Their win over UCLA may feel like a small victory, but it could show a way forward for UConn’s injury-riddled squad.
Don’t let their recent win against UCLA fool you: UConn is straight up not having a good time this season.
Wunderkind Azzi Fudd has been out with an injury since December 1; Nika Mühl and Aubrey Griffin joined her soon after. The remaining players lost to an unranked Georgia Tech squad last week, and looked terrible while doing so. Their AP Ranking dipped to No. 7, the lowest they’ve been in over a decade. The usually unshakeable Geno Auriemma sounds defeated in his press conferences. Chaos. Disaster. Et cetera.
Welp, at least Bueckers is coming back soon! That’ll probably fix everyth- oops, never mind. Out until February.
It’s pretty clear that UConn is in trouble. But the solution to their problems isn’t too complicated, and can be gleaned from their performance in the UCLA game. Since their usual “give the ball to Bueckers and pray” strategy wasn’t possible, the Huskies devised an extremely bold tactic against the Bruins: give the ball to Westbrook and pray. But despite her best efforts, Westbrook couldn’t win the game on her own, and UCLA dominated in the second quarter. UConn’s luck only turned when players like Ducharme and Juhász started getting in on the action; once this happened, they were able to win as a team instead of one star and four ballwatchers.
If there’s one takeaway that Auriemma and the Huskies should have from Saturday’s game, it’s this: It’s time to abandon the “star” model for the foreseeable future. Pitching your best player as the Beyoncé to your team’s Destiny’s Child might work in the short term, but that method becomes useless if Beyoncé tears her meniscus and has to be replaced. Westbrook, as great as she is, shouldn’t have to fill the hole Bueckers left behind all by herself. It’s Auriemma’s job to restructure the team into one that’s greater than the sum of its parts, rather than relying on Westbrook to be the new team carrier.
In his press conference after the UCLA match, Auriemma reaffirmed the need for squad cohesion and balance. “You can use any excuse you want. ‘Well, we don’t have half our team.’ And that’s not either here or there. You can still play as a team even though you’re missing key components of your team.” He and the Huskies will hope to build off of their recent win and survive the next few months. But in order to do so, they have to stop depending on just one individual to win their games, be it Bueckers or Westbrook. Otherwise, they’ll look less like a world beating squad and more like a Messi-less Barcelona.
UConn’s next game (versus the Louisville Cardinals) is on Sunday, December 19, at 3:30 pm.