’ve eventually shared the spotlight as a lethal one-two punch, but neither would’ve been a lone superstar.

Instead, the Huskies find themselves with a massive void in the center of their team. While they have more than a few questions about what it’ll all look like without Bueckers, they won’t be short on talent with four top-10 recruits, an Olympian and a conference player of the year on the roster — among others. UConn will need to re-adopt the “everybody eats” mantra that it used for much of last season since nobody can perfectly replicate what Bueckers does.

Nika Mühl has to assume full responsibility of the point guard position. Caroline Ducharme, Azzi Fudd and Lou Lopez Sénéchal need to provide scoring in the backcourt. Aaliyah Edwards and Dorka Juhász have to own the paint on a nightly basis. The injury doesn’t sink the Huskies — not by any means — but their margin of error just got a lot smaller.

Nobody can be Bueckers, but there is one player best suited to step up as the Huskies’ next go-to player; Azzi Fudd the program’s next star.

We saw flashes of her potential during an injury-shortened freshman season, such as a 25-point outburst against Tennessee with Ducharme sidelined, a 29-point night against Villanova where she nearly brought UConn back in the last few minutes single-handedly, or a 19-point effort in the Elite Eight win over NC State — to name a few.

With her lethal 3-point shooting, few players can blow a game open as quickly as Fudd. The way she stepped up against Tennessee and her composure late in games during the NCAA Tournament when she became the Huskies’ go-to free throw shooter showed that she can handle big moments, too.

It’s not just about points, either. Geno Auriemma pointed out that Fudd’s more than a shooter at every possible opportunity. Even if that didn’t come through in her numbers — largely due to a lingering foot injury — Fudd was clearly comfortable with the ball in her hands and could take a bigger role as a distributer with Bueckers out. She’s also a willing defender and takes pride in her play on that side of the ball. That aspect of her game could become more apparent once she’s fully healthy, too.

Bueckers’ injury is a development that UConn never could’ve planned for. It leaves the team without its superstar and thin in the backcourt. A lot needs to go right in order for the Huskies to remain one of the best teams in the country.

As important as balance is, basketball is driven by individual players which means someone needs to take the torch from Bueckers as the team’s centerpiece.

That means one thing: This is Fudd’s team now. It’s time for her to become a star.

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