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Rematch of Elite Eight thriller comes to XL Center as UConn women await No. 10 NC State

Hartford Courant logoHartford Courant 11/19/2022 Lila Bromberg, Hartford Courant

The No. 5 UConn women’s basketball team is set to face No. 10 NC State Sunday in a rematch of last season’s Elite Eight thriller.

That contest had to be decided in double overtime, with the Huskies coming out on top 91-87 to advance to their 14th consecutive Final Four. It was the first double-overtime game to take place that far into the women’s NCAA Tournament.

All these months later, UConn coach Geno Auriemma still hasn’t been able to stomach rewatching the full game.

“Even though I know the ending, I didn’t want to watch it,” Auriemma said before practice Friday. “Watching it I thought, ‘We’re gonna lose today.’ Even after we won, I still haven’t watched the whole game yet. I don’t want to see the ending yet. I’ll have to watch that tomorrow or something.”

The two sides will look much different when they meet this time around. UConn (2-0) is without three starters from that matchup as Christyn Williams and Olivia Nelson-Ododa both graduated and Paige Bueckers is out for the year with a torn ACL in her left knee. NC State (4-0) will be without four of its starters from a year ago as Elissa Cunane, Raina Perez, Kai Crutchfield and Kayla Jones all graduated.

“I feel like a lot of teams have lost a lot of players, a lot of teams dealing with injuries, a lot having new transfers, this and that, no team is the same,” Nika Mühl said. “It’s gonna be a completely different game. But we’re looking forward to it no matter what.”

The Wolfpack added a trio of transfers this offseason in guard Saniya Rivers (South Carolina), center River Baldwin (Florida State) and forward Mimi Collins (Maryland). They’ve been led by their sole returning starter, guard Diamond Johnson, through the start of the season. She’s averaged 12.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game while shooting 66.7% (10 of 15) from 3-point range and 51.4% from the floor.

Also scoring in double figures for the Wolfpack are junior guard Madison Hayes (11.5 ppg) and senior forward Jada Boyd (11.3 ppg). Baldwin leads the team with six rebounds per game off the bench. Also noteworthy, NC State has impressed beyond the arc, making 44.3% of its 3-point attempts so far this season, which ranks top 10 in the country.

“Wes [Moore, the NC State coach] has a style of play that he likes to coach and they’re pretty similar (to last year),” Auriemma said. “Other than the experience factor of those kids that left, I don’t see that much of a difference. They’re still the kind of team that you would expect to be around late in the NCAA Tournament.”

Sunday’s game will be the first test of the season for NC State, however. The Wolfpack opened the season with an 82-45 win over Quinnipiac, followed by victories over Elon, Mount St. Mary’s (Md.) and Charlotte.

Meanwhile, UConn already passed its first test of year in an 83-76 win over No. 3 Texas on Monday. Azzi Fudd led the Huskies with a career-high 32 points, tying a record set by Diana Taurasi for the most points by any player in program history against a top-five team. Fudd has averaged 29.0 points through two games, which ranks second in the country.

After looking at the film from that game, Auriemma said he is hoping to see major improvement on the Huskies’ play in the post on both ends of the floor and better awareness from players in regards to fouling, but overall was pleased with the level of energy and effort from his squad. He was able to learn a lot about his team in its first big game of the year. Now the Huskies are set for another battle of top-ranked teams on Sunday.

“I think it’s amazing that we get to play such big games, especially so early in the season,” Mühl said. “I feel like we’re looking pretty good. We’re learning a lot from those games and playing such big teams is definitely going to help us further in the season so we can learn what to work on, what looks good, what is not looking good. So I feel like it’s a tough schedule, but that’s what we want, that’s what we need and that’s what we’ve been preparing for. So nothing unusual for us. We’re excited.”

Update on Caroline Ducharme

Caroline Ducharme has been dealing with neck stiffness through the early part of the season. She played four minutes against No. 3 Texas on Monday after missing the first game of the year.

“It’s day to day,” Ducharme said Friday. “But I’m feeling a lot better now, so I’m able to do more and to kind of go from there.”

Ducharme has been limited in how long she can practice, Auriemma said, but “while she’s in there she can do pretty much everything everybody else does.” The sophomore guard expects to see increased minutes against NC State.

“It’s a slow process,” Auriemma said. “First thing was be cleared to participate and that was able to happen a little bit Monday. And then the next thing is increase the amount of time that she’s in practice before she can do all the contact, non-contact everything that we do, and then start upping the number of minutes every game.

“So it was a good start Monday and hopefully we can do a little bit more of that this weekend. I don’t think there’s any definitive, it’s going to be this much time by this point in time. We just don’t know, it’s all going to depend on how she comes out of everything. But right now I feel pretty good. She feels pretty good. So we’ll just hold on to that for a while.”

Add another injury to the list

UConn announced Saturday that graduate forward Dorka Juhász will miss at least three games after breaking her left thumb in the Huskies’ win over Texas.

Juhász was averaging 10 points, 10 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2 steals per game through two contests so far this season. Her 2021-22 campaign was cut short after suffering a broken left wrist in the Elite Eight against the Wolfpack.

With Juhász’s injury and Ducharme working her way back from neck stiffness, UConn will have just eight healthy players to work with on Sunday. The Huskies are left with Aaliyah Edwards, Aubrey Griffin, Ayanna Patterson and Amari DeBerry as their options down low.

Here is what else you need to know about the game.

Site: XL Center

Time: 1 p.m.

Series: UConn, 7-2 dating back to 1991

Last meeting: UConn 91, NC State 87 in Elite Eight in Bridgeport, March 28, 2022

TV: FS1, John Fanta and Kim Adams

Streaming: Fox Sports app or foxsports.com

Radio: UConn Sports Network on 97.9 ESPN

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