UConn fans are getting a little nervous. After all, the Huskies haven’t won a National Women’s Championship since 2016.
Connecticut comes in second this season, having added the nation’s top rookie, guard Azzi Fudd, to a team returning Collegiate National Player of the Year Paige Bueckers, along with all of the other starters who have gone to the 13th consecutive final of the program. Four.
But coach Geno Auriemma says he’s bewildered that anything other than a 12th NCAA title for his schedule will be a bummer.
“I kind of like it, because most people if they had won one in 1916, people would be happy to win a second,” he said. “But, that’s what it is. We created it. We did it. We own it and we embrace it.
The Huskies have 14 players in their roster and at least 11 should see some playing time this season.
Along with Bueckers, UConn is run by three seniors: Christyn Williams, former high school player of the year; Evina Westbrook, a transfer from Tennessee who chose to play another year rather than make the WNBA draft; and the Oliva Nelson-Ododa center.
“We have depth,” said Williams. “I feel like this is something we were missing in the Final Four. We have a lot of guys who can do a lot of different things. And it’s extremely competitive this year.”
Here are some keys to UConn’s season:
Bueckers is back in training after having surgery on his right ankle in April.
She was a unanimous pick for the AP preseason All-America squad and Auriemma said she looked improved from last season, when she led the team in points (20 per game), assists (5.8 per game), steals (66) and 3-point field goal percentage (46.4%) and was selected AP National Player of the Year.
“Paige is Paige,” Auriemma said. “Paige is better than she was last year. Paige is a little more comfortable than she was last year. She’s not as shy about taking pictures as she was last year. “
DEPTH IN FRONT OF THE COURT
Nelson-Ododa, co-defensive player of the year last year in the Grand Est, and sophomore Aaliyah Edwards, who spent part of her offseason playing for the Canadian Olympic team, occupied the post last season. They will be joined by 6-foot-5 Dorka Juhasz, a transfer from Ohio State, where she averaged 14.6 points and 11.1 rebounds last season.
“She’s super talented,” Nelson-Ododa said. “She brings a very versatile skill set, so being able to compete with her and compete against each other like that (in practice), I think we’ve both improved.”
Fudd, the Big East preseason freshman of the year, leads another top recruiting class that includes 6-5 forward Amari DeBerry; 6-2 wing Saylor Poffenbarger; and 6-2 guard Caroline Ducharme.
Ducharme is expected to compete for playing time immediately after impressing coaches and teammates this summer.
“It will be interesting to see where she fits because I can see her playing a very important role in our team,” said Auriemma. ” What does it mean ? I don’t know, but she’s sneaky.
Poffenbarger, who joined the team in January after graduating from high school, returns from a back injury that kept her from participating in summer training. DeBerry is expected to start the season on the bench behind the team’s other three post players.
Westbrook, second-year goaltender Nika Muhl, second-year forward Mir McLean and junior forward Aubrey Griffin could all see their minutes dwindle to varying degrees if the newcomers progress.
Westbrook said there had been some fierce battles in training, with players competing for places.
“We’re on each other’s throats,” she said. “Competitiveness and nervousness… it’s on a whole different level. “
But she also said that after “yelling at each other” in practice, they got together and talked about what’s planned for dinner and plans for the evening.
“We’re at each other’s throats because we know that’s what’s going to make us better,” she said. “But we are a family. We are more than a family.
UConn opens the season Nov. 14 in Hartford against Arkansas, the program that handed the Huskies their only regular-season loss a year ago.