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    Friday, March 01, 2024

    No. 11 UConn women to face No. 10 Texas without 3-point threats Fudd, Ducharme

    UConn’ Nika Muhl, center, looks to pass under pressure from the Texas defense during last year’s matchup between the teams in Storrs. The No. 11 Huskies and No. 10 Longhorns will meet at 3 p.m. Sunday in Austin, Texas (ABC). Texas is unbeaten, while UConn is still getting used to its new lineup without 3-point threat Azzi Fudd, who is out for the season with a knee injury. (Jessica Hill/AP Photo)
    UConn head coach Geno Auriemma gestures to his team during last season’s matchup against Texas in Storrs. (Jessica Hill/AP Photo)
    UConn’s Azzi Fudd, left, dribbles up the floor followed by teammate Aubrey Griffin during last season’s game against Texas. Fudd, who scored 32 points in that game, will miss the remainder of this season with a knee injury. (Jessica Hill/AP Photo)
    UConn’s Aaliyah Edwards, left, in last year’s matchup with Texas, will have her hands full once again Sunday with the Longhorns’ post presence. (Jessica Hill/AP Photo)

    Between games, UConn coach Geno Auriemma says he’s adjusting well to the new reality for his team.

    The Huskies are down a perimeter threat for the remainder of the season; Azzi Fudd tore the ACL and the meniscus in her right knee after playing in just two games. And they’re down another 3-point specialist in Caroline Ducharme for the foreseeable future due to neck spasms.

    “And then when I sit there and I’m watching what’s happening in some of the games, it burns me up knowing what could have been and, instead, what it is,” Auriemma said this week.

    “Had we gone into the season without any of these guys, I would already be acclimated to it. But not after what I saw in June, the entire summer. It just kills me to watch us play sometimes with one hand behind our back. Again.”

    No. 11 UConn (4-2) will continue to plow its way through a taxing nonconference schedule when it travels to play No. 10 Texas (8-0) at 3 p.m. Sunday in the Jimmy V Women’s Classic (ABC).

    It is the fifth straight Top 15 matchup between UConn and Texas, which is ranked seventh nationally with 91.8 points per game under fourth-year head coach Vic Schaefer.

    UConn still has a veteran lineup which includes former national player of the year Paige Bueckers, averaging 20.7 points per game. Bueckers is joined by fellow seniors Aaliyah Edwards (14.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg) and Nika Muhl (4.7 apg) and redshirt senior Aubrey Griffin (9.2 ppg, team-high 6.8 rpg). Freshman Ashlynn Shade got her first career start in the Huskies’ last game, a 71-63 victory over Kansas.

    The defense has been staunch at times, holding then-No. 20 Maryland to 48 points.

    But the offense, with the exception of Bueckers, has been hard work.

    It is the third straight season the Huskies have been derailed by serious injuries to Fudd, Bueckers, Ducharme, Griffin and Co. Auriemma admires the fact that his players have just kept going.

    “I feel for the upperclassmen ’cause it’s all they’ve known since they’ve been in college,” Auriemma said. “All they’ve known is bubble (due to COVID-19) and we’re missing pieces. I think they were all anticipating that this year was going to be different, that this year all that was going away.

    “The response, I think, has been a real punch in the gut. Me seeing that and me seeing their frustration and them seeing mine, I think it’s inevitable. You can’t hide it. I think I probably have not handled it great internally and probably externally at times, as well. And that’s my job.

    “... I don’t think anybody deserves to be in this situation as many times as we’ve been in it.”

    Auriemma said the lineup may look different on a game-to-game basis, depending on the opponent. UConn’s schedule doesn’t get any easier with No. 24 North Carolina and No. 22 Louisville coming up. The Huskies’ two losses are to No. 2 UCLA and No. 5 NC State.

    Texas, the preseason favorite in the Big 12, is led by 6-foot-4 forward Taylor Jones with 17.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game and 5-6 guard Rori Harmon with 11.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 3.1 steals. Harmon was named the Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year and 6-1 forward Madison Booker the Preseason Freshman of the Year.

    So the Longhorns have strengths in ballhandling, as well as in the post.

    “Everything,” Auriemma said, asked of what worries him about Texas. “They’ve always been tremendously aggressive defensively. They’ve always been relentless in their attempt to create turnovers and get out in transition. And then their size. It’s almost the same thing that worried me last season is enhanced now.”

    UConn defeated Texas 83-76 last season in Storrs, but did so with a 32-point effort from Fudd. Harmon did not play in that game for Texas while sidelined with a foot injury.

    This is the first game for the Longhorns this season against a ranked opponent.

    UConn’s Muhl said overcoming adversity is not unfamiliar for the team’s upperclassmen.

    “I don’t know any different, honestly,” Muhl said. “Just trying to teach the young guys, too, that we just got to play Connecticut basketball. Whoever we have on the court, whoever we don’t, we are not going to change a thing about us, about our identity and who we are on the court and off the court.

    “It’s obviously a little more challenging and difficult, it’s A LOT more challenging and difficult not having our shooters on the perimeter. But we have guys that can shoot ... just building their confidence, instilling that ‘you can do this’ in each and every one of us.”


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