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The 10th-ranked UConn women’s basketball may no longer be playing top-ranked South Carolina this week, but the Huskies still have a tough challenge with at Big East foe DePaul Wednesday evening.
The Blue Demons are never an easy team to face, but surely UConn coach Geno Auriemma wishes he had a healthier backcourt heading into a game like this. The good news is that senior Christyn Williams will be able to give UConn some minutes. She has missed the previous three contests making her way back from COVID-19 protocols and her availability depends on how she feels.
Fifteen minutes from Williams is better than zero, especially as Auriemma seeks to be smart about Nika Mühl’s minutes to prevent the foot injury that kept her out three games in December from worsening. Freshman Azzi Fudd (foot) is still out as she works her way back into game shape, and Auriemma said she’ll do some things with the team in practice Tuesday.
“I think DePaul is always a difficult assignment, no matter who we’ve had,” Auriemma said. “We’ve taken some undefeated, great teams there and had a hard time keeping them from doing what they want to do. They put so much pressure on you to have to score. They play a pace and a style that no one else in the country does.
“Right now, we’re down a couple guards so we really can’t play the way we would like to play against them, which is to go up and down with them, like we have pretty much every year. But you really are going to have to control the tempo, you’re really going to have to be smart with the ball, pick your spots. And you can’t worry about what the score is.”
DePaul (16-4) may not be ranked at the moment but is 8-1 in the Big East play thanks to freshman sensation Aneesah Morrow. The current frontrunner for conference player and freshman of the year, the 6-foot-1 post is averaging 20.3 points and 12.5 rebounds and her 15 double-doubles are tied for the most in Division I.
“She’s made a huge difference on her team,” Auriemma said. “She plays hard, She’s tough. She’s physical, she scores, she rebounds. They’re a very, very good team. And they’re a veteran team. So you bring someone like that to a veteran team, and it was exactly what they needed. We’re going to have our hands full with her. I’m hopeful that that combination of Liv [Olivia Nelson-Ododa], Dorka [Juhász], and Aaliyah [Edwards] can have some success.”
DePaul’s losses have been to Texas A&M (95-75), Arizona (75-68), Notre Dame (91-86) and Marquette (88-85, OT), while its better wins have been against Northwestern (78-75), Kentucky (94-85) and Villanova (75-63).
Here’s what else you need to know about the matchup:
Site: Wintrust Arena
Time: 8 p.m.
Series: UConn leads, 19-1
Last meeting: No. 3 UConn 100, No. 17 DePaul 62, Jan. 31, 2021, in Chicago
TV: SNY (Meghan Culmo, Allen Bestwick, Maria Marino)
Stream: In-market SNY viewers with access to the network can watch via the NBC Sports app: http://stream.nbcsports.com/rsn/sny. Out-of-market viewers can watch on the Fox Sports App or at https://www.foxsports.com/ as well as on the FOX Now app or at www.fox.com/sports. The games might not appear on those sites until right around tipoff.
Radio: UConn IMG Sports Network on 97.9 ESPN (Bob Joyce, Debbie Fiske)
DePaul's probable starters, sixth man:
Aneesah Morrow, F, 6-1, Fr.; Deja Church, G, 5-10, Gr.; Lexi Held, G, 5-10, Sr.; Sonya Morris, G, 5-10, Sr.; Darrione Rogers, G, 5-11, So.; Kierra Collier, G, 5-6, Jr.
UConn probable starters, sixth man:
Olivia Nelson-Ododa, F, 6-5, Sr.; Dorka Juhász, F, 6-5, Gr.; Evina Westbrook, G, 6-0, R-Sr.; Nika Mühl, G, 5-10, So.; Caroline Ducharme, G, 6-2, Fr.; Aaliyah Edwards, F, 6-3, So.
UConn’s offense: Ducharme is coming off her fourth 20-point game of her young career, one where she was the Huskies’ go-to scorer when they needed a bucket in the fourth with St. John’s closing in. She finished with a career-high 28 points and is now averaging approximately 17 per game for the
Paige Bueckers-less Huskies. Nelson-Ododa has made an impact all over the court, including last game with her facilitating (10 assists). Juhász and Westbrook, meanwhile, have put together back-to-back double-figure outings.
UConn’s defense: It’s been strong with just three teams (Arkansas, South Carolina and Oregon) scoring more than 70 points against them. Teams are shooting 36.6% (28.5% on 3s) against the Huskies and the rebounding has also improved since the beginning of the season.
DePaul’s offense: The Blue Demons score 92.1 points per game, the best in Division I thanks in part to a fast-paced style of play and knack for getting out into transition. Morrow leads the team in scoring at 20.3 points per game and shoots 58.6%. Morris, Held and Church average between 13 and 18 points per game apiece, and the team can get hot from 3. DePaul is also excellent on the offensive glass, collecting 39.8% of its misses per Her Hoop Stats.
DePaul’s defense: DePaul’s defense allows 75.9 points per game, one of the most in Division I, with opponents shooting 51.0% from inside the arc, one of the nation’s worst percentages. The Blue Demons’ press helps them collect 10.6 steals per game (and force 20.5 turnovers on average).
UConn keys: Transition defense. Rebound on both ends. Don’t let DePaul dictate pace. Limit turnovers and self-inflicted errors. Need offensive contributions from everyone.
Players to watch: How much, if at all, will Williams be able to contribute? How successful will UConn’s posts be in slowing down Morrow?
About DePaul’s coach: Doug Bruno led the Blue Demons to 17 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, a feat matched only by Connecticut, Stanford and Tennessee, between 2003-2019. Bruno was announced as a finalist for induction into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame this past week.
DePaul’s mascot: Demon In a Blue Suit (DIBS)
Famous alumni: 2021 WNBA champion Allie Quigley, sports broadcaster Sarah Kustok, actress Monique Coleman
Alexa Philippou can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org