The Ohio State women’s basketball team has a difficult task ahead of them Saturday when they face off against the UConn Huskies. In six previous games against the East Coast side, the Buckeyes haven’t managed a win over the Huskies but could that change this year?
To dive into that and more about UConn, Land-Grant Holy Land spoke to friends over at The UConn Blog, writer and podcaster Daniel Connolly. Here’s what Connolly had to say about parity, Buckeye transfer Dorka Juhász, and more for Saturday’s Sweet Sixteen battle.
Land-Grant Holy Land: UConn made it to the Sweet Sixteen after the Baylor Bears gave a good first-half fight. Then star guard Azzi Fudd stepped in. For folks who might not watch a lot of UConn basketball, what does Fudd do that makes her so dangerous? Also, is she now back to that pre-injury form or is there room for gaining even more comfort on the court?
The UConn Blog: Fudd’s best attribute her is shooting ability and it’s what you’ll probably hear the most about ahead of this game, but what makes her so dangerous is she isn’t just a shooter. Fudd takes a lot of pride in being a great basketball player, so she can take over games in a number of ways. Against Baylor, she had 22 points despite only shooting 3-12 from three because she can score in a variety of ways. She has a sweet pull-up jumper but can also put the ball on the floor and get to the basket.
Since returning, Fudd has looked good physically. There’s no hesitation or tentativeness in her game and she doesn’t seem to favor the injured right knee. The big question mark is her shot. Fudd is still dealing with rust, so she’s only hitting 33.3 percent overall and 23.7 percent from three. If (or more likely when) she starts hitting again, watch out. She can put up 30 points without breaking a sweat when shots are falling.
LGHL: A name familiar to Buckeye fans is forward Dorka Juhász, the Ohio State transfer. Last season, Juhász didn’t really make a name for herself in the UConn squad until injuries afforded her more starts. Now, this season the Hungarian has started every game she's been back from injury. How has Juhász changed since coming to UConn and how vital is she to Geno Auriemma’s gameplan?
UB: Last year was tough for Juhász. She had a bunch of nagging injuries that sapped her conditioning level and then she broke her wrist in the Elite Eight. Part of her success this season is improved conditioning, but she also stopped pressing. Juhász admitted that last year she tried so hard to be perfect in order to prove herself at UConn but now, she gives herself more grace and just plays her game.
She’s a crucial piece of the Huskies’ puzzle now. Forward Aaliyah Edwards is the bigger threat in the post but Juhász does a lot of dirty work. She’s improved her passing (a key skill for bigs at UConn), rebounds well, can defend the rim and is also capable of scoring both inside and out.
LGHL: The Huskies are pushing for their 15th Final Four appearance in a row. UConn and coach Auriemma are synonymous with college basketball and even without a national title in a few years, the Huskies are still revered and feared across the nation. With all that said, no team is perfect. What are the weaknesses of a healthy version of this year’s UConn team?
UB: UConn is extremely turnover prone. It’s been a problem that’s hampered the team from the start and has never really gotten fixed. Some of that is due to the roster situation — guard Nika Muhl and Fudd are really the only true ball handlers — but the Huskies also just make bad decisions with the ball. Most of their turnovers are unforced, too. They try to fit passes into a space they shouldn’t, travel way too often and throw the ball away. That’s the clearest path to an upset for Ohio State or any other team.
While not necessarily a true weakness, the defense can have lapses now and then — at least more often than typical UConn teams. Geno Auriemma criticized the on-court defensive communication at the end of the regular season and while it’s gotten better, opponents still get open layups or open shots from three way too often because of it.
The last one isn’t a weakness per se, but it’s a major factor for the Huskies: Injuries. They lost superstar guard Paige Bueckers and top-ranked freshman forward Ice Brady in the preseason and since the season began, they’ve only had all 10 players available for six games. Five of those were the Big East and NCAA Tournament contests. Only twice has UConn finished a game with all 10 still available. Even now, forward Aubrey Griffin is dealing with back spasms, so she’s not even 100%. Only two players ( Edwards, Lou Lopez Senechal) have played in every game and even they’ve left contests with injuries.
All that’s to say even though UConn might be (mostly) healthy now, there’s no guarantee it’ll stay that way.
LGHL: Over the last few years, parity has crept into the NCAA women’s basketball landscape. I know it’s potentially a loaded question but how has that changed things at UConn, if it has at all?
UB: UConn isn’t completely unaffected, but it’s less impacted than most other programs. The Huskies went through most of this season without two national player of the year type players and still only lost five games.
The best example of parity hurting UConn is South Carolina Gamecocks forward Aliyah Boston. She had the Huskies on her list of finalists and in the alternate universe where she ends up coming to Storrs, they might be in the midst of another 100+ game win streak while looking to capture a third consecutive national championship. But Boston went to South Carolina who’s dominated while UConn is in the midst of its longest stretch without a title since it won its first in 1995.
Along those same lines, the Huskies probably could’ve snagged another national title at some point since 2016 (their last) had the rest of the country not been as deep and talented.
At the same time, if UConn goes undefeated and blows everyone out of the water with Bueckers, Fudd and everyone else fully healthy next season, parity won’t really make a difference.