Griffin, Fudd push No. 5 UConn to 83-76 win over No. 3 Texas
Storrs — First, UConn’s Aubrey Griffin came off the bench in the second quarter and changed the game’s dynamic, checking in and hitting a 3-point field goal 10 seconds later as the pace quickened in the Huskies’ favor.
Then, Azzi Fudd lit up the night with 17 of UConn’s 20 points in the fourth quarter and a career-high 32 points overall as the fifth-ranked Huskies led by as many as 17 points on the way to an 83-76 victory over No. 3 Texas on Monday at sold-out Gampel Pavilion.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma called Fudd’s performance a national player of the year-caliber showing.
“If anybody had any doubts, she became first team All-American tonight,” Auriemma said of Fudd, the sophomore, who shot 13-for-21 overall with four 3-pointers, going 6-for-8 in the fourth quarter.
“I don’t know how many players are capable of doing what she did tonight. That was like an NBA performance. ... Really, she scored 17 out of 20? I thought she had 21 of our 20. I don’t know if it’ll be like that every game, but it takes a special kind of person to handle knowing that we’re coming to you that often and we need you to make those.
“She’s a special kind of player, you know?”
Griffin, who missed last season due to a back injury that required surgery, finished with 14 points on 6 of 10 shooting and four rebounds for the Huskies (2-0). She was in the game for the entire fourth quarter.
Lou Lopez Senechal had 12 points, the post duo of Aaliyah Edwards and Dorka Juhasz combined for 17 rebounds as the Huskies outrebounded the imposing Longhorns 34-26 — Texas has four players 6-foot-4 or taller — and Nika Muhl had nine assists and three steals.
Fudd, of course, would rather talk about Griffin’s contributions.
“That’s what Aubrey does,” Fudd said of her teammate, a red-shirt junior. “Her energy and her intensity on defense and then offensively ... I mean, when she starts going to the rim and gets out on the fast break, it’s over. Just that energy, that second wind she brought from the bench was just what we needed to keep us going.”
Texas (1-1) was playing without sophomore point guard Rori Harmon, who has missed the first two games with a foot injury.
UConn finished the first half by making its final six field goals for a 42-37 lead.
But if the beginning of the half seemed stodgy, with Lopez Senechal picking up her second foul just 2:05 into the game and the teams each reaching doubles digits in turnovers, the Huskies soon opened things up in transition.
Fudd drove for a layup and Griffin scored on the front end of a fast break after a steal by Juhasz for a 22-21 UConn lead.
The last Texas advantage came at 32-30 on a pair of free throws by Sonya Morris, the graduate transfer from DePaul.
UConn answered that with an 8-0 run, getting an offensive rebound from Griffin, who was trailing on a fast break attempt by Edwards and two straight baskets by Fudd. Juhasz made it 38-32, garnering a steal, hitting Muhl in stride and then getting the ball back from Muhl.
Griffin had 12 points at the half and Fudd 10, while Juhasz led the way with six rebounds and Muhl had seven assists and three steals.
Morris had 13 first-half points, a team-high 21 overall, for Texas and Taylor Jones had eight rebounds.
Texas coach Vic Schaefer referred to the second quarter as the spot the game began to get away. He also credited UConn — “They’re really good y’all. It ain’t no different than any other year around here,” he said — as well as Fudd.
Meanwhile, Auriemma, who wanted to enter the locker room in mid-rant after watching the 17-point lead dissipate late, learned what his team is capable of, even minus All-American Paige Bueckers who is out for the season with a knee injury.
“I think Nika said it best probably,” Auriemma said. “She said, ‘I think we learned that we can be really, really good and we could be really, really bad.’ That’s probably it in a nutshell.
“For the second game of the year, I didn’t expect us to be in midseason form, but we found a way to win the game in spite of whatever it is that we didn’t do.”
The Huskies next play Sunday against No. 10 N.C. State at the XL Center, a rematch of last year’s NCAA tournament Elite Eight game won by UConn.
• Former UConn All-American Swin Cash had her number retired prior to the game, with her jersey No. 32 hanging from the rafters along with fellow Naismith Hall of Fame inductees representing the Huskies, Rebecca Lobo and Ray Allen.
Cash is currently the vice president of basketball and team development for the New Orleans Pelicans. She led UConn to a pair of NCAA championships (2000, 2002) and is one of 11 women to have combined an Olympic gold medal, an NCAA title, a FIBA World Cup gold and a WNBA championship.