December 7, 2022 

No easy way forward for Connecticut without Azzi Fudd

How will Huskies respond to another injury?

Connecticut sophomore guard Azzi Fudd is expected to miss three to six weeks with a knee injury, the school announced on Tuesday. During the first quarter of Sunday’s loss to Notre Dame, a teammate fell on Fudd’s right knee. Fudd exited the game to the locker room after the collision, appearing to hyperextend her knee. She returned for a few minutes in the second quarter, but was not moving well; she did not return to play in the second half.

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After the loss to Notre Dame, UConn head coach Geno Auriemma suggested that Fudd was kept on the bench as an extra precaution. Based on his comments, it didn’t necessarily appear that Fudd would need to miss significant time off the court.

“I think she’ll be alright,” Auriemma said about Fudd after the game. “It was just one of those things that things happen and your own man falls on top of you. So she tried to go again, but obviously, it didn’t look like she could move. So rather than take any chances, I figured we’d take some precautions instead.”

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Fudd’s injury is another in a string of bad injury luck for the Huskies dating back to last season. Coincidentally, it was during last season’s December 5 game against Notre Dame that Paige Bueckers went down with what would later be determined to be a anterior tibial plateau fracture and lateral meniscus tear. The injury kept Bueckers sidelined for the majority of the regular season. As the season progressed, the Huskies would continue to navigate injuries and personnel changes, as Jackie Powell detailed for Bleacher Report.

To start this season, UConn learned it would be without star guard Paige Bueckers for the entire season after she tore her ACL in a preseason pick-up game. Freshman Ice Brady also sustained a season-ending injury before the first jump ball of the season, and both Caroline Ducharme (neck stiffness) and Dorka Juhász (broken thumb) have missed time to get this season started.

Fudd’s knee injury is another addition to an unfortunate history of injuries for the college sophomore. She missed significant time last season with a foot injury. In high school, Fudd suffered a torn MCL and ACL that required significant rehabilitation to return to the court.

Though the Huskies have become accustomed to adapting on the fly to personnel changes, it is never easy. Looking forward, how will Connecticut attempt to fill the gap left by Azzi Fudd’s time off the court?

Who will step up on offense?

In the absence of Bueckers, Nika Mühl is carrying extra weight to compensate at the point position. To date, she has been successful in the facilitator role, leading the nation in assists per game (10.1) and emerging as the vocal leader on the floor. Mühl hasn’t contributed as many baskets, though, averaging just 5.4 points per game.

UConn will need to make up for the lost offensive production from Fudd, who entered Sunday’s game averaging 24.0 points per game, including two 32-point performances against top-10 opponents. Fudd is not just a scorer, but she’s a clutch scorer who can rack up points fast. UConn will need to find other offensive threats quickly to make up for that lost production.

Lou Lopez Sénéchal, UConn’s second leading scorer (behind Fudd) is averaging 17.4 points per game. As a graduate transfer, Lou has four college seasons at Fairfield under her belt. She led the Stags to the 2022 MAAC Championship and an NCAA Tournament appearance in her senior year. Lou has the experience and the skill to step up as a leader for this team, and her leadership and composure will be especially critical in this moment.

Wings Aubrey Griffin (11.7 points per game) and Caroline Ducharme (5.5 points per game) will likely move towards the perimeter in certain rotations to make up for lost offense. While Griffin has demonstrated an ability stimulate the offensive and provide a spark for UConn off the bench, she is just 27.3 percent from three on 1.6 attempts per game. Ducharme has seen less time in the the rotation, averaging 17.3 minutes as she navigates neck stiffness. It’s hard to say how Inês Bettencourt will fit into the lineup, as she has only played 5.3 minutes per game in four games played to start the season.

Can UConn adjust quickly?

After the loss to rival Notre Dame in South Bend, No. 6 UConn’s challenging early-season schedule persists. This week the Huskies play Ivy League heavyweight Princeton on Thursday and travel to College Park to face No. 20 Maryland on Sunday. Before the month ends, Connecticut plays Florida State in the Basketball Hall of Fame Women’s Showcase, resumes BIG EAST play with matchups against red-hot Seton Hall, No. 18 Creighton and a talented and gritty Marquette team.

Optimistically, Dorka Juhász will return to the lineup shortly. While no timetable has been specified, UConn fans hope that the 6’5 forward will return to alleviate some of the pressure off of 6’3 Aaliyah Edwards in the post. While Edwards has been productive this season, averaging a double-double with 15.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, she can’t do it all on her own. Edwards had a below-average performance against the Irish on Sunday, scoring 14 points and grabbing just five rebounds. Having Juhász in the rotation alleviates pressure from Edwards to hold down the post against more physical teams. The sooner she’s back, the quicker UConn will adjust to a Fudd-less reality.

Also, while teams on UConn’s schedule know that there is a vulnerability here with key injuries on the roster, they also know that there is absolutely no shortage of talent whatsover. UConn women’s basketball alum and Princeton head coach Carla Berube hasn’t adjusted her gameplan headed into Gampel this Thursday. She knows Geno Auriemma will have the Huskies ready to go with a talented and prepared squad.

“Next All-American up,” Berube said on a Zoom call with the media on Tuesday.

Talent is aplenty in Storrs. And Geno Auriemma, UConn Associate Head Coach Chris Dailey and the rest of the Connecticut coaching staff are as prepared for a challenge as any in the country. While the nation must bear another delay in witnessing the pure talent that is Azzi Fudd, there are plenty of other storylines to track until her return.

Written by Tee Baker

Tee has been a contributor to The Next since March Madness 2021 and is currently a contributing editor, BIG EAST beat reporter and curator of historical deep dives.

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