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Undefeated UConn has handled ranked opponents and major injuries with ease. Here’s where problems could arise

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UConn's Azzi Fudd scored 32 points in consecutive matches which led to
UConn’s Azzi Fudd scored 32 in consecutive games to take the Huskies 3-0. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

HARTFORD, Connecticut. The undefeated Connecticut Huskies entered the XL Center locker room, as they often do, after dismantling a quality 22-point program, as they often did.

In a less common form, only eight players were dressed. Paige Buekers, 2021 National Player of the Year; Dorka Juhas – forward all conferences for the fifth year; and Ice Brady, the No. 5 rookie in the 2022 freshman class, were in a sweat. Bookers and Brady won’t see parquet at all this season. This is not a small loss.

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“I’ll bet it’s 40 points and 20 rebounds that just went through a door that’s not playing today,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said after a 91-69 victory over the then number. 10 North Carolina State. “This is the only place in America where people say, ‘Yeah, that’s not a problem.’ And I told them this. I said this is the only place in America where people actually talk like that. And I think they take it to heart.”

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Everyone outside of Connecticut is always waiting for the fall of 11-time champions. So far, even considering the hardships they have faced in recent years, there are no Huskies. They barely stumbled, despite the frightening schedule. But is this the test everyone thought they would face as the season approached? Are they as good as the final scores on paper would suggest?

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“I don’t know how good we are yet,” Auriemma said. “I don’t know because I’ve seen it come in two ways, struggle and great.”

As coaches often say, it’s always better to focus on yourself. But it’s hard not to notice the difficulties their first two Top 10 opponents faced and how that correlates to the Husky’s victories. These are not the matches that were most expected to be seen even a month ago. It may not matter.

Texas wants Rory Harmon back

The first test in UConn’s busy schedule was Texas, which entered the season and finished 3rd in an Associated Press poll after losing to Stanford in the NCAA Regional Finals. Its main returnee is point guard Rory Harmon, the current Big 12 Freshman of the Year and the Big 12 Most Outstanding Player of the Tournament with an All-American honorable mention. She averaged 11.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 5 assists and 2.4 blocks per game, all of which were top or second on the team.

UConn didn’t play that Texas team as Harmon sits in a walking boot on the bench. The floor general remains day after day with a leg injury that head coach Vic Schaefer described as “nothing much.” It hurt both sides of the court, especially in the UConn game where Azzi Fudd lost 32 points.

“When you take Rory Harmon off the court, you take on someone who changes the game in both directions,” Schaefer said. “She’s such a pest on defense. She won’t let you lead the offense, she won’t let the point guard get where she wants to go, she’s a great help to the defender. And then it just creeps into your team. When you see how she handles the ball on the floor and in the press and how hard she plays, you can’t help but play hard if you’re behind her.”

On offense, she is more familiar with how Schaefer wants to play and what he wants to do. Shaylie Gonzalez, 2022 WCC Player of the Year, who transferred from BYU, scored a point in his absence and is losing 4.4 goals per game on average, finishing last in Division I and averaging half of his interceptions last season average . Defensive Sonya Morris, who signed from DePaul, is also in the starting lineup and is shooting at 36.5% accuracy, worse than her first season alone, and 28.6% from two-point range, 20 percentage points worse than hers. average for four years.

“We just didn’t have a lot of time to work without Rory to get used to the chemistry a bit,” Schaefer said after the loss at UConn, with Gonzalez, Morris and freshman quarterback Njakalenga Mwenentanda on the platform with him. . “These three young ladies are all up here. Two of them [were] in the transfer portal and it’s a freshman. I had them in 32 workouts. So they are still learning our way.”

Longhorns wins (2-3) – over Louisiana (+23) and Rutgers (+38) and lost to then No. 1. 5 UConn (-7), Marquette (-7) and then – None. 6 Louisville (-8). Most notable are losses from 14.3 per game last season (85th in the 83rd percentile) to 19.4 (276, 33rd percentile) and steals from 9.9 per game (12.4% indicator, 94th percentile) to 7.2 per game (8.5). %, 74th percentile) according to Her Hoop Stats. Their offensive rating dropped from 101.2 (32nd) to 94.6 (128), their defensive rating went up from 80.6 (15th) to 84.3 (106), which is a sore point for the defender. Schaefer and their net rating from 20.6 (15) to 10.3 (105) according to Her Hoop Stats.

Against UConn, the Longhorns’ offense shot 51.5%, including 44.4% from long range, but with a total of 26 (-8) rebounds, 18 assists and six steals. Last season, they passed him over 18 times in seven games and only twice intercepted less than six times, including the season finale at Stanford.

“We have to be better defensively,” Schaefer said. “This is usually the last thing you do during the season and with so many new players in February we will be much better. Thanks to tonight, we will be much better tomorrow, but in February we will be much better.”

Transfers need more time to become Wolfpack

The rematch between UCLA and NC State was never going to be as great as the Elite Eight Instant Classic in March. However, most expected it to be better than the 91-69 final on Sunday.

“I’m sorry you had to see this,” NC State head coach Wes Moore joked to a Wolfpack beat reporter as he exited the XL Center press conference room in Hartford. “Sorry I had to see this.

The Wolf Pack, which was in 10th place at the time, is also very different from the team that was last season. Center Elissa Cunane, a Naismith Player of the Year semi-finalist, was selected by the WNBA. The only starter to return from a three-time ACC regular season champion was winger Jakia Brown-Turner. Diamond Johnson, the sixth player in the ACC, also returned, while Moore added transfers Sanya Rivers (South Carolina), River Baldwin (Fla.) and Mimi Collins (Maryland).

The Wolf Pack were leading 4-0 but did so by beating Quinnipiac (+37), Elon (+44), Mount Saint Mary (Mary) (+48) and Charlotte (+48). Their points per game and scoring attempts are almost identical to last season, according to her hoop stats, but they’re worse earlier this year, though that’s an unfair comparison given the competition from many teams, including the Wolf Pack.

It was a test for the state of North Carolina, maybe even more than it was for the University of California on Sunday afternoon. They didn’t get A.

NC State's Jakia Brown-Turner pulls up to the basket as UCLA's Aubrey Griffin defends during a game on November 20, 2022.  (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
NC State’s Jakia Brown-Turner pulls up to the basket as UCLA’s Aubrey Griffin defends during a game on November 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

“After last year’s group, I thought we had a really mature, competitive, tough team,” Moore said. “And this team, it was the first game that we had difficulty with. We knew it would.

“[It] it wasn’t very pretty to look at. I think people have enjoyed watching our team in the past. I doubt anyone enjoyed looking at us today.”

The Huskies, led by point guard Nika Muehl, punishing early defense and a program-record 15 passes that broke Buckers’ record of 14, scored the first nine points and went 23-13 in the first quarter, 40-33 in the first quarters. half and 66-47 in three.

North Carolina State had 19 turnovers, five more than in Elite Eight meetings and more than in all but one of last season’s games. He averaged 12.1 per game, ranking 10th in Division I. His nine assists were below a 14.3 per game average (21-22) and well below his 20 assists against the Huskies last year. UConn took advantage, scoring 27 points from a loss and 22 from fast breaks.

“This team just lacks the experience of last year’s team,” Auriemma said. “Last year the team was incredibly experienced. They had three graduates, right? Every time you go through it, it will take you some time to find it. But in terms of talent and how they play, how he trains, what shots they get, [it’s] very similar to last year’s team. They just don’t have the experience of last year’s team.”

It’s hard to get a few players into a new program and put them on the court against one with a pedigree that UConn boasts of, a history that their players know well and are proud of.

Auriemma believes that the portals and intermediates, which have pretty much kept their talents together for years, are a big reason why top 25 team failures will continue.

For the same reason, Top 25 programs fail early. As in Texas, Moore and NC State had very little practice together early in the season. This will change in March.

UConn looks inward

A deeper look into UConn’s rivalry doesn’t mean the Huskies are bad. Their offense looked clean against NC State as Muehl provided assists and hit a late 3-pointer, her only points of the game, to the roar of the arena.

The transition game was pivotal as Aubrey Griffin had six steals – double that of the NC State team – and scored 16 points on a 6-of-9 day. The team scored 50% of 68 tries and was 10 of 29 of 3. Lou Lopez The Seneschal scored 20 and Alia Edwards made a double-double with 20 points and 12 rebounds.

You can’t predict this, can you? Auriemma said. “You can’t predict a score like that.”

And certainly not after the first half. North Carolina State was late on several occasions and UConn had to rely solely on Edwards (12 points), Griffin (six points) and Fudd (22 points) to score points. In that half, they made all but eight of the team’s throw attempts. But it was Fudd…


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