UConn WBB Weekly: Time is the Huskies’ biggest enemy

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Time is UConn’s greatest enemy

There have been times this season when anything that could go wrong has gone wrong for UConn women’s basketball. The Huskies have been cursed with a seemingly unbroken streak of bad luck dating back to the summer – a level of misfortune that would be deemed implausible if framed as the plot of a movie.

“Everything that happened is stuff we can’t even make up,” Evina Westbrook said after UConn’s win over Marquette. “Just crazy, crazy things you can’t even imagine.”

Although injuries and illnesses are the main culprits, they are not the only ones. On January 30, the Huskies were scheduled to travel to Providence for a game that had already been changed to a different time and location due to a snow storm. While UConn typically travels to road games the night before, weather forced the team to make the trip in a single day. So naturally, the bus broke down.

“Our bus didn’t start so Providence had to send vans to pick us up,” Westbrook said. “We took separate vans and we jump out of these little vans at the game.”

“AAU vibes,” Olivia Nelson-Ododa replied with a smile.

The Huskies seem to have come through the worst though. The win over Marquette was the third straight contest in which everyone but Paige Bueckers was available – and even Bueckers’ return looks imminent as she takes part in warm-ups and gets dressed for Wednesday’s game.

Assuming UConn continues to stay healthy — which, based on how this season has gone, is far from a guarantee — its biggest remaining opponent is not South Carolina or any other team in the country. . It’s time.

With two regular season games remaining and just over a week until the Big East Tournament begins, the Huskies must sort out their rosters and chemistry while finding consistency before it’s too late.

This year hasn’t been completely unprecedented, however. In fact, three-quarters of UConn’s coaching staff have already experienced something similar during the 1998-99 campaign. Freshman Sue Bird tore her ACL in practice in December and soon after Swin Cash suffered a stress fracture in her right leg. Injuries to Shea Ralph and Amy Duran followed in January.

Even though everyone but Bird eventually returned, the Huskies couldn’t put all the pieces together quickly enough and they fell to Iowa State in the Sweet Sixteen, 64-58.

“We never had the chance to be together long enough to improve (throughout the season),” Geno Auriemma said after the game. “Every time we got really good at something, we had to change the kids we played with. We never settled into a routine. We never knew who the go-to players were, who the leaders were, who would distribute and bounce the ball. I never felt like there was continuity.

This year’s UConn team will face some of the same questions. Who is the top scorer? Caroline Ducharme got the final shot against DePaul but Azzi Fudd showed a knack for clutch baskets. Bueckers seems like the obvious option, but should she put the ball in the big points if she’s not 100%?

Can UConn rely on someone to play the same every game? Which roles suit certain players best? What groups of staff work well together? Who should be on the pitch at the end of the matches?

These are all critical answers for Auriemma and his team to answer, especially with so many game streams in play until about last week.

The Huskies have used nine different starting combinations this season and only had everyone (except Bueckers) available for four games — the final three and the win at DePaul on Jan. 26. As a result, field chemistry is still a work in progress.

“At first it was almost weird to have so many people back,” Westbrook said. “We are used to playing with only five or six people and we kind of got used to that.”

Even if UConn finds a rhythm in its last two regular season games, the process will essentially restart once Bueckers returns and there will be a time crunch in two respects: First, how long will it take for the second to get back in shape? And will Bueckers even look like his old self this season? Second, how long will it take for Bueckers to get back into training? Even within the team, opinions differ.

“It will be another adjustment when we get everyone back, trying to adjust so that everyone is back,” Westbrook said.

“You told me all this time that when we get everyone back, it’s going to be amazing.” Now, ‘Hey, when you get everyone back, what are you going to do?’ Everything works out eventually,” Auriemma said. “If Paige plays, then the rest will take care of themselves.”

The way the rest of the season is structured doesn’t do UConn any favors either. Including Wednesday’s win, the Huskies have one day between their final three contests before getting five days off before the Big East Tournament. Then UConn will (presumably) play three games in as many days, allowing no practice time between adjustments or upgrades.

After that, there will be about 10 days until the start of the NCAA Tournament, which will give the Huskies plenty of practice but no games, which is crucial for building the all-important chemistry on the field.

Ultimately, UConn will have to make do with the time it has. Even though the Huskies are finally getting healthy, the playoffs are about to begin. If the last three months have shown anything, it’s that UConn has the talent and the drive to be national championship contenders, especially since there isn’t a dominant team outside of the South Carolina – and even they showed flaws.

But the weather is the Huskies’ biggest enemy the rest of the way. If they can get everyone back to full power and figure out how to make everything work, they’ll be tough to beat. Otherwise, they could suffer the same fate as the 1998-99 team.


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