CHICAGO - The University of Connecticut Huskies’ women’s basketball team enjoyed a comeback in more ways than one in a detour to Chicago on Wednesday night.
No. 10 UConn welcomed back star attractions Azzi Fudd and Christyn Williams back to their lineup for a showdown against Big East foe DePaul staged in place of a Thursday rematch with top-ranked South Carolina that was canceled due to rescheduling issues in the SEC. The reset conference duel managed to match, if not exceed, the drama of a top ten matchup: dealt a nine-point deficit at halftime, the Huskies fought their way back to an 80-78 victory at Winstrust Arena.
Caroline Ducharme capped off a 19-point night with a driving bank shot with 1.5 seconds remaining to send Connecticut (12-4, 7-0 Big East) back home with a hard-fought victory. The crucial couple also preserved UConn’s long-standing conference winning streak, which now stands at 167 games.
The Huskies’ visit to Chicago was originally scheduled for Dec. 31 but was postponed due to health and safety issues. UConn thus had a chance to get healthy before they faced arguably their biggest challenger to conference supremacy. Fudd, the nation’s top-ranked incoming freshman previously sidelined with a foot injury, partook in her first game since Nov. 22 (the Huskies’ first, and now only, tilt against No. 1 South Carolina) while Williams returned from a three-game stay on the COVID-19 list.
Nonetheless, the Blue Demons (16-5, 8-2 Big East) perhaps introduced themselves as the tallest obstacle to UConn’s quest for conference supremacy by giving the mostly-refueled Huskies (who are still without Paige Bueckers for the foreseeable future) everything they could handle.
UConn handled business in the early going by jumping out to a 20-11 lead after the first 10 minutes, with seven of those points earned by Nika Muhl. But their Windy City hosts built the aforementioned halftime advantage with a 29-11 victory in the second quarter, one built and sustained mostly through a 17-0 run over the middle-to-late stages of the frame, a stretch that featured five Connecticut turnovers. The Huskies’ careless turnovers and inability to stop Aneesah Morrow (the nine-time winner of the conference’s Freshman of the Week Award who scored or assisted on 21 of DePaul’s 40 first half points) seemed set to overshadow the triumphant returns of Fudd and Williams.
But it didn’t take long for the Huskies to restore Big East normalcy. The early second half efforts of Williams and Dorka Juhasz (UConn-best 12 rebounds) prevented the Blue Demons from running away with the lead and the Huskies got it back before the two-minute mark of the third quarter thanks to Fudd’s official reintroduction to the college basketball scene: her triple off the
helper from Muhl knotted the game at 50 before her jumper and a Juhasz layup allowed the Huskies to escape the penultimate period with a 54-53 lead.
DePaul quickly got the lead back thanks to Morrow’s perfect trip to the foul line at the start of the fourth, but Huskies seemed ready to pull away on a 10-3 run built with seven more Fudd tallies. But the Blue Demons had the lead back by the midway mark with nine unanswered, setting up a dramatic final act. Though the game’s headlines centered around UConn’s established stars, it was Ducharme, the freshman that continues to make a name for herself as the Huskies try to re-establish their national dominance, that led the way.
Facing a 69-66 deficit with four minutes remaining, Ducharme scored 10 of the Huskies’ final 14 points (the other four added by Williams) that finally exorcised the Blue Demons for good. The final pair came after Morrow capped off a 30-point evening with tying free throws at the foul line. Handed the ball by Muhl beyond the top of the key, Ducharme drove into the paint against Darrione Rogers before Morrow arrived to help. Perhaps sensing the lauded freshman’s arrival, Ducharme put up her backbreaking bank to send the visitors’ bench into hysterics and a celebration that only intensified when Morrow’s desperation heave for the win fell short.
Ducharme’s final showcase was part of a final frame that saw UConn shoot 11--of–13 (85 percent) from the field. Williams (7–of–12 FG) was just behind Ducharme with 17 to go with a trio of steals while Fudd (6–of–10 FG) added 15 in 22 minutes off the bench.
Despite the loss, Morrow (who earned both the freshman and overall player honors from the conference last week) appears well on her way to further accolades: she reached 30 points for the second straight game (falling just short of the infantile career-best 32 she put up on Sunday against Xavier) and had 14 more rebounds, nearly equaling her average over the past five games (14.2). Three other Blue Demons reached double-figures, with Sonya Morris being Morrow’s runner-up with 19. A rematch between UConn and DePaul is scheduled for Feb. 11 in Storrs.
In the meantime, the Huskies will continue their run through the Big East with a Sunday morning matinee in Providence (11 a.m. ET, SNY). UConn has won 29 in a row over the Friars (9-9, 4-5 Big East), who will face Creighton on Friday late afternoon in an attempt to end a three-game road trip on the right note. Providence previously fell in Villanova before earning a 66-58 overtime decision at Georgetown last Sunday.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags