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UConn's Auriemma hopes to blend lessons of the past with Huskies' incoming talent

With UConn women's basketball players set to arrive for the summer session of classes beginning June 1, coach Geno Auriemma spoke Wednesday morning of renewal — the Huskies are adding three freshmen, along with graduate transfer Dorka Juhasz — and of, finally, an air of normalcy following a year of COVID-19 protocols.

But also, there has got to be a carryover, he said, from last year's team which went 28-2, won the Big East Conference championship and earned a trip to its 13th straight Final Four, a way to build on what went right and rework the things that went wrong.

"That means something," Auriemma said on a Zoom videoconference, speaking of the Huskies 2020-21 season, which ended not that long ago, April 2, with a 69-59 loss to Arizona in the national semifinals. "We as a coaching staff, we were talking yesterday about, 'Hey, what did we learn from last year?'

"'What did we really, really, really like that we want to keep doing and do better? What didn't we like that we need to get rid of? What do we want to add that we didn't do at all last year that fits our style of play and it fits our players?'"

Auriemma said it will be between creating a new team dynamic with the additional players and seeing how the team's seniors, Christyn Williams, Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Evina Westbrook, react to the season's somewhat unexpected loss to Arizona.

"I am really anxious to see how our three seniors handle how the season ended," Auriemma said. "I would like to think that they feel like there's some residue left over that's not good for them and they've got some unfinished business to take care of."

Of last year's players, sophomores Paige Bueckers — who won every national player of the year award for which she was eligible — and Piath Gabriel will miss the team's summer workouts following surgery, while fellow sophomore Aaliyah Edwards is with the Canadian National Team and hoping to earn a spot on the Olympic roster.

Freshman Azzi Fudd is playing for USA Basketball's U19 World Cup Team and classmate Amari DeBerry is also a finalist for that roster. UConn has the second-ranked incoming class, with Fudd — the top recruit in the high school class of 2021 — joined by No. 5 Caroline Ducharme, No. 15 DeBerry and No. 30 Saylor Poffenberger. Poffenbarger enrolled early at UConn and played for the Huskies during the second semester.

Auriemma also spoke about college basketball's transfer portal, his new five year contract and of UConn baseball coach Jim Penders, who Auriemma called "maybe the best coach in America and the best coach at the University of Connecticut."

Auriemma's main objective for the summer is to get his team acclimated to being in a classroom again, as last year's team took part in remote learning throughout the school year, as well as adjusted to UConn's basketball culture.

He expects this summer to be different than the last one. Amid COVID last year, the players arrived in late July, then were assigned pods of either three or four, in which they lived and worked out.

"Yeah," Auriemma said. "You are getting a sense of that (normalcy). There's a difference in the air. ... I'm at work every day. Our whole staff is here. Last year, the most exciting part of my day was 'What kind of wine am I having today, red or white?' That's no way to live. I mean it is, don't get me wrong. But (this) feels great, man. I'm telling you, it feels a million times different."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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