With Ducharme out, Fudd steps up

Published on Monday, 7 February 2022 16:19
Written by CARL ADAMEC

Journal Inquirer

HARTFORD - A “White Out” was planned for the UConn women’s basketball team’s game with Tennessee Sunday.

When Caroline Ducharme came out onto the XL Center floor wearing a white UConn throwback T-shirt about an hour before the opening tip, Huskies’ fans were seeing red.

It seems every time UConn takes another step towards being whole, it takes a step back. After taking a hit to the head at Creighton Wednesday, the freshman was not feeling well either Saturday or Sunday and was kept out of the Huskies’ showdown with No. 7 Tennessee.

One more time they’d have to pull together. One more time it would me next person up. They have had to do it for more than two months now but never looked as good doing it as they did Sunday.

Freshman Azzi Fudd’s 25 points in her first career start paced No. 10 UConn to an inspiring and convincing 75-56 win over the Lady Vols before a crowd of 13,719.

“When anything is thrown at us, because of everything we’ve already been through, we’re used to adjusting so it’s kind of second nature to us now,” UConn guard Evina Westbrook said. “Whatever it is, someone going down or COVID or whatever the case is, we’re ready for it.”

Fudd fit seamlessly into the starting lineup in Ducharme’s place and her 3-pointer opened the scoring. She’d finish 7-for-9 from distance while adding four rebounds and four assists to no turnovers in 38 minutes.

She wasn’t alone in stepping up. Aaliyah Edwards turned back to the clock to her freshman campaign and had the best effort of her sophomore season with 14 points, seven rebounds, and two blocked shots. Westbrook, the former Lady Vol, put together her second straight solid effort as her 11 first-half points helped UConn take a lead at intermission. She finished with 14 points, four rebounds, and three assists while playing at a pace we haven’t seen for weeks.

On the bench, Ducharme and reigning national Player of the Year Paige Bueckers led the cheers.

“I think they’ve tried to stay pretty positive throughout all this,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “It’s obviously been very challenging and they’ve had to roll with it in a lot of different ways. There was a time when it was, ‘Are we ever going to see the other side of this?’ But with each person that came back, the feeling got better and better.

“Today was probably the best, where everyone … It’s a shame we did it without Caroline. If we can get accomplished what we did today knowing that Caroline and Paige weren’t there to play, I think that’s a lot of confidence going forward.”

Nika Mühl was also solid and the Huskies (15-4) won with ease even though seniors Christyn Williams and Olivia Nelson-Ododa along with graduate student Dorka Juhász, back after missing two games with a right foot issue, weren’t on top of their games.

UConn led by as many as 26 as Tennessee (19-4) lost for the third time in four games.

In the past, the Huskies have had a player - Renee Montgomery for example in 2008 when UConn was down three starters for much of the season but was able to end a four-year Final Four drought - who helped keep the team together. It’s different with the current group.

“I think it’s a collective thing,” Auriemma said. “I don’t think it’s any one person. That’s why when you see us start to go the other way there’s no one there to grab it and keep it from getting away. If it’s going to go, it’s going to go way longer than it should if you had someone that could keep it together.

“Right now, because it’s collective, they feed off of each other. So when it’s good like it was in that third quarter today, we’re really good. We score from everywhere and do everything. When it goes the other way, they jump on the wagon and it all goes the other way.

“Having Azzi, someone that can stop the train and go, ‘Bang! Bang! Bang!’ that’s just invaluable.”

Only Nelson-Ododa, Westbrook, and Edwards have played in all 19 of the Huskies’ games. Bueckers, Fudd, Williams, Juhász, Mühl, Ducharme and Aubrey Griffin have combined to miss 52 games due to injury and/or illness.

UConn didn’t play it’s A-game Sunday, but the Huskies are on a season-high six-game winning streak as the calendar has turned to February.

With three games against the Big East’s best on deck in a five-day stretch starting Wednesday, the timing is good.

Imagine what it may look like if it all comes together for them by March.

“It’s going to be really scary, and definitely scary for our opponents,” Fudd said. “We’re going to be a nasty team once everyone is healthy.”

Posted in The Bristol Press, UConn on Monday, 7 February 2022 16:19. Updated: Monday, 7 February 2022 16:21.