November 22, 2022
Sights and sounds from UConn’s win over NC State
Strong guard play and defensive intensity propelled the Huskies
HARTFORD, Conn. — Coming off a big win against Texas on Monday, the Connecticut Huskies followed up with a top 10 win over N.C. State on Sunday in Hartford. UConn pretty much set the tone the entire game en route to a 91-69 dismantling of the Wolfpack.
The big win for the Huskies didn’t come without some adversity, though. A Connecticut team that is missing Paige Bueckers and freshman Ice Brady to season-ending injuries announced on Saturday that Dorka Juhász would be unavailable for the game. The 6’5 forward is set to miss at least three games after breaking her left thumb against Texas earlier in the week. And then the Huskies faced more uncertainty moments before the game began.
Before tip-off, during the national anthem, UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey (CD) appeared to faint on the court. Both teams left the court, and an eerie quiet filled the XL Center. UConn players were visibly shaken, some with tears in their eyes after a very scary moment. Fans held their breath while a stretcher removed Dailey from the court. The long-time UConn coach waved to fans with a smile to a round of thunderous applause and cheers of “We love you, CD.” An additional 10 minutes were added to the clock to allow for players to complete warm-up. At around 1:20 p.m., the game tipped off.
Thankfully, Daily is okay. UConn head coach Geno Auriemma confirmed during the postgame press conference that CD “is good. Everything tested out pretty good. Nothing serious, nothing threatening.”
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Dailey is synonymous with the UConn program. Since 1985, the Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer has been the steady, consistent and level-headed complement to a fiery Geno Auriemma. UConn simply would not have the success it enjoys today without Dailey. Her impact on the players, program and community are unmatched, and she is an absolute legend of the game.
“We definitely played this game for CD,” said sophomore Nika Mühl. “She definitely gave us strength.”
Elite guard play
When UConn junior and 2020 National Player of the Year Paige Bueckers was ruled out for the season after she tore her ACL in a preseason pick-up game, the Huskies’ outlook for the season took a nosedive.
After three games, it appears that UConn’s guard play is in good hands, led by scrappy junior Nika Mühl. Mühl is the heart of this team, pumping up teammates after made shots and diving for loose balls. Against N.C. State, Mühl dished a program-high 15 assists in 39 minutes of play. Considering that prolific guards the likes of Sue Bird, Renee Montgomery and Moriah Jefferson that have passed through Storrs during their playing careers, that is quite the accomplishment.
Picking up where she left off after a career-high 32-point effort against Texas last week, shooting guard Azzi Fudd matched that scoring total (32 points) with a 50% field goal percentage (12-for-24), including six three-pointers. It seemed every time the Wolfpack tried to claw into UConn’s lead, Fudd would deflate them with a big shot. Her shooting touch is something special, and she has the potential to be a generational scorer for the Huskies.
After the halftime break, it was time for another UConn guard to step up. Grad student Lou Lopez Sénéchal netted 20 points in the second. Lou brings the experience of a four-year career at Fairfield University to UConn, and brings a steadiness and assuredness to this squad. When she has a hot shooting hand, she can add an additional offensive punch that helps to bridge a Paige Bueckers-sized scoring gap.
After the game, Nika Mühl ran off the court to a home crowd applause and was greeted by a pumped-up Paige Bueckers. Bueckers embraced Mühl, patted her on the head and pointed up to the jumbotron, acknowledging a career-night.
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The guard trio of Mühl, Fudd and Lopez Sénéchal provides the UConn backcourt with a defensive intensity and multiple scoring threats. While its remains a huge loss for the Huskies to be without Bueckers for the entire season, reports of the demise of UConn’s roster seem to have been greatly exaggerated.
With the caveat that UConn defeated Texas without their star guard Rori Harmon, it is promising that the Huskies’ guards were able to deliver against two top opponents. The UConn coaching staff knows how to get the best out of its players, and with time the backcourt trio will hopefully continue to find a rhythm and roles will be clarified. It UConn can consistently rely on its backcourt to put up 40-50 points a game (likely, mostly from Azzi Fudd), they will be a very difficult team to contain.
“A one person whirlwind”
After missing the 2021-22 season due to injury, Aubrey Griffin is back. Griffin was all over the floor. The hyper-athletic forward has incredible footwork and quick hands, and disrupted the flow of the Wolfpack offense.
“She’s like a one person whirlwind out there, right? I mean, it’s, you know, in a five minute stretch, the game was going haywire,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “And it’s funny, I even asked her about it. She had a great shootaround this morning. And she was all over the place, you know, could just see. And, you know, her intensity level was at another level this morning. And I really challenged her to be disruptive and be crazy.”
Griffin rose to the occasion, contributing 16 points, six rebounds and six steals. She was a major difference maker for the team, and will be an important member of a squad looking for players to step up in response to injuries.
“Aubrey was a beast today, I loved it,” Mühl said. “Nothing new, she does what she does. She does that every day in practice. She’s definitely the biggest guy on defense for us, she’s our best defensive player, and you could see that today. And having her at point of our [full-court] press, I’m like, ‘Everything’s fine. We got this.’ She gave so much energy today and she was great.”
Coming into UConn in 2019, Griffin was a top-25 recruit with a tremendously high ceiling. She watched the Huskies from home last season, recovering from a back surgery that left her unable to move at times. There were stretches of last season where UConn desperately needed a spark off the bench against top opponents. Griffin is a solid sixth woman for the Huskies team whose lack of depth hurt them in key moments down the stretch against top competition.
What’s the key to such a swift and strong return for Griffin? The usually understated Griffin kept it simple:
“Yeah, I mean, I just try to go out and play each game the same way and just have the same energy going in and just do what I can help my teammates,” Griffin said postgame.
A healthy Aubrey Griffin could be the X-factor the this year’s Huskies squad.
Daunting schedule ahead
Later this week, the Huskies travel to Portland, Oregon to compete in the Phil Knight Legacy tournament. Other teams in the women’s field include Duke, Iowa and Oregon State. The teams will compete in a bracket-style format on Nov. 25 and 27.
The tournament is just one obstacle in a tenuous non-conference schedule for UConn. In December UConn takes on Princeton, travels to College Park to take on Maryland and faces off against Florida State in the Basketball Hall of Fame women’s showcase. They then start conference play against top-tier BIG EAST challengers Seton Hall, Creighton and Marquette.
While its promising that UConn’s guard and wing play has been solid thus far, Auriemma believes that consistent post play will decide how the season shakes out.
“Our post players are going to decide the fate of our season,” Auriemma said. “Because right now, we’re not we’re not whole yet, you know, we don’t have everybody there. And I know what’s going to happen. I know how people are going to struggle shooting the ball, because they always do. At some point, the ball is not going to go into basket as much. And you saw that with [Lou Lopez Sénéchal] the first half. So we’re gonna go as far as our post players take us.”
With Juhász out for the next few games and 6’3 freshman forward out for the season, a lot of pressure falls on junior Aliyah Edwards. Edwards struggled with consistency last season, and needs to rise to the occasion on a rough shooting night. Edwards added a very strong 20 points and 12 rebounds to the box score on Sunday, a performance that Auriemma said reminded him of Edwards’ freshman year, where “she played like an All-American type player.”
Edwards will need to be able to consistently deliver for UConn, scoring efficiently and being aggressive on the boards, for the program to reach its 15th consecutive Final Four.
But, as Auriemma pointed out postgame, the competition in women’s college basketball is stronger than ever:
“It’s great sign for women’s basketball. I think that now you can’t just walk into the gym and you know, roll it out there and go, ‘Yeah, well, we’re top 10 team in the country. And we can just roll over this because you’re unranked.’ I think those days are over,” Auriemma said. “I don’t think anybody’s good enough to do that. And those other teams are just too good right now. There’s so much better—better coached, you know better, better sense of purpose the way those kids play. I love it. I think it’s gonna be great. I think if this keeps up that’s the kind of thing that’s made March Madness the madness that is on the men’s side, right? And we need some of that madness on the women’s side, more of it. We’ve already had some; we need more of it.”
UConn continues its season at the Phil Knight Legacy tournament with a matchup against Duke on Nov. 25. The game tips at 6 p.m. ET and can be watched on ESPN2 and ESPNU.