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    Tuesday, November 29, 2022

    Expectations for No. 6 UConn women are here to stay

    UConn forward Aaliyah Edwards (3) and guard Azzi Fudd (35) react during overtime against NC State in the NCAA East Regional final on March 28 in Bridgeport. Edwards and Fudd will be key pieces for the No. 6 Huskies, who open their 2022-23 season on Thursday against Northeastern at 7 p.m. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

    Storrs — The expectation level around the UConn women’s basketball program isn’t going anywhere, not after what is now a streak of 14 straight Final Four appearances and not even without All-American Paige Bueckers, lost for the season due to injury.

    “Those expectations are self-created,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said Wednesday before practice at Gampel Pavilion, the eve of the Huskies’ season opener.

    “We didn’t just show up one day and somebody dropped those on our heads. We brought this on ourselves. We did it, so we own it. We’re married to it for better or worse. There’s no way to get around it. You have to embrace it. You can’t go into every game and go, ‘It’s all right if we don’t win; we can always say we don’t have Paige.’

    “The expectations are the expectations. You just kind of roll with it. One day at a time.”

    And so day one of the season in which sixth-ranked UConn will try to make it to a 15th straight Final Four, begins at Gampel on Thursday against Northeastern (7 p.m., SNY).

    UConn, prone to injury last season, finished 30-6 with a loss to South Carolina in the national championship game in Minneapolis.

    The Huskies graduated three senior starters and in the preseason lost Bueckers, the 2021 national player of the year as a freshman, and freshman Ice Brady, both to season-ending knee injuries.

    But while those losses might be the focal point for some pundits — the Huskies were ranked 10th in a projected NCAA tournament bracket prior to having played a game — there are some things Auriemma’s team does have.

    The Huskies’ starting lineup in Sunday’s 115-42 exhibition victory over Division II Kutztown consisted of a healthy Azzi Fudd, a healthy Dorka Juhasz, graduate transfer Lou Lopez Senechal and juniors Aaliyah Edwards and Nika Muhl.

    Freshman Ayanna Patterson, a 6-foot-2 freshman forward and the fourth-ranked recruit in her class according to ESPN, was the Preseason Big East Conference Freshman of the Year. Also, redshirt junior Aubrey Griffin returns for the first time since April 2021, after missing last season with a back injury.

    In the exhibition, Fudd, a sophomore, had 29 points, including nine 3-point field goals. Lopez Senechal, who played previously at Fairfield, had 22 points, Juhasz 20 points, Edwards 17 points, Muhl 11 assists, eight rebounds and five steals and Patterson 10 points and 10 rebounds.

    “There’s probably a bunch of teams in America that would like to have that starting lineup,” Auriemma said.

    Auriemma said that predictions at this point are fruitless, saying that if UConn was ranked first, 20th or anywhere in between there’s a good chance it would be wrong.

    “I think you only know how good your starting lineup is after they played together a bunch of games and have been in a lot of different situations,” Auriemma said. “I mean, I like the way they blend and I like the way they mesh with each other, so that’s a good sign.”

    “What’s the same is definitely our competitiveness,” said Edwards, a 6-3 forward and a preseason pick to the All-Big East first team. “Our fire has always been the same. The UConn standard is the same. I think what’s changed is we’ve added many new players and many new talents to the team.”

    UConn has not lost back-to-back games since 1993, putting that string of 1,059 games on the line against Northeastern (1-0).

    That particular streak will also be tested as the Huskies play a series of upcoming games against Texas (Nov. 14), N.C. State (Nov. 20) and Duke (Nov. 25).

    “It definitely tells you a lot about the program as a whole,” Patterson said of the unwieldy number of games without consecutive losses. “... It’s crazy just to think of how the legacy of the program holds up and how the standard has still remained the same over the years.”

    UConn signed four recruits Wednesday on the first day of the early signing period. The Huskies got sixth-ranked KK Arnold (5-9 guard from Germantown, Wisconsin), No. 15 Ashlynn Shade (5-foot-10 guard from Noblesville, Indiana), No. 41 Qadence Samuels (6-2 wing from Forestville, Maryland) and 6-foot-4 Egyptian forward Jana El Alfy.

    v.fulkerson@theday.com

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