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Ducharme scores game-winner for No. 10 UConn in 80-78 win at DePaul

What ordinarily might be surprising, UConn giving the ball to freshman Caroline Ducharme on the final play of the game, score tied 78-all, and Ducharme hitting a driving layup for the biggest win of the year, had become the ordinary.

"I wasn't surprised," UConn freshman Azzi Fudd told an SNY broadcaster immediately following the game.

"I'm not surprised," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "She's the best on our team at getting to the basket and she's the best at finishing, so with the score tied I just wanted the ball in her hands ... someone who's a good free throw shooter, someone who can get to the basket, someone who isn't afraid."

The indispensable Ducharme, who finished with 19 points, leading the 10th-ranked UConn women's basketball game in scoring for the sixth time in the last eight games, connected on a drive to the basket with 1.6 seconds remaining Wednesday night, giving the Huskies a breathless 80-78 victory over Big East Conference rival DePaul in Chicago.

UConn (12-4, 7-0) extended its conference winning streak to 167 games dating back to 2013 and including time in the Big East, the American Athletic Conference and its most recent tenure back in the Big East.

The Huskies were originally scheduled to play a nonleague game at top-ranked South Carolina on Thursday but the teams agreed to cancel that meeting and reschedule conference games that had been postponed instead. That left UConn, shorthanded of late due to injuries and illnesses, with a quick turnaround to DePaul, which was leading the nation in scoring with 92.1 points per game.

Auriemma said in a conference call Tuesday that he expected senior Christyn Williams, who missed the last three games due to COVID-19 protocols, to play "a couple minutes" and he wasn't expecting freshman Azzi Fudd, who missed 12 games with a right foot injury, to contribute at all.

Instead, UConn got a boost from the return of its two guards. Williams finished with 17 points in 32 minutes and Fudd had 15 points in 22 minutes, including three 3-pointers. Nika Muhl added 12 points and five assists while Dorka Juhasz had eight points and a team-best 12 rebounds.

The Huskies overcame a 30-point, 14-rebound performance from DePaul freshman Aneesah Morrow, who was injured with 3 minutes, 5 seconds left in the third quarter only to return at the start of the fourth quarter. Morrow made a pair of free throws with 8.6 seconds left to tie the game and UConn called a timeout to set up its final play.

Fudd inbounded the ball, giving it to Muhl who found Ducharme, the understated freshman nicknamed "Carol" by her teammates. Ducharme is averaging 18.8 points per game over the last nine games and Auriemma said recently that the 6-foot-2 guard from Milton, Mass., is "not afraid of the moment."

"The idea was we were trying to get the ball to Caroline. DePaul did a pretty good job of taking it away but Caroline moves pretty well without the ball so she didn't give up on it and kept moving," Auriemma said.

DePaul, backed by 17 points and six rebounds from Morrow, led 40-31 at halftime following a 21-2 run to end the second quarter. UConn led 29-19 on a 3-pointer by Fudd before the Blue Demons unleashed a 17-0 stomping to close, sparked by a 3-pointer by DePaul's Lexi Held to answer Fudd.

Auriemma greeted his team angrily at halftime, annoyed that everything the Huskies did so well in the first quarter came unraveled as soon as DePaul pushed back.

"Like any good team, they're going to make some adjustments and were going to ramp it up a little bit and when they did, I thought we took a step back," Auriemma said. "We were kind of almost surprised that they would come back at us. I was really, really disappointed at halftime and I was really mad at our reaction to what DePaul was doing.

"Second half it was a completely different team that came out for the third quarter. ... I'm just glad five of them came out. I thought they'd stay in the locker room."

Juhasz, who played just six minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, scored to start the third quarter. Still down by nine a few moments later, Juhasz scored again assisted by Muhl to start a 7-0 run that included a three-point play by Williams and a basket by Ducharme off a nice catch on a pass from Juhasz. That pulled UConn within two at 44-42 and prompted a Blue Demons timeout.

Later in the third, Fudd tied the game at 50 with a 3-pointer and Fudd, the former national high school player of the year, followed that with a midrange jump shot to give UConn a 52-50 lead. The Huskies led 54-53 at the end of three quarters.

There were six lead changes in the fourth quarter alone, three in the final 2:11. Ducharme's 3 made it 74-73 UConn, after which DePaul's Sonya Morris gave the Blue Demons a 75-74 edge and, finally, UConn's Williams drove and was fouled to give the Huskies the 76-75 advantage. Williams scored again to make it 78-75 but Morrow hit three of four free throws to tie it.

UConn called a timeout with 8.6 seconds to play.

"I think just staying together ... the big thing was just to stay together, stay level, that's what we did," Fudd told SNY.

Morris had 19 points for DePaul (16-5 overall, 8-2 in the Big East), while Held and Darionne Rogers had 12 each.

v.fulkerson@theday.com

 

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