UConn looks to pull rank on Duke

Nov. 25—It has taken little time for the UConn women's basketball to make a move up the rankings in the Associated Press poll.

Most of that is due to the Huskies' work the first 10 days of the regular season. UConn, which started the season at No. 6, used wins over Top 10-opponents Texas and North Carolina State to vault No. 3, only 11 points behind second-ranked Stanford. Reigning national champion South Carolina, which beat the Cardinal in overtime Sunday, is the unanimous No. 1.

But the Huskies (3-0) have also seen the Longhorns, who started at No. 3, lose back-to-back games at the Battle 4 Atlantis following their loss at Gampel Pavilion and drop 16 spots. Iowa, which started No. 4, lost at Kansas State. And Tennessee, which started at No. 5, may be out of the Top 25 all together next week after taking falls of six spots and 12 spots to No. 23.

UConn will try to avoid the upset bug today when it takes on Duke in a first-round game of the Phil Knight Legacy at the Chiles Center in Portland, Oregon.

"This has been happening for a couple of years," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "There are fewer great teams and a lot more good teams. So the next thing that happens is those good teams start beating other good teams. If you're a Top 10 team and you have flaws they're going to show. And this transfer portal thing, this is going to happen more often. The portal with guys in and out that doesn't affect teams like Marquette, Gonzaga, that much. They got their guys and they keep their guys, pretty much. The teams in the Top 10, Top 15, Top 20, they have guys left and right, 'This guy was supposed to be this, this guy is all this, all that.' They get there, they don't play, they're off and running. Now you're putting together a new team, it seems like, every year.

"And all of the sudden you play against a team that has three or four guys that have been together three or four years. This is going to keep happening. It's a great sign for women's basketball that now you can't just walk into the gym and roll it out there and go, 'Yeah, we're a Top-10 team in the country and we can just roll over you just because you're unranked.' I think those days are over. I don't think anyone is good enough to do that and those other teams are too good. I love it. That's the kind of thing that's made March Madness the madness it is on the men's side. We need that madness on the women's side. We need more of it."

While UConn has used the transfer portal to add Lou Lopez Sénéchal and Dorka Juhász the past two seasons, others — such as Texas, North Carolina State, and Tennessee — are relying more on transfers to reload their programs. Duke has gone big into the transfer portal to rebuild since former Tennessee All-American Kara Lawson replaced Joanne P. McCallie with the Blue Devils in July of 2020.

Of the 17 players listed on the Duke roster, 11 are transfers from other colleges including starters Jordyn Oliver (Baylor), Celeste Taylor (Texas), and Kennedy Brown (Oregon State) along with top reserves Elizabeth Balogun (Louisville, Georgia Tech) and Reigan Richardson (Georgia).

The Blue Devils (5-0) are coming off a 58-41 win at Toledo Sunday. Their only win over a power-conference school is their 72-51 victory over Texas A&M on Nov. 17.

UConn arrived in Portland Tuesday following Sunday's 91-69 victory over North Carolina State. The starters were outstanding. Azzi Fudd matched her career high of 32 points while Lopez Sénéchal netted all 20 of her points in the second half. Aaliyah Edwards had her second double-double in three games with 20 points and 12 rebounds while Aubrey Griffin, starting in place of the injured Juhász (broken left thumb), had 16 points, six rebounds, and six steals. Nika Mühl established a single-game school record with 15 assists, breaking Paige Bueckers' mark by one.

"I still don't know how good we are," Auriemma said. "I have a pretty good idea how hard we are going to play and what we're going to bring every night. I have seen us struggle and then be great. But if we are going to compete like we did these two games and play with this kind of energy and purpose, then I think these two games kind of showed us what we can be."

The Huskies scored the first nine points and then held off every run by the Wolfpack before blowing the game open with a 15-2 run to end the third quarter.

Fudd is second in the country in scoring at 30.0 points per game while Muhl is No. 1 in assists at 10.3 per game.

"When we start going on all cylinders, there may be something else there," Auriemma said. "I don't know what it is, but when you have games like this, I like to say, 'That is the baseline. This is where we started. So now it can't ever be lower than this. It's only going up from here.' Wherever that is, I don't know."

Juhász will not play in the tournament and the Huskies are hopeful to get more out of guard Caroline Ducharme, who has struggled with neck stiffness since the start of the season.

Today's other first-round game of the Phil Knight Legacy features Iowa and All-American Caitlin Clark against Oregon State. The championship and consolation games are set for Sunday.

For coverage of all sports in the JI's 18-town coverage area, plus updates on the UConn women's basketball team and head coach Geno Auriemma, follow Carl Adamec on Twitter: @CarlAdamec, Facebook: Carl Adamec, and Instagram: @CarlAdamec.