Give it to Griffin: Redshirt junior a steadying force for No. 5 UConn women
Aubrey Griffin caught the ball in front of the UConn bench late Sunday, a pass from point guard Nika Muhl, and she floated down the right side of the lane to the basket, bouncing off a defender yet never flinching.
Griffin scored, laying the ball off the glass, drawing the foul and putting a struggling UConn women’s basketball team back in front with 3 minutes, 48 seconds to play after what had been a struggle with a depleted roster and an unforgiving schedule.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma admitted later that his strategy down the stretch of the 63-58 victory over Big East foe Villanova was to give the ball to Griffin, the agile 6-foot-1 forward. Griffin was playing with four fouls at the time.
“We went more to Aubrey because she looked like she had more life in her legs and we thought they didn’t have anybody that could guard her in the lane,” Auriemma said. “We tried to go places where we thought we had an advantage.”
Griffin finished with a team-high 19 points and six rebounds. She was 7-for-9 from the free throw line, helping to give fifth-ranked UConn 18 points from the line.
The Huskies (20-2, 12-0) remained in first place in the Big East, avoiding their second straight loss to No. 21 Villanova at the XL Center.
UConn plays at Providence (13-10, 4-8) Wednesday (7 p.m., SNY) at Alumni Hall, the Huskies’ fifth game in 12 days with only an eight-player roster. UConn used just six players against Villanova and had no subs at all in the second half.
Griffin, a redshirt junior, missed all of last season due to a back injury, undergoing surgery on Jan. 10, 2022. She played her first game in 587 days on Nov. 10 against Northeastern, shooting 6-for-7 to finish with 13 points and five rebounds.
Beginning Nov. 20 against N.C. State, Griffin has since started 18 straight games and is averaging 13.9 points — more than doubling her career average — and 7.2 rebounds per game. She scored a career-high 29 points Dec. 8 against Princeton, tying program legend Rebecca Lobo for consecutive field goals made in a game with 11.
Griffin has scored in double figures 16 times this season, that after watching her teammates in the 2022 loss to Villanova at the XL Center.
“I mean, I didn’t play last year, so I think definitely being able to play this year and contributing and trying to help my team in any way I can to help us win, it’s been good,” Griffin said Sunday. “Definitely watching back on last year (against Villanova), it just goes to show how far I’ve come.”
“As she mentioned, going from last year to this year and not being able to play, and then playing and showing out and balling out, today, I think she helped us a lot to our win and contributed a lot and we need that from her,” UConn junior Aaliyah Edwards said. “Going into a crucial part of our season, we’re going to need that from her every day. Today, Aubrey was just on fire.”
Auriemma said it’s a matter of maturity. In the past, Griffin would let whatever happened on the court bug her for an extended period of time.
On Sunday, however, Griffin picked up her third foul with 3:27 left in the second quarter and came out of the game. She was tagged with her fourth foul at the 8:40 mark of the fourth quarter.
Griffin played on. She hit two free throws to tie the game at 52, then manufactured the three-point play to put UConn ahead 55-52.
“I didn’t want to get tentative and stop trying,” Griffin said. “I didn’t think too much about it. I just went out there and played regardless of my fouls. I’m still going to play just as hard but just be smart about it.”
“Some players, they get their third (foul) and before the ref leaves the scorer’s table, they’ve got their fourth ... and it’s all mental, it’s all your composure, it’s all your awareness of everything that’s going on,” Auriemma said. “Aubrey’s grown up a lot in that area. She’s more confident about where I have to go, what I can do, not hesitating. Her maturity has really come at a perfect time for us.”
Providence, meanwhile, is coming off a 50-48 victory Saturday at Xavier, getting a game-winning jump shot from 5-11 junior guard Grace Efosa with 4.4 seconds remaining. The Friars are led by 5-10 senior guard Janai Crooms with 11.9 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.
UConn remains without sophomores Caroline Ducharme (concussion) and Azzi Fudd (right knee) due to injuries.