The UConn Women’s basketball team faced one of their toughest battles on Monday night as they faced off against 7-seed UCF at Gampel Pavilion. The record 4,000 students were loud and raucous while they watched the best defensive team in the country, UCF Knights, muck up the game in an extreme way. The low-scoring, foul-filled contest was a true test for the Huskies, and in the end, the UConn Women’s basketball team set a new NCAA record as they punched their ticket to the 28th consecutive Sweet 16. It was ugly, but the Huskies did just enough to survive and advance.
UCF is the best defensive team in the country and they showed that tremendous strength on Monday night. They jumped into passing lanes, used the double-team liberally, and made physical plays in the paint on every single trip down the floor for the Huskies. The forced turnovers and bad shots for UConn and really put them on their heals on the offensive end. On their own offensive end, it was a completely different story. UCF committed 20 turnovers and at times looked completely lost in the half court. That’s partially thanks to the tough UConn defense and their ability to force UCF into mistakes. The Huskies exploited UCF’s offensive weakness and that ultimately was their demise. There aren’t many situations where a team is +7 in turnovers and gets the W.
This game was a tremendous test for the Huskies early in the tournament. They had to scrap and hustle during every possession and had to fight back after being down early. They got in foul trouble, some legitimate and some awful refereeing, and had both Aaliyah Edwards and Olivia Nelson-Ododa foul out in the final few minutes and were able to overcome those losses. They got contributions from up and down the lineup when they needed them the most and were able to pull ahead for the 5-point victory. My hope is that being able to win in a game of this style will give this team confidence that they can continue their deep run into the tourney, especially against a team where the familiarity factor was significant.
Azzi Fudd showed her growth during her freshman season by leading the team with 16 points and 2 rebounds. When they needed her the most, she hit 4 threes and helped UConn reach the 50-point threshold, which was the mark for this type of game. She also was perfect from the free throw line (4-4), showing poise and maturity beyond her years. The only other Husky in double-digits was Christyn Williams, who finished the game with 12 points, 3 rebounds, 1 block and 1 steal. Her senior leadership was key at moments when the team was getting frustrated.
It’s not likely that UConn will face a defensive team quite like UCF in the remainder of the tournament. Their Sweet 16 matchup, 3-seed Indiana, is a middle-of-the-pack defensive team. UConn should be able to hopefully score more than 52 points and play more of their style of basketball. After crushing 14-seed Charlotte in the first round, Indiana struggled to get past #11 Princeton. Indiana has very balanced scoring, with 5 players averaging 10+ points per game. They are led by a senior G Grace Berger who had 18 and 15 points respectively in their first two tournament games.
Fortunately for the Huskies they have a week to rest up and get ready for their matchup with Indiana.