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Game Preview: Evina Westbrook re-establishing herself as a crucial player for UConn
Westbrook is happy to do whatever's asked of her to help the Huskies win.
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How to watch
Date: Saturday, March 5
Time: 12 p.m. EST
Location: Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, CT
Radio: UConn Sports Network (97.9 ESPN and affiliates)
Record: 10-18 (4-15 Big East)
Location: Washington, DC
Head coach: James Howard (fifth season)
Evina Westbrook re-establishing herself as a crucial player for UConn
On Jan. 12, Geno Auriemma made a surprising change to the starting lineup when he gave Nika Mühl the start and put Evina Westbrook on the bench for the first time in her collegiate career. At the time, the coach’s reasoning is that he wanted to have Mühl’s energy on the floor from the opening tip and felt they needed offense off the bench, which Westbrook could provide.
But there was also an undertone to the decision. Westbrook was in a funk, having scored a combined eight points in her last two games and turned the ball over 11 times. Regardless of what Auriemma wanted from his bench, Westbrook was an easy to be replaced in the starting lineup in favor of Mühl.
It took some time — she ended up starting three games in a row shortly afterwards when Christyn Williams entered COVID protocols — but Westbrook is finally starting to re-establish herself as one of UConn’s most important players as the postseason begins.
“This is the best basketball that she's played in all the time she's been here,” Auriemma said after UConn’s win over Marquette on Feb. 23. “She's the Evina that I always thought she'd be.”
Over her last 10 games, Westbrook has done a little bit of everything for the Huskies — just as she did last season. In that span, she’s averaged 9.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.1 steals — the latter two of which lead the team. Westbrook has also shot 67.4 percent from 2-point range.
The last three games of the regular season perfectly sum up the impact Westbrook’s had. Against Marquette, she dropped 17 points on 6-8 shooting and had five rebounds and three steals. The next game versus St. John’s, Westbrook didn’t score but recorded a season-high 10 assists along with seven rebounds. In the finale, she put up eight points and seven rebounds on Georgetown.
Westbrook just fills in the gaps wherever UConn has them.
“She wants to do everything for us. Anything that she can do, she’s gonna do.” Mühl said about Westbrook. “Scoring, rebounding, defense, assisting — whatever she sets her mind to that day, she's gonna do it. She really takes pride in that.”
“She's a great utility player,” Christyn Williams added. “She could do pretty much anything.”
Last week, Auriemma declared Westbrook to be the best sixth-player in the league. But when the Big East announced its postseason awards on Thursday, Creighton’s Morgan Maly went home with the sixth-woman of the year honor. Meanwhile, Westbrook didn’t made either of the All-Big East teams and didn’t even garner honorable mention. That didn’t seem to matter, though.
“I don't think Evina cares about the awards,” Mühl said. “I definitely think she should have gotten an award but Evina’s the kind of a player that she just doesn't care. She just doesn't care about any of that materialistic stuff.”
Auriemma echoed that sentiment. After all, Westbrook had the opportunity to leave for the WNBA Draft after last season and most mock drafts had her going in the first round. Instead, she returned to handle “unfinished business” — to win a national championship.
“I don't know that she came back and said, ‘I'm coming back to be First Team All-Big East or Second Team All-Big East’ or whatever the case may be,” Auriemma said. “She says she came back because she wants to try to win a championship. So she's doing everything she can to make that happen.”
Paige Bueckers updates
Ahead of the Big East Tournament, Auriemma provided a couple of Paige Bueckers updates.
On how she’s feeling: “She felt pretty good today (Thursday). We had Monday and Tuesday off so yesterday she didn't she didn't have a great day. I think moving every day, I think that helps her. Not doing anything probably isn't the best thing — doing too much isn't the best thing either. But today she had a really, really good day. And it's the best she's look since she's been back.”
On if she’ll be on a minutes restriction: “Maybe only the [restrictions] that I feel like putting on based on what she says or based on what I see. I don't see her playing 35 minutes, three games in a row. Let's put it that way. But I can't say exactly how many minutes. It'll be more than 15.”
Scouting the Hoyas
UConn only played Georgetown once during the regular season after its scheduled meeting on Jan. 5 was canceled due to COVID problems in the Huskies’ program. UConn beat the Hoyas 90-49 back on Feb. 20 thanks to a season-high 21 steals. Williams had 19 points while Azzi Fudd chipped in with 12 and Mühl finished with 11.
How they got here
Georgetown used an 18-0 run to start the second half to take down 8-seeded Providence on Friday, 68-55.
By the numbers
99.2 — Her Hoop Stats gives UConn a 99.2 percent change to beat Georgetown on Saturday.
31.7 — Unsurprisingly, the Huskies are expected to win in blowout fashion with a projected margin of victory of 31.7 points and a final score of 77.6-45.9.
31 — UConn has won its last 31 matchups with Georgetown dating back to 1993.
0 — Paige Bueckers has not attempted a single 3-pointer in her two games back from injury.
29 — The Huskies have made the final of the conference tournament every year since 1993, a streak of 29 consecutive years.