Skip to main content

It’s been a reliable way to mark the transition from March to April for a decade and a half now: Count on UConn in the women’s Final Four. Their current run of 14 consecutive Final Four appearances is a record, and, for most of the streak, there’s been no question about whether it would be extended. (Six of those 14 appearances ended in a championship.) This year? There’s certainly a chance the streak will keep going. But it’s a little trickier than usual for No. 6 UConn.

The Huskies (29–5) have faced their share of roadblocks this season. They’ve battled a series of difficult injuries, most prominently to sophomore guard Azzi Fudd, who missed roughly two months due to right knee issues. (They’ve also spent all season without former National Player of the Year Paige Bueckers while she’s recovered from a torn ACL.) In addition to coming up short against tough competition like No. 1 South Carolina, No. 7 Maryland and No. 10 Notre Dame, they also dropped conference games against Marquette and St. John’s—the first time they’ve lost more than one conference game in a decade. So will they make it back to the Final Four? Here are a few questions that should help decide that.

UConn Huskies guard Azzi Fudd.

A healthy Azzi Fudd will be critical for UConn.

What can they expect from Azzi Fudd?

You can make a case that this is the only question that matters. Fudd looked stellar to open the year: 24 points per game with 2.8 assists. But she injured her right knee in UConn’s December loss to Notre Dame, and though she attempted a comeback a few weeks later, she reinjured her knee after appearing in two games in January. She finally returned for the Big East tournament earlier this month. While she did appear in all three tournament games, however, she came off the bench in each of them and gradually ramped up her time on the floor.

That means we don’t really know what Fudd is capable of right now: UConn was (rightfully) using the conference tournament as an opportunity to ease her back into game situations slowly. If she’s at full strength with the ability to put up performances as she did early in the season? It’s a game-changer. Fudd is the best pure shooter on this team; her presence creates all sorts of possibilities for this backcourt. It dramatically changes their spacing and takes pressure off the other guards. If Fudd is at her best or close to it, UConn should be thrilled. If she’s still not fully herself … well, it doesn’t spell the end for the Huskies, but it makes the path forward much harder to navigate.

How much will they see from Aaliyah Edwards?

No one has stepped up on this team like the junior forward. With Bueckers sidelined for the year, Fudd out for an extended stretch and Dorka Juhász missing several games, too, Edwards has started every game and emerged as the squad’s leading scorer. It’s been a career season for her: 16.6 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. She was the obvious choice for Big East tournament MOP; she used the tourney to demonstrate once again this year how she can assume control and carry a game when needed.

UConn ideally will find itself in a situation where a healthy Fudd can lead the backcourt while Edwards is able to play to her strengths and dominate the post. But regardless—and especially if there is still lingering rust for Fudd—a dominant stretch by Edwards could be key to another Final Four run.

Watch March Madness games live with fuboTV. Start your free trial today!

What are the biggest hurdles in this region?

UConn is the No. 2 seed in a bracket quadrant shared with No. 1 seed Virginia Tech and No. 3 seed Ohio State. The Hokies are an impressively balanced team led by double-double machine Elizabeth Kitley. But don’t overlook the threat from the Buckeyes. They’re in a spot similar to UConn’s situation with Fudd, in that they spent most of the season without guard Jacy Sheldon—but the senior was finally cleared to return from a leg injury earlier in March. She, like Fudd, was able to appear in three conference tournament games but came off the bench for all of them. Which means that she has the potential to suddenly add a serious scoring threat and tough defense to a squad that’s strong even without her. Barring any earlier upsets, UConn would be lined up to face Ohio State in the Sweet 16. If Sheldon is back at full strength? Watch out for that matchup.

Can we learn anything from last year’s UConn squad?

Don’t forget: Last year’s Huskies also had an up-and-down year and suffered five losses in the regular season. Last year’s Huskies also spent much of the year without a star (Bueckers) who was able to return just in time for March. Last year’s Huskies also ended up as a No. 2 seed in their region—only to beat the odds and make it all the way to the championship game. Yes, plenty will depend on strategy and health, and simple luck. But this is a familiar situation for UConn. And they’ve made it out before.