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UConn WBB Weekly: With Azzi Fudd and Geno Auriemma back, is the Huskies’ luck finally starting to turn?

The Huskies’ win over St. John’s felt like the kick-start for an era of good feelings.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

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Is UConn’s luck finally starting to turn around?

Geno Auriemma and Azzi Fudd’s respective returns couldn’t have happened any differently.

For Fudd, she’d clearly been getting close to coming back after dressing in uniform and going through warmups ahead of UConn’s last two games. Then 40 minutes before tip-off against St. John’s, Paige Bueckers told the world that Fudd would suit up and play for the first time since Dec. 4.

“She’s baaaack,” Bueckers said with a smile while nodding her head in a video posted by the team.

Auriemma’s return featured much less fanfare. Associate head coach Chris Dailey expected him to show up at practice on Tuesday before the team left for New York, but that ultimately never materialized. Instead, he just walked onto the bus nonchalantly — much to the delight of the players.

“We were already on the bus and then from the back, we just saw him walk up,” Dorka Juhász said. “I was like, ‘Oh cool, he’s back.’ It was just such a good moment, obviously. We really missed him.”

When UConn took the court against St. John’s on Wednesday, everything felt like it was back to normal. Fudd scored 14 points on 6-11 shooting in just 20 minutes, Auriemma sported a scowl despite a hefty lead by his team and the Huskies won by 30.

After all UConn’s been through over the past few seasons, the victory felt like it could kick-start an era of good feelings for the team.

“It was great to get Coach back and have Azzi back and actually have eight players to be able to play,” Dailey said postgame. “We’re very happy.”

Nobody was happier to have Auriemma back than Dailey herself. She got to slide back into her usual seat, got to put her practice whistle away and no longer has to fulfill media duties. There is one downside, though.

“The only problem is when he’s there, I can’t see half the game because he’s blocking my view,” Dailey joked to SNY postgame. “Other than that, it was great to have him back. I know the kids were really happy that he was here.”

Auriemma had missed UConn’s last two games and stepped away from the team to focus on his health after feeling unwell. He lost in mother in December and then came down with flu-like symptoms that kept him out of two contests soon after. Auriemma stayed away through Christmas but returned for the Huskies’ next two games. Then, the coach felt unwell ahead of the win over Xavier and when he announced he’d leave the team again, he admitted he tried to come back sooner than he should’ve.

So when Auriemma revealed that he planned to join the team on the trip to Long Island, Dailey was initially a little hesitant.

“I just wanted to make sure that he was in a good place and that he should come back and that he was ready to come back,” Dailey said. “He assured me and everyone else said he was.”

Fudd’s return was much more of a process. She initially suffered a right knee injury at Notre Dame on Dec. 4 and after being cleared to return to basketball activities on Dec. 29, she circled Wednesday night on her calendar.

“I think we talked about it, me, [Andrea] Hudy, our strength coach, and our trainer talked about it last week, I just started doing individuals and like, ‘Okay, well, let’s talk realistically here. What game do you think you wanna start getting some minutes?’ And this was the next one after DePaul and I was super excited,” Fudd said.

As anxious as she was to get back on the court — especially considering she missed 11 games as a freshman last season — Fudd didn’t want to push it. If anything, she wanted to be overly cautious to be certain that everything was fully healed.

“I feel like the knee’s a lot more serious than my foot last year, which I didn’t really have any prep time before I came back,” she said. “I wanted to make sure I was really ready. I talked a lot with our strength coach and our trainer, making sure that I had built my way up, I didn’t rush into it, I let my body get back into things at its own pace. So I felt good out there today.”

Fudd didn’t look like she skipped a beat. She looked for her own shot, attacked with the ball and most importantly, didn’t show any signs of hesitation with her knee. While Fudd played fewer minutes than she typically would’ve, Dailey felt it was a vintage performance from the sophomore.

“I thought she did great. I mean for her first time out, if someone turned on the TV and they were watching the game, I’m not sure they would know that she hadn’t played since Dec. 4,” Dailey said.

Fudd didn’t necessarily feel that way, though.

“I felt good out there today, a little out of shape,” she said. “I felt like I did a good job of shaking the rust off. I know that my reaction time and all that will get better.”

Even with Auriemma and Fudd back, it’s not like everything is perfect for UConn. Caroline Ducharme and Ayanna Patterson are in concussion protocol and don’t have a timeline for return as a result — not to mention that Paige Bueckers and Ice Brady are out for the year. The Huskies could still deal with injuries over the coming days, weeks and months.

But eventually, UConn’s run of back luck will come to an end. And maybe — just maybe — Wednesday night was the first of better days ahead.

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