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Azzi Fudd’s injury history hangs over superstar potential

UConn guard Azzi Fudd has been key to the team's success this season. (David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports)

The UConn women’s basketball team will look different without Azzi Fudd.

The star sophomore guard will miss the next three to six weeks with a knee injury, the latest in a seemingly never-ending string of hardships for the Huskies. The woes for the iconic program started ahead of the season, when Paige Bueckers tore her ACL in August, and reached their lowest point Sunday, when Fudd went down in a loss to Notre Dame.

Injuries have plagued not just UConn but Fudd herself, dating back to her high school career.

Her first major injury came following her sophomore season at St. John’s College High School (D.C.), in which she became the first sophomore to earn the Gatorade Player of the Year award for basketball. While participating in a USA Basketball under-18 3-on-3 tournament in Colorado Springs, she tore the ACL and MCL in her right knee, which kept her out for much of her junior year.

The Arlington, Virginia, native came back from the injury to become a McDonald’s All-American during her senior season at St. John’s before heading to UConn as the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2021.

Fudd got off to a fast — and expected — start with the Huskies, recording 18 points on 6-9 shooting from beyond the arc in her third game. She then sat out for two months due to a foot injury, one that coach Geno Auriemma said had been bothering her since the summer before her freshman year.

Still, the guard played her best basketball of the season when she came back from the foot injury. She recorded a breakout game against Tennessee on Feb. 6, in which she scored 25 points and went 7-9 from beyond the arc. Fudd followed that up with 29 points against Villanova and then 24 against Marquette.

She finished an impressive freshman campaign averaging 12.1 points per game and shooting 43% from beyond the arc. Her play earned Fudd a spot on the 2022 Big East All-Freshman Team.

Heading into her sophomore season, expectations were high for Fudd, given her talent, accolades, and the absence of junior guard Bueckers.

Fudd delivered, opening the season with 26 points, 6 steals and 4 assists against Northeastern. Fudd scored 32 points in her next two games, highly-anticipated contests against top-25 teams Texas and NC State.

With injuries ravaging the UConn roster – Ice Brady was ruled out for the year, Caroline Ducharme was limited due to neck stiffness, Dorka Juhasz broke her thumb, and of course, Bueckers remained out – Fudd was the guiding force that kept the Huskies on track, and undefeated, until they played Notre Dame on Dec. 4.

In the second quarter, Fudd was setting up a play behind Aaliyah Edwards. The forward fell back and made contact with Fudd’s knee. In visible pain, Fudd went to the bench and then to the locker room. UConn announced Tuesday that the sophomore guard would miss three to six weeks, putting her on pace for a mid-January return.

Fudd’s setback is the latest in a string of bad-luck injuries for UConn.

Without the sophomore, the Huskies have three healthy guards available to play in Nika Muhl, Lou Lopez Senechal and Ines Bettencourt. Muhl and Lopez Senechal have played significant minutes this season, but Bettencourt has not, averaging just 5.5 per game.

After those three, there is Ducharme, whose neck stiffness has been a constant issue, limiting her production.

While the team must contend with the lack of depth at guard, UConn should be getting one of their forwards back soon. Juhasz, who played just two games before breaking her thumb, is day-to-day and could play as soon as Thursday, when the Huskies take on Princeton. That will be a “game-time decision,” associate head coach Chris Dailey said.

Fudd is UConn’s leading scorer this season (20.6 points per game), but their next top three scores are still available – Lopez Senechal (17.4), Edwards (15.7) and Aubrey Griffin (11.7). Juhasz is fifth on the list, averaging 10 points and 10 rebounds in UConn’s opening two contests.

With a slew of injuries dominating all UConn-related headlines, it’s easy to think that the sky is falling for the program. But, with last season as evidence, that is not necessarily the case.

Winning games in the present does get more difficult, but the season is played for March. In 2021-22, Bueckers missed a significant chunk of the season, then Fudd was hurt, then Muhl. At one point, UConn had just seven players available.

The Huskies lost an unprecedented five games in the regular-season, including a 72-69 home loss to unranked Villanova. But in the end, all the questions about UConn didn’t matter. Bueckers and Fudd returned and the Huskies made a run to the national title game, where they fell to South Carolina.

The same could happen this year. Bueckers won’t return, but Fudd is expected back in mid-January at the latest, so the team will have more than a month to get her reacclimated before the postseason. With Fudd, the Huskies were No. 3 in the country, so when she returns, there is no reason they can’t reach the same heights.

In her absence, other players will get more opportunities to hone their skills for the postseason. And even if UConn has a losing skid without Fudd, they’ve already notched enough high-caliber wins that their résumé for March will remain strong.

If Fudd comes back when the timeline says she will, then all the concerns raised in her absence may not mean anything.