After loss, Huskies get defensive

Published on Sunday, 23 January 2022 16:58
Written by CARL ADAMEC

Journal Inquirer

STORRS - Senior guard Christyn Williams won’t be back in the lineup until next week, it’s hoped, for the UConn women’s basketball team.

Freshman guard Azzi Fudd, it’s hoped, may not be far behind.

And Husky Nation awaits anxiously the possible return of sophomore guard and reigning national Player of the Year Paige Bueckers, maybe - it’s hoped - sometime in mid-February.

That’s a lot of offense missing from the Huskies’ lineup. But even if the short-handed Huskies can’t score like they’ve done for decades, there’s no reason they can’t play defense at a high level.

It proved to be a winning formula against Seton Hall Friday night.

UConn limited the Pirates to 26.4 percent shooting and 31 points below their season average in rolling to an easy 71-38 Big East win at Gampel Pavilion.

“I think we had a really good defensive plan coming into the game and we stuck to it,” UConn sophomore guard Nika Muhl said. “Everyone was helping each other. We had great communication today.”

Seton Hall (8-8, 3-5 Big East) hasn’t had the kind of season it has wanted and it misses a glue player like East Hartford native Desiree Elmore, who moved on to Rhode Island as a graduate transfer in the spring. The Pirates were picked for third in the Big East preseason poll and with players like Lauren Park-Lane and one-time UConn player Andra Espinoza-Hunter, they can put up points.

Or so they were hoping.

Muhl, who came in averaging 1.9 points per game, scored a season-high 11 Friday night and her total matched the combined effort of Park-Lane (6) and Espinoza-Hunter (5). Park-Lane came into the game third in the conference in scoring at 18.1 with Espinoza-Hunter not far behind at 16.7. They combined to make only 2-of-19 shots.

The Huskies (10-4, 5-0) didn’t light it up either, finishing at 41.2 percent from the floor. But they did dominate in points in the paint (38-8) and in second-chance points (21-2) as expected. They also held a 15-3 advantage in points off of turnovers and scored all 12 of the game’s fast-break points as they rebounded from Monday’s loss at Oregon.

Speaking of rebounding, the Huskies also dominated the glass to the tune of a 53-25 advantage.

“We were all in a bad mental state after that game and we said to ourselves, ‘That can’t happen again,’ “ Muhl said. “I feel like we really played as a team today. Everybody contributed and did everything they could do. This was the result.”

Between Bueckers, Williams, and Fudd, that’s 40-plus points per game on the sidelines. UConn had balanced scoring Friday night with four in double figures.

The defense made it a rout.

“Those points are gone for now,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “That doesn’t mean that the game can only be played at one end of the floor and only one way. You have to be able to play basketball in a way that your offense and defense complement each other.

“I thought we played more as a group and as a unit today than we have. We were much more cohesive today than we were on Monday. That’s a big reason we looked so good. The communication was good today and the chemistry was better. Whatever the game plan was, we got it right almost the entire game.”

The Huskies also got solid guard play Friday night, something that was missing out on the west coast.

Getting more from Muhl would help until at least the cavalry arrive.

“She’s the floor general,” UConn senior center Olivia Nelson-Ododa said. “She gets it done, especially on the defensive end. She’s always talking to us, always communicating with us with what we need to do. That helps us a lot.”

“When she’s on the floor, she’s the voice of our team,” Auriemma said. “Why? “Generally, she knows what she’s talking about. And she works harder than everybody else.”

The Huskies have a quick turnaround as they’ll visit St. John’s Sunday with an opportunity to try and build momentum against a struggling opponent with a showdown at No. 1 South Carolina on deck Thursday.

The defense can’t rest.

Posted in Newington Town Crier, UConn on Sunday, 23 January 2022 16:58. Updated: Sunday, 23 January 2022 17:00.