By Arnie Leshin
It didn’t matter that Azzi Fudd was back in play for the second straight game after a knee injury sidelined her for three months, what she does is reinforce the UConn women’s basketball lineup, provide more bodies for the roster.
For the Big East tournament in which the 5-foot-11 talented sophomore scored but 10 points in her return against Georgetown, and four Sunday afternoon versus Marquette, suddenly the top-seeded Huskies have turned things around as they prepare for a third meeting against 2nd-seeded, 14th-ranked Villanova in the championship game.
First they shellacked the stunned Hoyas, 69-39, in the quarterfinals, and Sunday they overwhelmed shocked Marquette, 82-51, in the semis at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, one of UConn’s three home sites in the state.
The 5th-seeded Marquette team had gotten past St. John’s, 57-53, in the quarters and had split two games with the Huskies, winning at home and losing in Storrs.
But like the Georgetown contest was no contest, so was this one. From start to finish, UConn dominated in every phase of the game by being a huge factor in the paint, hitting from outside, penetrating to the basket, and having far less turnovers then it had committed in recent disappointing games, and cut short Marquette’s offense with an aggressive defense.
“Yes,” said a smiling head coach Geno Auriemma after the game, “this was a whale of a game we played in both halves. We came out ready to go, never went flat, and closed like we had plenty left.”
The record-holder of 11 women’s national championships and a line of final fours, he added that he has a healthy squad again, finally a roster with 10 experienced players, a more energized team, and two game with everybody doing their part.”
He said that he wasn’t really worried by sharpshooting Fudd missing shots, but that she’s trying to catch up, is happy to be back out there, and will be fine with some more time spent out there.
It was 20-12 Huskies after a quarter, 37-22 at the half, 61-36 after three, and UConn, even with most of the reserves in, still held a 20-16 advantage in the final quarter.
It had five players in double figures. Aaliyah Edwards, the 6-3 junior forward, led the way with a double-double of 20 points and a dozen rebounds, and 6-5 senior graduate Dorka Juhasz did the same with 14 points and 11 boards.
Then came 5-10 junior point guard Niki Muhl, who has began shooting more from outside and driving to the basket, tallied 10 rebounds to go with the same number of assists in 35 minutes.
The other senior graduate, 5-11 guard Lou Lopez Senchal, tossed in 14 points on 4-for-4 shooting from the field and made her lone shot from beyond the arc. And the other starter, 5-11 junior Aubrey Griffin, added 11 points on 4-fo-4 shooting from the field