No. 4 UConn women secure share of Big East title, tourney’s top seed after grinding out 72-69 win at DePaul

The No. 4 UConn women’s basketball team secured the top seed in the Big East tournament and at least a share of the regular-season conference championship with a 72-69 win over DePaul at Wintrust Arena Saturday.

The Huskies (25-5, 17-2 Big East) can claim sole possession of their 29th regular-season conference title with a win in their final game against Xavier on Monday, or a Villanova loss at Seton Hall.

The game was a true back-and-forth affair with 15 lead changes and nine ties. It was decided in the final seconds by free throws from Nika Mühl. She finished with 13 points and also had eight assists to move into second on UConn’s single season assist record list, passing Jennifer Rizzotti and Crystal Dangerfield with 229 on the season. She is three assists away from passing Sue Bird (231 assists in 2001-02) for first place.

Aaliyah Edwards led UConn with 16 points, five rebounds and three blocks before fouling out. Aubrey Griffin added 14 points, nine rebounds and three steals, while Dorka Juhász finished with 13 points, eight rebounds and four assists.

The Huskies shot 42.9% (27 of 63) from the field, 33.3% (7 of 21) from 3-point range and 84.6% (11 of 13) from the free-throw line. They outscored DePaul 20-12 in the fourth quarter to overcome committing 18 turnovers on the afternoon.

Juhász was on a tear to start the afternoon, scoring 10 of UConn’s first 17 points. But then with less than a minute and a half left in the first quarter she went down under the Huskies’ basket in another injury scare for the team.

Juhász lay on the ground with her head on the court, surrounded by teammates as UConn’s trainer came over. She was slow to get up and had to be helped off the court by Amari DeBerry and Paige Bueckers before limping back to the locker room with an apparent ankle injury.

Meanwhile, DePaul was in the midst of 7-0 run to take the lead, after UConn was up by five earlier in the quarter. The Blue Demons led 21-19 at the end of the opening frame.

Juhász came back onto the court and sat on the bench between the first and second quarters. She re-entered the game with 3:27 left in second quarter, at which point the Huskies led 35-32, in large part behind the play of Griffin.

Griffin scored eight of UConn’s 18 points in the second quarter and made a number of plays on the defensive end as well. Still the game was tied at the break as UConn only shot 38.2% (7 of 18) from the field and 28.6% (4 of 14) in the first half. DePaul went 45.5% from the floor and also shot 38.5% (5 of 13) from deep.

Just as she began the first, Juhasz scored the first points of the second half for the Huskies. They built their lead to four points, before Aneesah Morrow got things going for DePaul.

Morrow made two shots at the free-throw line off Edwards’ third foul of the game and then came up with a steal and score to tie the game at 45-45 just before the midway point of the third.

The two teams traded blows from there.

Mühl found Caroline Ducharme in the corner for a 3-pointer to give UConn a 50-49 lead and move into second on the single-season assist list.

But then DePaul went on a 8-0 run to take a seven-point lead. Griffin hit a jumper as the quarter wound down, however, UConn still trailed 57-52 entering the final frame.

Ayanna Patterson gave UConn some valuable minutes off the bench early in the fourth. She made a layup and then drew an offensive foul on Morrow on the other end with a little over seven minutes left. That was Morrow’s fourth, forcing her to sub out, but she came back in a few minutes later and scored a jumper to give DePaul a 61-56 lead with 5:13 left.

Edwards powered through the defense for a huge and-one play to trim the Huskies’ deficit to two points shortly after. Still, they had a long way to go.

UConn managed to tie the game at 65 with 3:08 left following back-to-back layups from Edwards and Lou Lopez Sénéchal.

Edwards got another bucket to go down low shortly after, giving the Huskies a two-point lead. She would end up fouling out with 1:53 left, but the Huskies wouldn’t let that slow down their run. Mühl drained a corner trey with with 1:13 left, putting UConn up 70-65 after a 9-0 run.

Anaya Peoples made two free throws at the line to stop the run and make it a three-point game with under a minute left. She then made a layup with 17 seconds left to trim UConn’s lead to one.

The Huskies had possession with a chance to win it, but then chaos ensued. Morrow came up with a steal and the Blue Demons sprinted down the court on the fast break.

But Juhász forced a held ball turnover and UConn once again got a shot to seal things. Mühl drew a foul with 7.7 seconds and made both shots at the line to secure the victory.

Progress for Azzi Fudd

UConn hasn’t provided any timeline on when Azzi Fudd might be able to return from a right knee injury, but things appear to be moving in the right direction for the star guard.

Although she remained out for the 13th consecutive game, Fudd took part in warmups prior to Saturday’s matchup as part of her rehab process. She still had a brace on her knee but appeared to be moving without restriction.

Fudd suffered the injury against Georgetown on Jan. 15, just her second game back after sitting out eight games with a knee injury earlier this season.

Head coach Geno Auriemma said that the two injuries were not related earlier this week, while also adding that Fudd has shown a lot of improvement in recent workouts with assistant coach Morgan Valley. When Fudd returns will be based on how she feels, Auriemma said.

Across nine games this season, Fudd has averaged 17.9 points on 53.4% shooting from the field and 43.4% shooting from 3-point range.