February 17, 2023
Sights and sounds from a BIG EAST classic in Storrs
Caroline Ducharme's heroic return to the UConn line-up
STORRS, CT — Amidst a season of chronic injuries, short rotations and overall bad luck, the UConn Huskies received some good news prior to tip-off against BIG EAST foe Creighton on Wednesday evening. In addition to the return of team mascot Jonathan the (actual dog) husky from medical leave, it was announced that UConn sophomore guard Caroline Ducharme would return to the court. Ducharme, who last suited up for UConn on New Year’s Eve against Marquette, had played in just 10 prior games this season due to concussion protocol.
“Nobody wants to play more than Caroline,” said UConn head coach Geno Auriemma. “There’s kids that want to play as much. But nobody wants to play more. And it was killing her to have to sit down.”
Just before tip-off, another nice moment for the Huskies: UConn junior Aaliyah Edwards was honored for scoring 1,000 career points, a feat she accomplished during a Feb. 5 loss to South Carolina. Lou Lopez Sénéchal, who started her college career at Fairfield before transferring to UConn at the start of the 2022-23 season, was also honored. Lopez Sénéchal hit the 2,000 point mark in the first quarter against Marquette last week in Milwaukee.
With the news of Jonathan and Caroline’s returns, and the acknowledgement of starters Edwards and Lopez Sénéchal, the vibes were immaculate throughout a nearly-full Gampel Pavilion.
Tight first half
After the pregame festivities wrapped up, the game was underway. Creighton won the tip, and started the game with a made turnaround jumper by junior Morgan Maly. Both teams started off with hot shooting that matched the unseasonably warm temperature in Storrs for the evening. The BIG EAST heavyweights traded buckets during the first quarter, with six ties and five lead changes.
Throughout the entirety of the opening quarter, Creighton shot 43.8% from the field (4-12 3pt FG) and UConn registered a 46.7% field goal shooting percentage (3-8 from beyond the arc). For the Bluejays, four made three-pointers in the first quarter eclipsed their total made three-pointers last time out against the Huskies, when they hit just three three-pointers the entire game in a 72-47 loss.
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At the 1:43 mark in the first quarter, Caroline Ducharme checked into the game to thunderous applause from UConn fans. A healthy and available Caroline Ducharme is a great sign for a UConn squad that has struggled with depth for much of this season.
“We needed another shooter, we needed another person to space the floor,” Auriemma said about the impact of Ducharme’s return. “You know, what’s been happening is there’s so much congestion in the lane, and you saw it every time Dorka [Juhász], every time Aaliyah touched the ball. It’s just — there’s no room for them to breathe in there. So having the ability to put [Caroline] on one end of the floor, and [Lou Lopez Sénéchal] on the other is going to help those big guys get more room to operate. And if you remember early in the season, you know, we had Azzi [Fudd] and Caroline, you know, we’re firing up threes, you know, taking 25 to 30 of them, again, whatever it was. And now we’re down to like barely half of that. So having Caroline back gives us an opportunity to you know, score some points and not have to grind it out, grind it out every single possession.”
UConn was able to use an 11-0 run to build a 30-21 third quarter lead over Creighton. The Bluejays’ hot hands would return, however, before the first half buzzer sounded. Following consecutive made three-pointers by Lauren Jenson and Rachael Saunders, Creighton closed the gap to 31-29 headed into halftime.
In her seven first half minutes of play, Ducharme took and missed three shots, and seemed to be finding her footing on the court. After missing several weeks navigating concussion-related symptoms like migraines and neck stiffness, she explained that getting back into the rhythm of a game was a bit of an adjustment.
“Practice is very different than a game,” Ducharme said postgame. “So I think I’ve been feeling good in practice, but you check into a game and there’s a lot of stuff that goes into it. There’s a lot of different aspects and variables. So I think just being out on the floor was a big step for me and just being able to handle everything that goes with being in the game—the lights and noise all of that and then still being able to play basketball.”
Creighton takes control
Quarter three belonged to the Bluejays. To start the quarter, Creighton jumped out of the gate to an 11-0 run en route to a commanding 40-31 lead. Dorka Juhász ended the UConn drought, sinking a three-pointer at the 4:59 mark that allowed the anxious UConn faithful, who traditionally stand at the start of each half until a made UConn bucket, to take their seats.
Creighton maintained control throughout the entire third quarter behind the hot hand of junior Morgan Maly, who scored eight points, including two three-pointers in the quarter. Rachael Saunders (five points), Carly Bachelor (four points) and Lauren Jenson (two points) also contributed on the offensive end, and Creighton outscored UConn 19-8 for the quarter.
“It’s hard to win against teams that every time you make a mistake, they get a layup on a wide open three; and not just get them, they make them or at least they make enough of them,” Auriemma said of Creighton.
The Bluejays took a 48-39 lead into the final quarter.
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The Ducharme show
Through three quarters, Caroline Ducharme remained scoreless. That was about to change.
After Creighton extended its lead to 11 in the fourth, UConn began to chip away at the lead. At the 8:06 mark in the fourth quarter, Ducharme got on the board with a momentum-shifting, fast break three-pointer that brought the game to within five points, 50-45.
As the quarter progressed, Ducharme continued to come through in the clutch for Connecticut. She scored a layup on the Huskies’ next possession, and then converted on an and-one to bring UConn to within three points, 57-54, with just under three minutes to go in the game.
Following an Aaliyah Edwards layup and and a gorgeous Lou Lopez Sénéchal back-door cut, UConn took a 58-57 lead with 1:43 remaining in the game. The UConn home crowd was on their feet, responding to the “GET LOUD” prompts on each of the arena’s jumbotrons.
Creighton wasn’t finished, though. On the next position, Morgan Maly coolly drained a crowd-silencing three-pointer to put Creighton up 60-58 with 1:18 on the clock.
After a timeout, UConn had possession of the ball. A tense few seconds ticked of the clock as UConn was unable to convert against tough Creighton defense, leading to a heldball, possession arrow UConn. As play resumed, Lopez Sénéchal secured the ball just inside the three point line and knocked down a game-tying jumper, 60-60.
With 47 seconds remaining on the clock, Creighton coach Jim Flanery took a timeout to advance the ball. Caroline Ducharme checked out of the game. During the possession that followed, Dorka Juhász stole the ball off a bad pass turnover from Lauren Jenson, and then UConn called a timeout with 39 seconds in the game.
Out of the timeout, Auriemma drew up a play to get Juhász open for a corner three, which she missed. Creighton’s Lauren Jenson secured the defensive rebound, and Creighton ran the the ball up the court in transition with no shot clock remaining in the game. In a scramble to establish transition offense, Morgan Maly was called for an offensive foul, and UConn regained possession with 16 seconds to go in the contest. Creighton coach Jim Flanery took advantage of a 30-second UConn timeout to share his disdain with the refs over the call.
When play resumed, Caroline Ducharme checked back into the game and ended up with the ball in her hands. As she had done two times prior in the quarter, Ducharme maneuvered her way into the lane with a poised aggressiveness and drew a foul, earning a trip for two shots at the free throw line. She sank both, in what would be the game-winning shots.
“Everyone was hitting shots, so I think anyone—it was anyone’s shot,” Ducharme said of her clutch foul shots. “It was anyone’s moment, so I think it just happened to me.”
Wednesday evening was indeed Caroline Ducharme’s moment, returning to the court after being sidelined for the past six weeks. As the only player off of UConn’s bench, she came up huge down the stretch. Moving into a crucial final stretch of conference play, Ducharme’s successful return into the rotation could be the x-factor for the Huskies.