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No. 11 UConn women top Creighton 63-58 after long layoff

Storrs — Caroline Ducharme drove to score the last points of the first half for the 11th-ranked UConn women's basketball team and when she came back to the other end of the floor, she responded with one of her three blocked shots in the game.

The block so excited Ducharme's teammate, Nika Muhl, that Muhl greeted Ducharme with a spirited chest bump, which seemed to catch Ducharme somewhat by surprise.

"I do remember that," Ducharme said. "(Muhl) is like that. She has so much enthusiasm. She has so much energy and I think the team really feeds off of it."

The Huskies have also been feeding off Ducharme, the unassuming freshman guard, who led UConn in scoring Sunday for the second straight game, finishing with 17 points, five rebounds, three blocks, two assists and two steals in a 63-55 Big East Conference victory over Creighton.

Ducharme had a career-high 24 points in the Huskies' last game over Louisville and returned from the 21-day break for the holiday-related, COVID-19-related break shooting 7-for-13, hitting two 3-point field goals, and with a renewed sense of purpose on defense before a crowd of 6,636 at Gampel Pavilion.

So, how to best describe Ducharme?

"She's such a competitor, you know?" UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "She competes and she wants to be really, really good, so whatever she sets her mind to it's going to get done. I have no doubt about that.

"Her competive spirit allows her to get better because she doesn't dwell on what she can't do. She had about a week or so in practice in December where things kind of caught up with her but for the most part she just plays on. She doesn't worry about what the previous play brought. She just goes on and makes the next play, the next play, the next play and that's what I really admire about her."

UConn (7-3, 2-0) had four players in double figures, with Christyn Williams (13), Aaliyah Edwards (12) and Dorka Juhasz (10) joining Ducharme. Juhasz scored all of her points in the first half in a game the Huskies had just seven players or what Auriemma referred to earlier in the week as "six-and-a-half," with Muhl coming off an injury and limited to 15 minutes.

The Huskies, still playing without several injured players, including 2021 national player of the year Paige Bueckers, led 49-39 at halftime, with the offense starting out strong in a 21-point first quarter, Williams and Juhasz knocking down 3-pointers.

They led by as many as 17 with 5 minutes, 56 seconds remaining in the game before Creighton closed with an 11-2 run and some pressure defense.

Creighton, led by four 3-pointers and 14 points from Morgan Maly, is 10-4 overall, 5-1 in the Big East, having come into the game tied for first place in league play.

Auriemma credited UConn's defense — "they're not an easy team to defend," he said, "you've got to work really, really hard and you've got to keep working and the minute you stop they get a layup or an open 3" — but called attention to the inconsistency on offense as something the Huskies will have to solve.

"When you watch this particular group play, there really is an up and down factor to it," Auriemma said. "That's the only constant that I've seen is inconsistency. Players will look really, really good for four or five possessions and then they'll look completely opposite for five possessions."

Without Bueckers, the team's whiz kid at point guard, UConn has been short in its guard rotation, with Muhl and freshman Azzi Fudd both out with foot injuries. That left just Ducharme, Williams and Evina Westbrook at guard. Muhl played 17 minutes Sunday but was plagued with four fouls during that time.

"We're searching for who's going to be that individual on the court that's going to be able to bring a sense of order to what we're doing," Auriemma said. "That to me is the most glaring thing that this team has to fix. We're missing a quarterback. We're trying to play real high level but we're missing a quarterback. We're missing a calming influence on the floor."

UConn is next scheduled to play at Butler on Wednesday before returning home to face Xavier on Saturday at the XL Center.

Ducharme is now averaging 8.3 points per game, having scored just four total points in the Huskies' first four games before responding with double figures in four out of the last five.

"I mean, obviously we've had some injuries. Honestly, we needed people to step up," UConn's Williams said of Ducharme. "I think Caroline has done an amazing job just filling in that role. I see it every day in practice. She's a scorer. She's not afraid to shoot that thing. She just lets it fly and we love it."

"Everyone kind of knew that everyone had to step up in different ways to fill the gaps that we lost," Ducharme said. "Just coming in knowing I have to have a different role, a different mindset."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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