After UConn women’s basketball claimed the 2023 Big East Tournament championship, Geno Auriemma took a rare moment to look backward at all his team had been through to that point.
“I always thought that if we’re going to have to suffer through all this, there’s got to be something good at the end,” he said. “That’s what I kept saying to the team. With everything that happened that was going bad, I said nobody deserves to be dealt this hand so there must be something at the end.”
Instead, the Huskies went through hell for a second straight year only to be rewarded with a loss in the Sweet Sixteen — their earliest exit since 2005. By most measures, this year’s team was better than the 2021 and 2022 squads that reached the Final Four and national championship game, respectively, but that didn’t bear out in the NCAA Tournament.
So how should this 2022-23 season be remembered? To judge it solely on how it ended is unfair considering all UConn went through from August to March (or even over the last two years). But at the same time, the Huskies are all about results and regardless of who they might’ve had available, they came up well short of their ultimate goal.
In Storrs, national championships are the standard. Since 2016, UConn had only been to five Final Fours but since it didn’t come home with the hardware, questions about the health of the program began to swirl. The three-year span from 2004-07 where the Huskies only reached two Elite Eights and a Sweet Sixteen are unofficially referred to as the “dark ages”.
Before the loss to Ohio State, UConn had made 14 consecutive Final Fours. For a while, it felt like they didn’t really start the season until the Huskies got there. This year, they came up a full two games short of getting to Dallas. Based strictly on the expectations that the program has set for itself, this season was a failure.
“That’s the price you pay for playing at a place like UConn,” Auriemma said after the loss. “Anytime you go someplace where the rewards and the benefits are greater than they are anywhere else, the other side is also there.”
The Huskies also lost a few streaks that had come to define the program. They lost back-to-back games for the first time since 1993. They failed to reach the Final Four for the first time since 2007. They lost two Big East games for the first time since 2013 — when the old Big East still existed.
This year’s team also did things that were uncharacteristic of UConn. Its final 10 regular season games were decided by 10 points or fewer. It turned the ball over 608 times, its highest total since 2002-03.
Yet the Huskies’ 2022-23 campaign can’t be viewed through a black-and-white lens. A season can’t automatically be thrown aside as a failure because it didn’t result in a national championship.
UConn had to play the entire year without Paige Bueckers after she tore her ACL in August. Then, it lost top freshman Ice Brady to a season-ending injury in October. In the second regular season game, Dorka Juhász broke her thumb. After Azzi Fudd got off to a white-hot start through six contests, she went on to miss 22 of the next 24 games with a pair of right knee injuries. Caroline Ducharme sat out with a concussion for 13 games and dealt with lingering head and neck problems over the final two months after returning.
Only Lou Lopez Sénéchal and Aaliyah Edwards played in every game and even that comes with an asterisk. Lopez Sénéchal had to leave multiple contests with ailments while Edwards sat out the second half at Xavier with an ankle injury, which forced UConn to reschedule a game with DePaul because it didn’t have enough healthy players.
The bad luck extended to the coaching staff, too. After the national anthem during the NC State game, associate head coach Chris Dailey fainted and needed to be taken off the court by medical personnel. In late November, Geno Auriemma’s mother died and he needed to miss four games due to health problems that arose as a result of his grief.
Despite all that — losing two national players of the year talents and juggling an ever-changing roster — the Huskies still lost fewer games than 347 teams or 96 percent of the nation.
There were plenty of individuals who shined, too.
After a disappointing sophomore campaign, Edwards transformed into an All-American. Donning a face mask after breaking her nose in the preseason, the junior dominated the paint to the tune of 16.6 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. She racked up 14 double-doubles after failing to record a single one last season and picked up the Big East Most Improved Player and Big East Tournament Most Outstanding Player awards as well as AP and USBWA Third Team All-Americans.
Meanwhile, Lopez Sénéchal transferred in from Fairfield and immediately became one of the team’s most important players and a fan-favorite. She stepped right in, proved that she could play at this level, and even carried the Huskies for large portions of the year. When everyone else faltered in the Sweet Sixteen, Lopez Sénéchal put up 25 points — one short of her UConn-high — on 9-of-13 shooting despite tweaking a lingering knee injury early in the contest.
She couldn’t have worked out any better and arguably established herself as the best transfer ever to come through the program.
Nika Mühl took full ownership of the point guard position after being a role player through two seasons and set the program’s single-game and single-season assist record. She dished out 15 helpers against NC State and piled up 284 total — 53 more than the previous mark, set by Sue Bird in 2001-02, and 135 more than she had in her first two years combined. Mühl also had to serve as the team’s lone ball-handler for most of the season with Bueckers out and Fudd sidelined for long stretches.
For UConn to forge through another season of constant injuries and absences without even flinching is remarkable. The Huskies accomplished a lot — and honestly deserved better than a Sweet Sixteen exit.
So how will 2022-23 be remembered? Realistically, it should be the year that Bueckers sat out with a torn ACL. Without the run of injuries, UConn very well could’ve been the best team in the country with all the talent that it had. The Huskies might’ve lost to Ohio State because they struggled with the press, but their fate was realistically decided in August. They were forced to play with one hand tied behind their back all season long.
Nobody has dealt with anything close to what UConn experienced this past year — and especially not over the last two seasons. To simply broad-stroke this campaign as a failure because it didn’t end with a trophy is unfair to the Huskies and all they went through over the past nine months.