January 7, 2023 

Concerning trend of injury woes leaves UConn unable to compete

Due to injuries, UConn fails to meet the minimum number of active players required by the BIG EAST

Friday night the BIG EAST announced that Sunday’s game between UConn and DePaul would be postponed. The conference requires teams to have a minimum of seven scholarship student-athletes available to play. However, following injuries to Aaliyah Edwards and Ayanna Patterson, sustained during the Huskies’ win over Xavier on Thursday, UConn fell below the threshold. Edwards tweaked an ankle during a play in the first quarter that ended with Edwards tumbling out of bounds and tangling with the crowd. Details on Patterson’s injury are unknown at this time.

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Edwards and Patterson join Paige Bueckers, Azzi Fudd, Caroline Ducharme and Ice Brady on the inactive list. Bueckers went down for the season after tearing an ACL during a pickup game in August. Fudd injured her knee in a game against Notre Dame in early December and has missed seven games thus far. Ducharme entered the season recovering from offseason hip surgery and missed the opener due to neck stiffness; she’s currently inactive due to a concussion that occurred during practice on January 2. Brady, like Bueckers, is also out for the season after dislocating her patella during a late October practice. 

Injuries have been rampant this season among the players currently active for the Huskies as well. Nika Mühl missed one game while in the concussion protocol following an in-game collision with a teammate’s knee, Dorka Juhász suffered a broken thumb on Nov. 14 leading to a seven-game absence, and Inês Bettencourt sprained an ankle during practice in December.

Even the Husky coaching staff has failed to avoid the curse-like series of unfortunate health concerns afflicting the UConn roster. In late November, associate head coach Chris Dailey fainted on the court just prior to the Huskies facing off against N.C. State. Dailey was taken to the hospital, and cleared to return for the next game. The following month, head coach Geno Auriemma missed two games with what was described as “flu-like symptoms” less than two weeks after the death of his mother. Auriemma has sat out two additional games to start the new year with similar ailments.

In a statement on Thursday, Auriemma admitted, “It’s been an extremely difficult month for me, and I’ve been feeling under the weather and run down. I thought I was ready to return, but I need a little more time. I’m going to take a step back to focus on my health and will return when I feel ready.” 

The Huskies 13-2 record this season demonstrates an ability to largely overcome the injury challenges faced, but nevertheless, the minutes missed from high-impact players are adding up. Consider the losses of 15 games for Bueckers, who when healthy averages 20 points per game while shooting over 50%; eight games from Fudd, who was posting Bueckers-like scoring numbers prior to the knee injury; and seven games from Juhász who is averaging over 13 points and 11 rebounds per game when on the court. It’s not clear at present how long Edwards and Patterson will be out, but any games missed will be tacked on to an already large number for this season’s UConn team.

Furthermore, UConn’s injury plight this season follows a 2021-22 season in which Aubrey Griffin injured an ankle during the preseason and later underwent season-ending back surgery before ever seeing any actual game action. Fudd battled a foot issue which caused an 11-game absence. Bueckers fractured her tibial plateau and partially tore a meniscus and missed 19 games as a result. Mühl sat out three games with a foot injury. Olivia Nelson-Ododa lost three games to a groin injury. And finally, Juhász missed two regular season games with a foot injury and later fractured a wrist during the NCAA tournament. 

As the injuries continue to stack up, UConn players, coaches and outside observers wonder if these are all freak accidents or the result of some systemic issue. Dailey, who has taken over coaching duties from Auriemma during his recent absence from the team, told reporters Thursday that the team has attempted to turn their injury luck around with sage and holy water, but to no avail.

Dailey’s comments did not address what types of internal evaluations the team might be conducting against their own systems and staff. In May of 2021, just before UConn’s injury streak began, the team brought back Andrea Hudy as the Director of Sports Performance. Hudy previously served as a strength and conditioning coach for the Huskies from 1995 to 2004, but left to fill similar roles with the men’s basketball team at Kansas and both basketball programs at Texas before returning for her current stint at UConn. On Hudy’s team is Associate Athletic Trainer, Janelle Francisco, who made the jump from UConn’s baseball team in 2016, and handles the day-to-day player care, while Hudy takes on bigger picture tasks. Together the two women possess over 40 years of experience and numerous degrees, credentials and awards. 

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Diagnosing the unusually high rate of injuries to befall the Huskies is a particularly tall task, since there’s no distinct pattern to the injuries to suggest a clear deficiency, such as a gaggle of soft tissue injuries implying insufficient training or poor workload management. On the contrary, Hudy is on record as a proponent of wearable technology for tracking various biometrics, and her private company that offers individual training to amateur athletes uses a specialized app to track progress, suggesting UConn likely possesses a vast amount of performance data to sift through as they attempt to manage their injury woes.

In comments regarding the postponement, David Benedict, UConn’s Director of Athletics, emphasized, “At UConn, the health and wellbeing of our student-athletes will always be our top priority. Our women’s basketball program has unfortunately been affected by an unprecedented number of injuries this season. While it’s unfortunate that we need to postpone Sunday’s game, it’s the right call to protect the safety of our student-athletes. We will work with the BIG EAST and DePaul on options to reschedule the game.”

Written by Kiri Oler

Kiri Oler has been a contributor to The Next as a news and feature writer since December 2022.

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