No. 5 UConn women’s basketball confident and close to getting back to healthy as it heads on the road to face Butler

Even through all the injuries and setbacks No. 5 UConn women’s basketball has dealt with this season, head coach Geno Auriemma has repeatedly remarked how much he enjoys being around this group of players.

“Some teams just come together pretty quickly,” Auriemma said. “Their personalities mix pretty well and I think their roles are pretty well-defined. And not only that, people are comfortable in their roles. They know what’s expected of them. And they’re compatible on the court and they’re compatible off the court.

“Does that always happen? No. But when it does, it’s a good thing to fall back on because you just know that there’s a little bit of a bond between them that’s not going to be broken easily. So we just happen to be in that year with that kind of team.”

The Huskies’ energy, chemistry and toughness has stood out as they’ve pushed through to win multiple games when they’ve been shorthanded, including the last two. They had seven players available at then-No. 21 Creighton last Wednesday and eight against Marquette last Sunday. In fact, they haven’t had everyone available and healthy for a full game this season, and that’s not even counting season-ending injuries to Paige Bueckers (torn ACL) and Ice Brady (torn patella).

Their number of available players is expected to bump up to at least nine for the first time since Dec. 21 when UConn faces Butler on the road in Indianapolis Tuesday night. Aubrey Griffin, who tested positive for COVID-19 while home for the holidays, passed her last mandatory day of sitting out on Sunday and Auriemma was optimistic about getting her back.

“My guess is based on what happens the next couple of days (Aubrey) should be able to go on Tuesday,” Auriemma said after the win over Marquette. “Whether Azzi is or not, keep our fingers crossed.”

Griffin and Fudd, who has missed the last six games with a right knee injury suffered against Notre Dame on Dec. 4, each took part in two workouts over the weekend.

“Both went really, really well,” Auriemma said. “So I’m really encouraged by how soon that can translate into actual playing time.

Fudd was initially ruled out three to six weeks. She had a doctor’s appointment last Thursday, a few days after the three week mark passed, where she was cleared to resume basketball activities. She was ruled out for Sunday’s game, but dressed in uniform and participated in warmups as part of her rehab process.

“Slowly but surely she’s coming back,” Aaliyah Edwards said of Fudd. “With everything going on, the challenges that we face as a team it brings us closer, but to know that Azzi is coming back and our team is almost complete, it’s amazing to kind of just be back on the norm.”

UConn hasn’t had much normalcy this season. Auriemma said he’s run practices differently than he ever has in his time with the program due to the lack of available players. Challenging practices are a given, of course, but they often don’t run as long, with a concerted effort to have players exert less energy.

Nika Mühl, who players and coaches credit with pushing the team’s pace and energy, also said that the players have been working extra on recovery and getting their bodies right, including from a nutritional standpoint.

The Huskies developed a strong bond as they dealt with a similarly trying string of adversity last season. They learned to embrace those challenges as they persevered to the national championship game, and that mindset has helped them navigate the start of this season.

“It’s funny to say it, but I think the adversity is one of the strongest forces that is keeping us together,” Dorka Juhász said. “We’ve been through so much. We’re very competitive people, so we don’t want to lose and we don’t want to be using excuses, like, ‘Oh, we only have six players and that’s why we lost,’ like that’s not who we are. Obviously the UConn culture is whoever we have we’re gonna go out there and we’re gonna win, you know, I think that’s just the motto.

“And then just every single one of us has the same goal of winning a national championship. So I think that’s just what is in front of us and every single game we’re just, ‘Hey, we’re gonna go out there, have fun, just play hard and win the game.’”

The Huskies have proven they’re still one of the best teams in the country in the process and are back in the top five of the AP poll for the first time in over a month. And with Griffin coming back and the return of their leading scorer on the horizon, their ceiling is certainly a lot higher than many may have thought a few months ago.

“We’ve already been through so much, I don’t think anything can break us at this point,” Mühl said. “I really am 100% confident that nothing can break us at this point.”

Here’s what else you need to know for the game.

Site: Hinkle Fieldhouse

Time: 7 p.m.

Series: UConn, 3-0

Last meeting: No. 10 UConn 92, Butler 47 on Jan. 12, 2022 in Indianapolis

TV: SNY; Allen Bestwick (pxp), Meghan Culmo (analyst), Maria Marino (sideline)

Streaming: SNY app

Radio: UConn Sports Network on 97.9 ESPN