College basketball: Top five player of the year candidates
Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese are clear front-runners.
Gray zip-up sweat suits and long, flowing hair tucked behind ears have replaced jerseys and slicked back ponytails for much of the UConn roster. Paige Bueckers, Ice Brady, Azzi Fudd, Dorka Juhász and Nika Mühl sat side by side on Sunday as the Huskies fell to Maryland for the first time ever, 85-78.
Injuries have piled up through the first month of the season and depleted the team’s depth. And now, as they wait for Juhász, Mühl and Fudd to return (Bueckers and Brady are out for the season), the Huskies are down to just seven available players.
Even with key pieces of the roster confined to the bench, the Huskies still stuck with Maryland for much of the contest. As improbable as that seems, it comes down to one simple fact: UConn is still UConn. Bench players are still five-star recruits, and those who barely sniff the court would be starters on other teams. That’s how the Huskies have remained a dynasty for the last four decades.
Mühl and Juhász should be healthy in the near future, while Fudd’s comeback is slated for January. As we wait for the Huskies to return to full strength, let’s get to know the available players they’ll be running out on the court until then.
Fans are likely already familiar with Edwards, who started most of UConn’s games last season and was key to getting the Huskies to the national championship game. Even before injuries stretched UConn’s roster, the 6-foot-3 junior had taken on a bigger role this season. Now, as other players adjust to more responsibility, Edwards is a steadying force amid the chaos.
She’s playing 30.3 minutes per game and averaging a double-double with 15.5 points, 11 rebounds and 2.5 assists. Edwards is also making the most of her shot attempts, shooting 63.2 percent from the field, a mark that puts her in the top 25 of all NCAA players.
The redshirt junior was absent last season after a back injury required season-ending surgery. Prior to that, the former McDonald’s All-American averaged about six points and five rebounds through her first two seasons. Griffin was poised for a big 2021-22 campaign before the injury, and she is picking up where she left off this year.
Paige likes what she sees from Aubrey Griffin pic.twitter.com/iwTUQC4xxb— UConn Videos (@SNYUConn) December 9, 2022
An athletic 6-1 guard, Griffin thrives in transition and exploiting defensive mismatches for the Huskies, making her an asset to their offensive rotation. The forward has started seven games for UConn this season and is averaging 13.7 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. Her best performance came in a tight contest with Princeton last week. After Mühl exited the game with a head injury, Griffin gave her team the lift it needed to secure a win, finishing with 29 points on a perfect 11-for-11 from the field.
One of UConn’s biggest strengths is the program’s ability to recruit the best players, no matter where they come from. While the Huskies tend to attract the top high-school prospects, the staff also hunts for players from overseas and the transfer market — or both, in Lopez-Sénéchal’s case.
During her final season at Fairfield, the 6-1 multi-position player averaged 19.5 points and 4.6 rebounds per game and was named the MAAC Player of the Year. After a successful four-year career with the Stags, Lopez-Sénéchal, who hails from France, transferred to Storrs and adjusted quickly to UConn’s system. In Fudd’s absence, she’s leading the Huskies with 17.3 points per game while shooting an efficient 50 percent from the field and 95 percent from the free-throw line.
Another five-star recruit, Ducharme is one of the highest-ranked prospects on UConn’s roster, coming in as the No. 5 player in the country last season. But Ducharme’s journey hasn’t been easy: Despite UConn’s bench full of injured players, her career may be the one most affected by injuries. In high school, the 6-2 guard missed nearly two seasons with an ACL tear and a torn labrum. This year, she’s also battled neck stiffness that’s plagued her since the offseason.
CAROLINE DUCHARME pic.twitter.com/cPKsPpYwrt— UConn Women’s Basketball (@UConnWBB) December 11, 2022
Ducharme is only scratching the surface of her abilities right now, averaging 9.8 points per game last season and 6.2 in five appearances this year. The Gatorade Massachusetts Player of the Year in 2020-21, Ducharme averaged 21 points, 15.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 4.5 steals per game as a high school senior.
Easily the most unknown player on the roster, Bettencourt was heading to junior college in Florida when Bueckers’ season-ending ACL tear left UConn in need of another guard. Coach Geno Auriemma joked that the flight to Bettencourt’s home country of Portugal took longer than the recruiting process because it all happened so quickly. The guard decided to come to UConn without having seen the campus and, after averaging 1.8 minutes per game to start the season, was thrust into the starting lineup Sunday for the first time. Bettencourt finished with two points, three rebounds and two assists in 29 minutes, looking relatively comfortable in her role against a top-20 team.
The freshman recorded a career-high 10 points against Maryland, topping her previous high of six against Duke on Nov. 25. Patterson has played in all nine of UConn’s games this season. While her minutes have increased with the injuries, including a career-high 21 on Dec. 2, she was likely to get playing time this season regardless.
Patterson came to UConn already knowing how to win at a high level, with a 2021 U18 World Cup 3×3 gold medal to her name. A 6-2 forward with versatile skills and strength, Patterson won Indiana’s Miss Basketball award as a high school senior and was ranked as the No. 4 player and No. 1 wing in the Class of 2022. She has some developing left to do, but Patterson should be a crucial player for UConn for the next four seasons.
Another five-star recruit, DeBerry has yet to find her footing at UConn, but the talent is clearly there. A monster block against Shyanne Sellers that DeBerry palmed out of the air was the highlight of the sophomore’s game against Maryland. It’s also the kind of brilliance that DeBerry has showcased in flashes during her 23 appearances over the last two seasons.
Most of the 6-5 forward’s minutes have come in garbage time this season, but DeBerry’s skills are hard to ignore. In addition to the eye-catching block, the sophomore stepped in against Notre Dame and hit a 3-pointer on her first touch of the game, showcasing her versatility and ability to stretch the floor.
Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.
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