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2022-23 Big East Women’s Basketball Summer Check-In: Connecticut Huskies

The Huskies suffered the most losses in nearly two decades and still had a season that most teams can only dream of having. They’ll probably be better next year.

NCAA BASKETBALL: APR 03 Div I Women’s Championship
Hopefully I will get to watch Paige Bueckers in person this season.
Getty Images

Team: Connecticut Huskies

2021-22 Record: 30-6, 16-1 Big East

2021-22 Big East Finish: First, one win and three losses ahead of Villanova in the standings.

Final 2021-22 Her Hoop Stats Ranking: #4 out of 356 teams

Postseason: After winning the Big East tournament by clattering Villanova by 30 points in revenge for their first regular season conference loss since before their sabbatical in the American Athletic Conference, the Huskies advanced to the National Championship game. They survived a scare against UCF in the second round, beat NC State in double OT to reach their 14th consecutive Final Four, and snuck past Stanford before falling to South Carolina by 15 in the title game.

Key Departures: I think we can safely say that UConn is suffering the three biggest losses in the entire league, and thus they probably have the biggest overall departure issue in the entire league. #2 scorer by average and #1 scorer by total points Christyn Williams is now gone, wrapping up her Huskies career after a 14/3/2/1 campaign. UConn also loses noted rebounding machine Olivia Nelson-Ododa, who was good for 7.5 caroms a night to go with 9.2 points, 3.5 assists, just over a steal, and nearly two blocks. Finally, Evina Westbrook has departed after chipping in 9.0 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game last season.

Key Returners: If this section of the page was only Paige Bueckers, you could probably argue that UConn has the best returning cast in the entire conference. Even while missing over half the season with an injury, Bueckers still officially led the team in scoring at 14.6 points per game. In her free time, she also led the team in assists at 3.9 a night and grabbed up four rebounds, too.

This section does not only include Paige Bueckers, as the Huskies have five more rotation players returning from last year’s squad and a sixth player who missed 2021-22 due to injury. The list, going in order by scoring contributions to last year’s squad: Sharpshooting sensation Azzi Fudd (12.1 per game), Caroline Ducharme (9.8), Aaliyah Edwards (7.9), Dorka Juhasz (7.3), and Nika Muhl (3.8). We do have to attach the tiniest of question marks to Juhasz here, as her season was ended in the NCAA tournament because of an injury. It was an arm injury as she fell awkwardly, though, so I would imagine there’s no reason to believe she won’t be 100% by the time November rolls around.

Those five plus Bueckers would give UConn enough of an advantage on pretty much the entire rest of the conference in terms of overall roster strength, I think. They will also get Aubrey Griffin back from injury. The 6’1” forward from New York was a regular rotation player for the Huskies in the two previous seasons, averaging between 16 and 17 minutes a night in both campaigns. Based on her previous numbers, she’ll be able to provide the team with a much needed rebounding lift following the departure of Nelson-Ododa.

Key Additions: After bringing in the #1 prospect in the country in the past two recruiting classes, UConn will have to suffer along with “only” the #4 and #5 ranked players according to ESPN. Ayanna Patterson, a 6’2” forward from Indiana, gets the top billing by a hair over Ice Brady, a 6’3” forward from California. By the way, given that ESPN lists her as “Isuneh,” I am super thrilled that Brady goes by Ice instead. That’s wicked cool.

The Huskies also have a transfer on the roster. Lou Lopez-Senechal is a 6’1” guard/forward originally from Mexico but listing Grenoble, France, as her hometown. She spent the previous four seasons at Fairfield, starting in every single game that she played in for the Stags. Her time in the MAAC was capped with her third straight First Team all-conference honors and the Player of the Year trophy after she averaged 19.5 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.1 assists, and 1.0 steals per game. Lopez-Senechal shot over 40% from behind the arc in both of her final two campaigns down the street at Fairfield, so this is very much a case of the rich getting richer.

Coach: Geno Auriemma, entering his 38th season. This is the only Division 1 head coaching job he has ever had. He has a record of 1,149-150, and no, that’s not a typo on any level.

Outlook: There is an easy argument to be made that UConn is going to be better in 2022-23 than they were in 2021-22. Yes, I realize that they went to the national championship game last season. I stand by my statement.

It’s simple: Paige Bueckers suffered an injury at the very end of UConn’s game against Notre Dame, and the Huskies promptly lost two of their next three games and three of the next seven. Yes, one of the losses in there was to a top 10 ranked Louisville team.... but it was also at home. The other two were on the road, which does add some amount of explanation there, but it’s clear that UConn was floundering a bit without their superstar point guard.

And then UConn lost to Villanova at home to suffer their first regular season loss in a conference game since March 4, 2013, and their first loss to a team currently in the Big East since February 18, 2012. All of this adds up to the Huskies losing six times this season by the time the national championship game was over. The last time they lost that many times in a single season? 2005, when they went 25-8 and “only” reached the Sweet 16.

Now, as mentioned a million times, UConn was still good enough to win the Big East regular season title by several games in the standings, win the conference tournament, and reach the national championship game. A wildly successful season by most standards, but it’s clear that a long stretch in the middle of the season did not make this feel like that for the Huskies. A lot of that is because Paige Bueckers missed 19 games entirely and didn’t start in four others. A lot of it can also be attributed to the fact that just two women — Evina Westbrook and Aaliyah Edwards — played in all 36 games. Three women tied for the second most games played, and that tie came in at 33. UConn didn’t have someone miss one game and throw things into a tizzy, they had multiple major components of the roster going out for decent stretches, or at the very least a week and a half’s worth of games if not actually consecutive games.

And this is what I mean by the Huskies will likely be better in 2022-23. They were still a national power last season, but they were angrily assembling wins like Pingu making Valentine’s Day cards. It probably wasn’t fun, and maybe it didn’t look super great at the end, but they were wins.... most of the time, at least. They will, barring yet another injury disaster season, go back to looking like the wrecking ball that UConn basketball usually looks like. Bueckers will lead a returning corps of six and they get reinforcements in the frontcourt in the form of a healthy Aubrey Griffin and last year’s MAAC POY.

Oh, and then there’s Amari DeBerry, a former top 20 prospect who played just 83 total minutes as a freshman last year. Oh, and there’s two top five freshmen in this year’s recruiting class in case they need some depth or whatever.

Sweet Christmas, that’s terrifying.

UPDATE [8/3/22]: WELP.