The five Huskies with the most to prove this season
This year will be an important campaign for a handful of players.
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UConn announced First Night will return on Oct. 15 at Gampel Pavilion, though only students will be allowed in attendance. For everyone else, the festivities will be broadcasted on CW20 and streamed on UConn’s Facebook page.
The five UConn players with the most to prove this season
With its unprecedented success over the last 25+ years, its easy to take a lot of what UConn women’s basketball does for granted. The Huskies don’t lose conference games (hasn’t happened in eight years), they’ll reach the Final Four every year (13 straight and counting) and every player seemingly follows the same development schedule.
As a sophomore, players typically make a sizable leap, either into a reliable role player (think Megan Walker in 2018-19) or become bonafide stars (like Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson in 2016-17). As juniors, the reliable role players often turn into stars and those who have already reached that level become more versatile and well-rounded.
It doesn’t work out like that for everyone, though. In fact, this year’s roster is the perfect example of how development isn’t linear. Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Christyn Williams were both top-ranked recruits who have contributed throughout their respective careers but haven’t quite transformed into elite players yet as they enter their senior season. Most other players with a similar resume already have things figured out before their final year in Storrs.
Similarly, Aubrey Griffin is going to be a junior and — although she’s been an important player — still hasn’t established herself as a consistently reliable option for the Huskies. There are still plenty of moments when she looks like a freshman.
Meanwhile, there’s a large, talented sophomore class, looking to make that aforementioned leap. Their development will likely decide whether UConn is just one of the best teams in the country or the clear-cut favorite to win the national championship.
This is an important season for everyone — the coaches, players and program itself. Some have more riding on it than others, though.
Williams established herself as one of UConn’s top players last postseason by playing lockdown defense and becoming a go-to scorer. After three years of inconsistency, Williams finally broke through and took her game to another level.
As impressive as she was in the Big East and NCAA Tournaments, she’ll need to prove the eight games weren’t just a flash in the pan and put in those type of performances on a nightly basis. To her credit, Williams acknowledged her past shortcomings and knows what she has to do as a senior.
“I’m trying to kill everybody on the court. That’s it,” she said. “I gotta kick some ass if we’re being completely honest.”
Now, it’ll be a matter of executing it.
To this point in her career, Nelson-Ododa has developed a reputation as a player who beats up on smaller, weaker teams but struggles in big games against opponents with size. And while that tag is a little unfair, it’s also not without merit. UConn’s two losses — at Arkansas and against Arizona in the Final Four — were her two of her worst performances of the season.
At her best, Nelson-Ododa is a point forward who excels at passing the ball, cleans up on the offensive glass, protects the rim and can score when needed. She doesn’t need to be a Tina Charles-esque superstar to help the team, she just needs to avoid making costly mistakes on both end of the floor.
Nelson-Ododa is the Huskies’ x-factor and will play a major role in the fate of the season — good or bad. Although she came up short last season in the Final Four, she’ll have the chance to change the narrative once and for all as a senior.
For two seasons, Griffin has been UConn’s spark plug off the bench, providing energy, defense and rebounding. Occasionally, she’s broken out for big scoring nights but those have proven to be few and far between.
Over the summer, Auriemma pushed Griffin to shoot more but mentioned “Aubrey’s Aubrey”, hinting that she’s still the same boom-or-bust player as before.
While that’s not a bad thing — at the top of her game, Griffin is borderline unstoppable and is one of the most impactful players on the floor — there’s been more bust than boom in two years. Last season, she scored 10 or more points six times, but all but two of those occasions were in a four-game stretch from Jan. 9-Jan. 23. Outside of that, Griffin reached double figures twice in 24 games.
This season is a crucial juncture in the junior’s career. Griffin has talent and athleticism to be a great player but eventually, she needs to put it all together.
As a freshman, Mühl established herself as one of UConn’s most important players down the stretch. Auriemma credited her with improving the Huskies’ defensive communication and she also took on ball-handling duties to allow Paige Bueckers and Williams more freedom on the offensive end.
But the addition of Azzi Fudd and Caroline Ducharme makes the already-full backcourt even more crowded and Mühl’s spot isn’t guaranteed. It helps that the sophomore is a defense-first floor general whereas Fudd and Ducharme are both shooters, so they aren’t all vying for the same role. Ultimately, there’s only so many minutes to go around so Mühl — just as she did last year — will have to prove her importance again.
It feels unfair to put a freshman on this list but that’s what happens when you’re one of the most-hyped high school prospects ever. Before even playing a single game for the Huskies, Fudd has been a cover story for ESPN, became the first college athlete ever to be a brand ambassador for Chipotle and — perhaps most importantly — has already received high praise from Auriemma. It also doesn’t help that she follows behind Bueckers, who had the most prolific freshman season in women’s college basketball history just last year.
Fudd shouldn’t be expected to replicate Bueckers’ achievements but UConn will count on her to contribute immediately as a shooter and scorer. She doesn’t need to be a superstar right away but with all the hype surrounding her, Fudd will be expected to be better than most other freshmen.
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