UConn Women's Basketball - The aftermath of a Covid Season

The Aftermath of the 2020-21 UConn Women’s Basketball Season

The bitterness of last Friday Night at the Alamodome will linger for the UConn Women. A young, immature team that was beaten by a mainly veteran Arizona squad in the Final Four. Season lows in 9 different categories and just the second time this season an opponent held UConn under 60 points in a regulation game (UConn had 54 thru 40 minutes v So Carolina) . A beyond disappointing end to a most unique trail of a season where dodging Covid 19 led to frustration for all involved.

28-2 and a 13th straight Final Four is a major achievement, but the Huskies caught a huge break in the Elite Eight win over Baylor. Down 10 late in the 3rd, defensive stopper and point guard Didi Richards pulled up lame and UConn took advantage with the epic 19-0 run. However, the game will forever hinge on the “non call” at games’ end that decided the outcome. And yes, while it was indeed a foul, the officials set the tone in the most physical game of the season by far.

Time now to give out my thoughts on the season.

The Freshmen….

Paige Bueckers: No incoming freshman has ever faced the scrutiny that Paige has. Some before her have been thrown into the fire right away, but have had an All American or veteran players already established. Sure, Christyn Williams and Olivia Nelson Ododa were the veterans and Evina Westbrook was ready to go. But it only took a few weeks for the coaching staff to see Paige Bueckers was the best player on the floor. Big Picture, she lived up to the billing leading the team in scoring, assists and three’s made. As the primary point guard, she also led the team in turnovers. Her passing is Taurasi and Bird esque and she seems to have that “clutch” gene. And while she cleaned up on numerous National Player of the Year Awards and All American Honors, you’re measured at UConn, fairly or unfairly, by the National Championships won. Winning four isn’t happening as the game grows. But Bueckers will get much better and stronger. And learn from this experience. The young lady as good as advertised.

Aaliyah Edwards: I was actually more excited to see Edwards play than Bueckers when the season started. And the young lady form Kingston, Ontario didn’t disappoint. She added the toughness factor in the post that UConn has been missing since Morgan Tuck and Breanna Stewart left. Half the season, scoring in double figures while recording three double-doubles. She wants to learn and get better. Can’t wait to see what the summer with Team Canada brings and how she uses it next season.

Nika Muhl: The freshman from Croatia brought feistiness to guard spot on the defensive end with 40 steals in 23 games. Yes, it took her some time to contribute on offense, but once inserted into the starting lineup, she added that “gnat” like defender that keyed the break. Now, she needs to become a more consistent factor on offense. If she can give them 7-11 points per game, the Huskies will take that in a heartbeat.

Mir McLean: The young lady from Baltimore made a big splash in game one v Lowell back in December with 10 points and 8 boards. Since then, saw sporadic time on the floor. The three at Arkansas was part of the comeback from 13 down that got UConn a brief lead, but McLean’s contributions weren’t consistent to garner more PT. That’s earned in practice where players gain trust from the coaching staff. She could be one of the x factors of the off season.

Piath Gabriel: We all got the sense that the 6-5 Freshman from Manchester, NH would be a project in the post. And it appeared to be that way as the season went on. Just late game appearances to close out blowouts. If any player in the freshman class benefits from the extra season of eligibility, it’s Piath. Let’s see what the off season brings for her.

Saylor Poffenbarger: We know this, Saylor likes to shoot the ball ! After joining the team in the second semester, it was basically a free semester to just get acclimated with the college game. She appeared in 12 games and made just 2 field goals, but Saylor knows knows what to expect when the Huskies get back together during summer classes in June.

Autumn Chassion: The walk on from Louisiana added spunk to the team. A 4.0 in her first semester in Storrs isn’t surprising, she even made the most of her 8 games played before a leg injury ended her season. It was her decision to come here and she hasn’t regretted it one bit. Being a great teammate is huge, by all accounts, Autumn is just that…

The Soph’s !!

Aubrey Griffin: Her per game numbers didn’t change a whole lot from her freshman year. Back spams kept her off the floor in late December and perhaps played a role throughout the season. After playing 21 minutes at St John’s in mid February, she didn’t play 20+ minutes until the Elite 8 game against Baylor when she gave them 25 solid minutes, especially on the defensive end. I get the feeling that she’s still in a rush at times. This off season is a big one for Aubrey. If the game slows down, that’s a big step in the right direction.

Anna Makurat: If anyone on this team was effected more by the pandemic than Anna, please correct me. She looked great when she arrived on campus. But two weeks in mandatory quarantine before classes started can be tough mentally. Anna had some back issues when practice started winding up, was settling for three’s and not attacking the paint as she tried to do late last season. Then the stress fracture put her season on hold until the Big East Tournament. However, her brightest moment came from the bench, when she lit into her teammates during the Baylor game when down ten, she got on them when the self doubt began to creep in. 19 unanswered points later, well, you know….Anna hopefully gets to see her family sooner than later. Her sister is transferring from Utah. Let’s see what the summer means to Anna

The Juniors:

Evina Westbrook: The best news in the last few days came Sunday when “Momma E” announced on Instagram she was coming back to Storrs next season. She may not be the team MVP, but leave no doubt she’s the most important player. Her leadership was immense all season on and off the court. Sure, she had some self doubt in the last few games like everyone else, but UConn wouldn’t have the success it had this season without her. She cut her turnovers down from her days in Knoxville and finished second in assists, proved to be a solid rebounder and racked up 52 steals. Consistency on offense will be needed as a Senior. But there is “unfinished business” to attend to. Happy to see her return for one for season.

Olivia Nelson-Ododa: The numbers from Friday stick out like a sore thumb, 0-7 in 20 minutes against Arizona with 6 boards. A couple of missed fallaway jumpers, but the shots inside weren’t really close. Maybe she sticks a picture of the Arizona Game or those stats in her locker like Tina Charles posting a picture of Big Sylvia Fowles after her freshman year. Yes, Aaliyah Edwards helped her a ton as they worked well together, but when it came time to play with the elite teams, the point production just wasn’t there. She did however produce with rebounds and assists on a regular basis. Even had 5 blocks against Baylor to help get the Huskies to the Final Four. Big picture, she averaged 12p and 8 boards per game. A career best 87 assists, third most on the team. Big improvement, however, IF UConn is to take that next step an get back to a National Championship Game, Liv needs to become a factor in all facets of her game. She has one season left to prove it.

Christyn Williams: Since Mid February, she became the defensive stopper for the Huskies and the light went on. She averaged 18ppg in the NCAA’s and led UConn with 20 against Arizona in the Final Four Game. Her willingness to become one of the leaders is a step in the right direction. The last step now is consistency game in and game out. Not just the big games where she’s usually pretty good, but every game. This is a big off season for her on and off the court. Hope the lessons learned keep going in the right direction in her Senior Season…

Finally, the most important thing is the Huskies beat Covid. Yes, there were a few delays, at the start for UConn, then other programs having Covid in season. And finally Geno tested positive, thankfully without major issues and if timing means anything, it came between the Big East and NCAA’s when there wasn’t much personal contact. That alone a victory…

Let me emphasize this, the game is getting better with a fifth different National Champion in the last five tournaments. Yes, UConn has been in the last 13 Final Fours, but the last four coming up empty. They’re still among the elite, but no longer the dominant team. Like it or not, those days are over. With all the great talent out there, UConn winning one, even two titles over the next five years would be a major achievement. This season to some is a failure. I’m not one of those. The youngest UConn Women’s Team in over 30 years got to the Final Four. They’ll learn from this experience and move on. The Huskies aren’t going away anytime soon. Hope you enjoyed the season. Been another enjoyable, yet very different ride…

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