The News-Times

UConn prepares for weekend without Williams, Fudd

- By Maggie Vanoni

Scrap the playbook. Scrap all the practiced sets the team has worked on since October, since the preseason in September and even since June.

This not the same UConn women’s basketball team that started the season so long ago.

The No. 9-ranked Huskies are back down to eight available players and just three guards. UConn coach Geno Auriemma told media Thursday both Christyn Williams and Azzi Fudd will not play in either of UConn’s two games this weekend.

With the unknown timelines of when either guard will return and Paige Bueckers still out until sometime next month, the Huskies (9-4, 4-0 Big East) are without their top three playmakers for the time being starting with Friday night’s matchup against Seton Hall in Storrs.

“In this short period of time, we have to change how we play. The way we’ve played for 25 years, we can’t play like that anymore. That puts a huge burden on everybody that we can’t play the way we’re used to playing,” Auriemma said. “We’ve never been in this situation in the 37 years that I’ve been here. That’s never happened.

“What’s happening now has never happened where we’ve had that many things and then you throw the COVID thing on top of it. So, it’s unusual circumstan­ces to begin with and that’s not to say we haven’t lost key players in the past because we have. But never to this extent and never for this much of the season where we didn’t enough to make up for it.”

Williams, who has been in COVID-19 protocols since Sunday, did not play in UConn’s game at Oregon on Monday. In

the first three games of the new year, the senior was playing her best basketball of the season and averaging 17 points per game.

Fudd, on the other hand, continues to recover from a foot injury and hasn’t played since against South Carolina on Nov. 22.

Auriemma said Fudd has been progressin­g in the right direction, but is still limited in terms of how much time she’s able to workout on the court. He said both Williams and Fudd will be evaluated next week.

“This week Azzi has been able to get some really, really good rehab going and has been able to get some individual work done on the court for about half an hour since we got back, two or three times,” Auriemma said. “The plan is to keep adding more time and then keep evaluating and seeing how it feels and go from there.”

In Monday’s loss at Oregon, UConn’s three guards (Evina Westbrook, Caroline Ducharme and Nika Mühl) went a combined 3 of 18 from outside the perimeter. With the exclusion of Ducharme (22 points on 21 shots) the other two finished for a combined 4 of 17 on field goals and comitted seven of the team’s 19 turnovers. It was a poor showing for a backcourt that spent the past week blowing past Creighton, Butler

and Xavier.

“You can say, ‘Well you had a great quarterbac­k.’ We had Aaron Rodgers and now she’s (Bueckers) not playing,” Auriemma said. “Well, that doesn’t mean the people that are playing have to be that, but they can’t be what they are right now.”

For at least the next two games, the Huskies will be looking to recreate their offense with the help of their frontcourt, including senior Olivia Nelson-Ododa (10.1 ppg, 7.3 rpg) and grad transfer Dorka Juhász (6.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg).

“You have to have a really really really good four-man. Somebody that can handle the ball, shoot from the perimeter, play inside,” Auriemma said. “You have guys that are better ball handlers that can take a lot of the pressure off the guards that can play inside and outside and be very very comfortabl­e with the ball. Right now, you know, it’s a weird situation that we’re in. All of our big guys are very similar and that doesn’t really bode well to help our guards. For the foreseeabl­e future, we have to be very specific in who does what.”

While some of UConn’s issues on the court are easily fixable, such as turnovers, Auriemma says he wants his players to focus on staying in the moment instead of worrying about when the injured players will return.

“Now with all this that’s happened. It’s even more so, ‘We need to get a lot

better today. We need to get better tomorrow. We need to play well Friday night.’ We don’t have the luxury of thinking, ‘Hey, we’ll be alright when these guys get back or let’s get ready for March.’ We don’t think like that,” he said. “All these things are within our ability to fix them. Whether they will get fixed or not, that’s a separate question. That remains to be seen. But these are all self-inflicted. … Right now it’s more of a mental toughness thing than it is a physical toughness thing. The only way you can do that is to be put in that situation enough times where you have to fight your way out of it. There’s no easy way out of this.”

This weekend’s conference matchups give the Huskies opportunit­y to test out new lineups without depth in its backcourt ahead of facing the first of its last two non-confernece opponents next week, starting with No. 1 South Carolina.

“It’s just thinking about how much we can grow from this as an opportunit­y to learn about our flaws that could come out in March, when it’s the most important,” Juhász said. “What’s important is how can we step up from this loss (Oregon), this previous loss, play a game tomorrow, be our best version and just keep going and work on the team chemistry.”

 ?? AJ Mast / Associated Press ?? UConn’s Nika Muhl will be one of just three healthy guards on the roster this weekend.
AJ Mast / Associated Press UConn’s Nika Muhl will be one of just three healthy guards on the roster this weekend.
 ?? Noah K. Murray / Associated Press ?? UConn’s Evina Westbrook will be one of just three healthy guards on the roster this weekend.
Noah K. Murray / Associated Press UConn’s Evina Westbrook will be one of just three healthy guards on the roster this weekend.

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