No. 5 UConn women begin a grueling stretch vs. DePaul
Storrs — Next up for the No. 5 UConn women’s basketball team comes DePaul and 6-foot-1 sophomore forward Aneesah Morrow, who came into the weekend averaging 25.2 points and 11.9 rebounds per game.
“She could get 50,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said following his team’s 79-39 win Saturday over Butler. “And if we guard the hell out of her, maybe we can hold her to 35. She’s one of those kids in the country that’s just really, really hard to defend.
“She skilled, she plays hard, she’s competitive, she’s a little bit edgy.”
UConn (17-2 overall, 10-0 Big East Conference) takes on DePaul at 7 p.m. Monday at Gampel Pavilion (SNY), a game that was postponed from Jan. 8 when UConn had just six players available due to injuries.
Following that, UConn travels to Tennessee for a nationally-televised game Thursday against the Lady Vols, once a blood rival. Next is Villanova at home on Sunday. Villanova’s leading scorer, Maddy Siegrist recently broke the Villanova scoring record and is zeroing in on the Big East mark.
And on and on, until the Huskies play defending national champion South Carolina on Feb. 5 before an already sold-out XL Center.
UConn is up to seven players as of now, possibly able to add freshman Ayanna Patterson or sophomore Caroline Ducharme soon, both of whom have missed time with concussions. The school announced Friday that leading scorer Azzi Fudd would be on crutches for at least two more weeks, keeping weight off her reinjured right knee.
According to a report Saturday from The New Haven Register, the Huskies may also be adding Class of 2023 recruit Jana El Alfy, a 6-foot-4 forward from Egypt, who is set to enroll early.
Things Auriemma’s team does have: resilience, versatility, a willingness to stick together ... and a high degree of confidence.
“I think it’s going to be a big test for us, but we’re prepared and even though we don’t have our full team, we really just have to play to our strengths and to not let down and just be fighters,” UConn junior Aaliyah Edwards said.
“I think we’re just gonna look at it by taking one game at a time and once we get one dub (win), just move on to the next.”
Edwards, a 6-foot-3 forward, has been a key piece, one of two players to start every one of the short-handed Huskies 19 games. She’s averaging 16.9 points and 9.4 rebounds and has scored 20 or more points nine times.
She and 6-5 graduate forward Dorka Juhasz (14.4 points, 10.6 rebounds) will be tested in the frontcourt against Morrow and again almost immediately against a Tennessee team which features four starters over 6-feet.
In Saturday’s victory over Butler, the Bulldogs packed their defense into the paint and dared the Huskies to shoot from outside, which didn’t go so well in the first quarter, with UConn shooting 4-for-14 (28.6%) and Butler leading 13-10.
“That’s the only thing I was worried about going into the game, whether we would be able to generate enough of a flow because they just put four guys in the lane,” Auriemma said. “We needed Aubrey (Griffin) to play great today because her (defender) was going to be in the lane the entire game and we needed our big guys to shoot the ball well from the perimeter.
“Which is a good test for us because that’s what people are going to do a lot of times.”
Edwards led the way with 20 points and seven rebounds, while Griffin, a forward, and Lou Lopez Senechal, a guard/forward, scored 17 points each.
Part of what helps the Huskies despite a depleted roster is the versatility, with Juhasz and Edwards both able to make shots from outside and also to defend on the perimeter, which oftentimes creates a mismatch with opposing team’s guards.
Several times, Edwards has tipped an entry pass into the open court for a steal and hustled down the court for a layup.
Auriemma said he has called more set plays for the offense than the last two injury-plagued seasons to use the size advantage instead of his normal ideology of letting the Huskies play reactively.
“That’s something I don’t think Aaliyah had when she was a freshman and she’s getting better at it, so that’s comforting for us that we can do that,” Auriemma said. “We play Dorka out on the wing and we have a 6-5 guard out there.
“We can switch defensively and do different things. We can put Aubrey in a couple different spots. We certainly don’t have the flexibility that we had a month ago, two months ago, but practices are about trying to be creative as to where you put people.”
Auriemma calls the next few weeks UConn’s “toughest stretch of the season.”
“So we have to figure out how to do this,” he said. “... This team more than any team I’ve coached maybe in 38 years has had probably more to deal with to prove how strong they are than any team I’ve coached maybe ever.
“I don’t think there’s been a team I’ve had at Connecticut that’s had more to overcome than this one. Pretty remarkable, I think.”