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2021-22 Big East Women’s Basketball Team Preview: Connecticut Huskies

oh god they’re stronger than they were last year

Arizona v Connecticut
It’s Year Two of the Paige Bueckers Experience
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Team: Connecticut Huskies

2020-21 Record: 28-2, 18-0 Big East

2020-21 Big East Finish: Uh, first, besting Marquette by four games in the standings

Final 2020-21 Her Hoop Stats Ranking: #1

Postseason? After winning the Big East tournament, the Huskies were installed as a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament and reached the Final Four for the 13th consecutive tournament, and no that is not a typo. They lost to Arizona, marking the fourth straight tournament where UConn lost in the national semifinals.

Key Departures: One. Anna Makurat appeared in 16 games for UConn last season, starting in six of them. She averaged 3.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 2.4 assists in 20.4 minutes per game as a sophomore while missing 12 games due to a stress fracture, and then elected to pursue a professional career in her native Poland. That’s it.

Key Returners: So yeah, obviously we’re going to go for a while here, huh? Last year’s UConn roster had a grand total of zero seniors on it, so everyone already had a year of eligibility due them without even taking a COVID bonus year into account. In short, the list I’m about to ramble off is by design for the Huskies, not a lucky accident.

We start with the 2021 Big East Player of the Year, Paige Bueckers. The 2021 Freshman of the Year will only get to defend one trophy this season as you can’t be FOY twice. Bueckers led UConn in scoring at 20.0 points per game, nearly four points more than anyone else, and also topped the charts in assists per game at 5.8/game. She was dangerous from everywhere both because of her passing and her shooting, as she finished with an effective field goal percentage of just barely under 60% thanks to a 46% conversion rate behind the three-point line. She’s great to the point of it being ridiculous, and the fact that I had one of my four trips to see her in person ripped away from me by the pandemic is unfair.

Bueckers isn’t the only All-Big East First Teamer returning for UConn. Christyn Williams joins her after averaging 16.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game. Olivia Nelson-Ododa rounds out the all-conference honorees from last season, as she led the team in rebounding at 7.8 per game and found the free time to average 12.0 points per game to get herself onto the Second Team.

Technically Aaliyah Edwards is an all-Big East honoree, but she only qualifies in the all-freshman team department. 10.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game in 21.8 minutes per game might have been good enough to win Freshman of the Year in a different year or a different conference. After all, she was a unanimous choice for the all-freshman team.... it’s just that Bueckers was better.

Then, finally, we get to Evina Westbrook, Aubrey Griffin, and Nika Muhl. They went 5-6-7 on the scoring chart last season, and yeah, they’re all back. Westbrook (9.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists) is the most notable of the trio as she started all 30 games for UConn, joining Nelson-Ododa as the only other woman to accomplish that last year. Griffin (6.2 points, 4.8 rebounds) came off the bench in all but five of her 29 appearances and averaged 16.7 minutes per game. Muhl missed seven of UConn’s games last year, with three of them coming in the NCAA tournament. She was a part-time starter as a freshman, getting the nod in 15 of her 23 appearances, even though her stats (4.9 points, 2.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists) aren’t anything to knock your socks off.

Key Additions: In addition to the three returning women who I didn’t talk about a moment ago, the Huskies have three freshmen and a grad transfer on the roster. Let’s start with the transfer because we need to build up to the embarrassment of riches that the Huskies have in their recruiting class.

Dorka Juhasz has made her way to Storrs from Hungary by way of Ohio State. The 6’5” forward was First Team All-Big Ten in 2020 and 2021 and was a double-double threat pretty much every time she stepped on the court for the Buckeyes. She averaged 13.0 points and 9.6 rebounds in 75 career games in Columbus and went for 14.6 & 11.1 per contest in 17 appearances for OSU last season.

And now, the freshmen.

Oftentimes, you’ll see UConn fans bristling when they see someone say “ah, of course the Huskies are always good, they always get the best players.” They have the recruiting rankings to prove this wrong a lot of the time.

This is not one of those times.

  • Azzi Fudd, 5’11” guard out of Virginia, ESPN’s #1 ranked prospect.
  • Caroline Ducharme, 6’2” guard out of Massachusetts, ESPN’s #5 ranked prospect
  • Amari DeBerry, 6’5” forward out of New York, ESPN’s #15 ranked prospect.

You think they might be able to chip in right away? Heck, the only thing stopping them is the fact that UConn returns their top seven scorers from last season, so it’s not like the Huskies NEED the help.

FUN FACT: Returning guard Saylor Poffenbarger is actually a 2021 prospect who enrolled early in the middle of last season. She was “only” ranked #30 in this class.

Coach: Geno Auriemma, entering his 37th season. This is the only Division 1 head coaching job he has ever had. He has a record of 1,119-144, and no, that’s not a typo on any level.

Outlook: I’m just going to repeat the exact same paragraph I started with last season because it absolutely applies here again:

Okay, look, here’s the outlook on the Huskies: They’re the favorite to win the league in everyone’s eyes. If you think otherwise, you’re lying to yourself and you should go to the penalty box and feel shame.

Last year, I got to follow that up with “they only have four notable returning players and are going to have to depend on the freshmen to carry them an awful lot.” Well, as it turned out, that worked out really well for UConn and now pretty much the entire team returns for 2021-22 AND they have three of the top 15 prospects in the country coming in to bolster the ranks and help people get a little bit more rest here and there AND they have three women who would have been major additions at any other team in the league returning after biding their time on the bench as freshmen last year AND they added a 6’5” double-double machine out of the Big Ten just for giggles.

This is, quite clearly, a national championship contender, but most UConn teams are. That’s how you get to 13 straight Final Fours, after all. Honestly, the question here, in October, appears not to be “Can they win a national title” but instead “how many losses will they take before the NCAA tournament starts?” Last year’s answer was 1, and this team is deeper.

The Huskies visit Marquette on Sunday, February 13th. Get your tickets now.