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UConn WBB Weekly: After ‘suffering in silence’ in regular season, Azzi Fudd is back

The sophomore is ready to make a difference.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

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Azzi Fudd is ready to make an impact again

When Azzi Fudd returned after missing 22 of UConn’s previous 24 games, she viewed the Big East Tournament as a trial run. She’d get back on the floor, re-integrate with the team and start to shake the rust off. It went well, too — Fudd scored 10 points in her first game back and then added another 11 in the championship game. More importantly, her minutes increased every day from 16 to 21 to 33.

“It felt really good to have my first few games,” she said.

Fudd was far from the All-American level player from early in the season — she reached the 20-point mark in all but two games prior to the injury — but nobody expected her to be. The Big East Tournament was the first step back so Fudd could be ready for her ultimate goal: The NCAA Tournament.

For most of the year, she’s had to watch from the sidelines as the Huskies went through ups and downs during a trying campaign. Fudd has every intention of making up for the lost time.

“Having to sit there and see the whole team struggle at times knowing that I wanted to be able to contribute and not just have to suffer in silence on the side, that was my motivation,” she said. “I’m back, so now I’m gonna do everything I can to stay back and help the team win.”

Fudd has needed to wait first — UConn has 11 days off between the Big East Tournament championship and the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. But even though she just got back on the floor, the sophomore has embraced the break.

“I like it,” she said. “It’s nice for me, it gives some consistency. These practices have been really good, a lot of breakdown and we’ve come with a really good approach, really focused mentality. So for me, I like the consistency of having a few practices. I had my first few games under my belt, some more practices to continue the chemistry and stuff so we’re gonna be ready when the next games.”

There’s a physical aspect, too. Fudd went from sitting out for nearly three months to playing substantial minutes in three consecutive days. After the second knee injury, she also spent time on crutches, which only extended her recovery. With only two days of practice prior to the tournament, Fudd was dragging by the end of it.

“It’s hard to really simulate game-like stuff in practice, especially three games in a row,” Fudd said. “My legs were very tired.”

When UConn tips off in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday, she’ll already have three games and nearly two weeks of practice under her belt. Fudd also admitted during the Big East Tournament that she feels better — physically, mentally, and confidence-wise — than during her brief stint back in January.

Now, Fudd’s ready to take off.

“I’m definitely ready to make an impact,” she said. “I’m really excited for this tournament.”

The Huskies also aren’t counting on her to be the savior of the season, either. They looked like one of the best teams in the country at times without her and even in the Big East Tournament, they didn’t need Fudd to be at the top of her game to dominate the field.

It’s not like last year where UConn put everything on pause until Paige Bueckers came back. Geno Auriemma will just plug her into what’s already worked.

“I don’t have any problem integrating a new team,” he said. “If our other players are all playing at the level that we played this weekend, it’s easy for [Fudd] to just do her thing.”

If the last week is any indication, that’s exactly what Fudd will do, too.

“I know she hasn’t played a lot of basketball recently, so a little bit at a time and she’s looked really really good in practice. You can still see there’s a little bit of rustiness there, which is natural,” Auriemma said. “The way she looks in practice, I would say she’s going to be able to go as many minutes as we need her.”

The coach has made plenty of comparisons between Bueckers’ return last season and Fudd’s return this year, though it’s not quite the same. Bueckers played the final two regular season games while Fudd didn’t take the floor until the Big East Tournament. But in those three games, Bueckers minutes dropped from 18 in the first two to nine in the third. Fudd’s playing time went up with each passing game.

From the outside, Fudd seems to have a better chance of looking like herself the rest of the way. If she does, the Huskies will look a lot better than a 2-seed.

“Azzi is the kind of player that can just, in five possessions, blow the game open. She can take a five-point lead and make [it] 20... having somebody like that is just invaluable,” Auriemma said. “I don’t know that anybody in the country all of a sudden is adding somebody of that caliber. Now we just have to take advantage of it.”

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