Greenwich Time

Awaiting returns

Ducharme close to coming back for UConn

- By Maggie Vanoni

The UConn women’s basketball team played nine games in the month of January.

In those nine games, the Huskies never played with a full roster. They had eight available players to start seven games and had only seven players for three and a half games.

Star sophomore Azzi Fudd missed seven and a half games due to an ongoing knee injury. Ayanna Patterson missed four games with a concussion, while Caroline Ducharme missed all nine also due to a concussion.

While Patterson returned last week and Fudd remains out indefinite­ly, the No. 5 Huskies may be close to returning Ducharme and having nine available players for the first time in about six weeks.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma said Sunday that the sophomore guard is finally on the turnaround and put together a string of complete workouts last week.

“It’s been for four or five days in a row where her workouts have been pretty much complete,” he said. “And it’s been very, very minimal response to it. So, we’re getting close. We’re getting close, but I don’t want to jinx it. But we’re getting close.”

Ducharme didn’t travel to the team’s Midwest road trip during the first week of January after suffering a concussion on Jan. 2 in practice. She’s spent the following seven games on the sideline dressed in sweats.

Each person processes concussion symptoms differentl­y. Some are sensitive to light and sound, while others have headache-like pain, nausea and concentrat­ion problems.

During some games, Ducharme was seen wearing earplugs on the sideline, while during others she had to leave the bench midway through a game to find a quieter space.

“In those situations that you have, with that type of thing, it does come down to, when do you feel ready? And how do you know you’re ready?” Auriemma said. “Well, she goes out, doesn’t work out

and she can only last 15 minutes. Then obviously she’s not ready. To come to a game and she has to leave in the second quarter because she can’t handle the lights, you know, then she’s not ready.”

Ducharme was UConn’s biggest bright spot last season when the team was without Fudd and Paige Bueckers. It was her last-second shot at DePaul that kept UConn’s then-conference game win streak alive.

Last April, after the season ended, the Milton, Mass. native had hip surgery to fix a damaged labrum — an injury she suffered in high school and played on during her freshman year at UConn. She spent the summer rehabbing before getting cleared to return to games.

However, Ducharme missed UConn’s exhibition and season opener this season due to neck stiffness.

She made her season debut on Nov. 14 against Texas (UConn’s only game so far this season where all 10 active players were available) and played four minutes off the bench, scoring two points.

Ducharme eased her way back the next five games, coming off the bench usually as the Huskies’ first sub as she added depth in the backcourt and along the perimeter. She struggled at times to look like her freshman self. Her best performanc­e was when she recorded 15 points, five rebounds, three assists, two blocks and three steals in 24 minutes against Iowa on Nov. 27.

But with UConn again getting hit with injuries, Ducharme was thrust into the starting lineup following Fudd’s initial knee injury against Notre Dame. After averaging 17 minutes a game in her first six games of the year, she was now averaging 33 minutes a game as a starter despite still not being “100 percent” healthy.

“We were trying to bring her back slowly. And then, unfortunat­ely, she’s been pushed in the situation where now it’s a lot of minutes,” Auriemma said in December. “And I’m not sure that not having touched the basketball all summer and not playing, and then coming off some of the things that she’s dealing with, that that’s been fair to her.”

The sophomore took a couple big hits to the head under the basket during UConn’s last two games of 2022. In both games, she was immediatel­y subbed out and sat on the bench holding a bag of ice to her head while appearing visibly upset.

Auriemma said on Sunday that while Ducharme’s return is getting closer, it might not be for a few more games. The program will continue to monitor how she responds to workouts and when she looks ready to participat­e in a live game with contact.

When she does return, Ducharme will likely be limited for her first game back to help ease her back into the swing of things and not put too much workload on her body after not playing for a month. They’ll need her at full health come March which is less than four weeks away.

However, her presence will help the team immensely as it will give them an extra sub and provide rest for its starters who are all currently averaging 31 minutes or more. Their fatigue was evident on Sunday.

Her return will also lessen the burden on Lou Lopez Sénéchal (currently shooting 48.7 percent on 3pointers) who has been UConn’s most dominant outside threat in the absence of Fudd (43.4%). Ducharme shot 38.5 percent on 3-pointers during her first 12 games of the year — good for third (below Lopez Sénéchal and Fudd) on the team with players attempting at least 30 3pointers or more.

Villanova purposeful­ly targeted Lopez Sénéchal with its defense to the point where the graduate transfer scored just six points, shooting on 2 of 13, for her only game this season scoring under 10 points.

While it’s unlikely she’ll return for Wednesday’s game at Providence (7 p.m./SNY) nor Sunday’s game against South Carolina (noon, XL Center, FOX), having Ducharme back will give the Huskies a much-needed boost of energy to close out the regular season.

 ?? G Fiume/Getty Images ?? UConn’s Caroline Ducharme has missed nine games with a concussion.
G Fiume/Getty Images UConn’s Caroline Ducharme has missed nine games with a concussion.

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