UConn women, Baylor discuss controversial 2021 Elite Eight thriller ahead of rematch in NCAA Tournament second round
STORRS — Neither Azzi Fudd or Caroline Ducharme remember the name of the shooting camp they were attending during the Elite Eight thriller between UConn women’s basketball and Baylor on March 29, 2021, but they certainly remember being the only ones rooting for the Huskies.
Both Fudd and Ducharme were committed to join the program the following season and were surrounded by players committed to join other top schools. The UConn duo were trading trash talk with everyone else as they huddled around a phone to watch the game on a bus.
“We were sitting there like, ‘Oh my God, Oh my God’ the whole time,” Fudd told the Courant. “We were so stressed.”
They then watched the controversial ending on a TV at the restaurant they were eating dinner at. With UConn up by one with under five seconds left and the clock winding down, Baylor’s DiJonai Carrington drove into the paint and was met by two Husky defenders, Aaliyah Edwards and Olivia Nelson-Ododa, as she went up for a shot. No foul was called, which led to a lot of heated debate. UConn would end up advancing to the Final Four with a 69-67 victory.
“Obviously, all of them thought it was ridiculous,” Fudd said, “But I thought that’s how they were calling the game the whole day, that was the right call to make. I think that they were letting so much go. … Caroline and I were very happy about it. Everyone else was not happy.”
“When we ended up pulling it out, we were kinda just like, ‘Oh yeah, UConn wins again,’” Ducharme added. “Everyone was mad about it, but we ended up winning, so. ”
Now Fudd and Ducharme will be on the court for the Huskies as they play Baylor for the first time since that controversial finish . No. 2 seed UConn takes on 7th-seeded Baylor in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at Gampel Pavilion Monday night.
“I’m excited to play,” Fudd said. “I know that the older girls are excited for that rematch because they remember some of the girls that are still there.”
Edwards has come a long way since that game her freshman season, recently named a Third Team All-American. She led UConn with a career-high 28 points along with seven rebounds, five assists, four steals and two blocks in its 95-52 win over 15-seed Vermont in the first round. So have Aubrey Griffin and Nika Muhl, who were also on that team (but Muhl didn’t play). Paige Bueckers, the star of that Elite EIght win, is sidelined this season with an ACL tear.
On the opposing side, guard Sarah Andrews and forward Caitlin Bickle were the only Baylor players on the court for the game, while guard Jaden Owens was on the bench and didn’t play.
When Edwards was asked about the 2021 game and the call on Sunday, she laughed.
“I already knew this question was coming, so…” Edwards said. “I mean, feelings from that game, we won it, so I think that’s really what I take from that game. We’re into 2023 now, we’re moving on to something better. I think that leading into the matchup tomorrow, we’re just coming in prepared and making sure that we play the same way we played yesterday, but even stronger and coming out more aggressive.”
When asked about whether it was a foul or not, Bickle laughed and replied “no comment,” referring to the same answer players gave after the game two seasons ago.
“I remember the game like it was yesterday,” Andrews said, “but obviously we both have two new teams, different styles, a new coach over here on this side. So it’s just about what we’re gonna do this year.
“It’s always gonna be a fun game playing against UConn. These are moments that people live for, to play on stage like this. So we’re gonna have fun, go out there and fight hard. NaLyssa (Smith) is my best friend, I talk to her all the time, so using her as a little motivation for that game too.”
Nicki Collen is now at the helm for the Bears instead of Kim Mulkey, who left in April 2021 to take head coaching job at LSU. Collen was an assistant for the Connecticut Sun for the 2016 and 2017 seasons. She then was the head coach of the Atlanta Dream for three seasons before rejoining the college ranks.
“Any time you have a coaching change and a change of philosophy and a change in personnel you’re going to get a different look,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “I watched ’em play and their style of play’s a little bit different. Nicki coaching in the pros, I think there’s a lot of that influence on their team, the way they play.
“Really, really, really heavy ball screen stuff, so that’s a little bit different. More so guard play than the post players that Baylor had in the past. So they traded one thing for another and still managed to get to this point. The way they shot it yesterday they could probably beat anybody. So this time of the year prepare for everything and expect anything.”
Status update on Lou Lopez Sénéchal, Aubrey Griffin
Auriemma said that Lou Lopez Sénéchal & Aubrey Griffin, who played limited time against Vermont with injuries, are “both going to be available” against Baylor on Monday.
Griffin played around six and a half minutes after dealing with back spasms and Lopez Sénéchal subbed out early in the third quarter after tweaking her leg on defense. Auriemma said he kept both on the bench out of caution with the Huskies already up by so much.
“How they’re feeling is how they’re feeling. I mean, that’s not going to change,” Auriemma said Friday. “But I expect both of them to play tomorrow. My hope is that they can play as many minutes as we need them to play and that they can be effective.”
What else to know for the game.
Site: Gampel Pavilion
Time: 9 p.m.
Series: UConn, 5-4
Last meeting: No. 1 UConn 69, No. 5 Baylor 67 in Elite Eight on March 29, 2021
TV: ESPN; Beth Mowins (pxp), Christy Thomaskutty (analyst)
Streaming: ESPN app
Radio: UConn Sports Network on 97.9 ESPN