UConn starting to finally get healthy after rough stretch

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK — UConn is starting to finally get healthy.

The fourth-ranked Huskies welcomed back coach Geno Auriemma and star guard Azzi Fudd on in a 30-point rout of St. John’s. The Huskies had to postpone a game a few days earlier against DePaul when they didn’t have the seven healthy scholarship players required to play the contest.

It’s been that kind of a year for UConn that has only had two players play in all 16 games this season with the others missing at least a game with an injury, illness or travel problems.

They also have missed their Hall of Fame coach for four games due to an illness he’s been dealing with for a month. He was back on the bench against St. John’s after he had missed the Huskies’ previous two games because he wasn’t feeling well. He also missed two games while sick last month. The 68-year-old coach is also grieving the death of his 91-year-old mother in early December.

“Obviously, we really missed him,” senior forward Dorka Juhasz said of Auriemma. “They did a great job while he was gone, but obviously having the whole coaching staff is amazing. It’s good to see him smiling, laughing, and I think it was a good little rest for him, I hope he rested enough and he feels great. But I mean for us, we’re just happy to have him back.”

Associate head coach Chris Dailey, who has been filling in while Auriemma has been away, said that she didn’t know for sure he was going to be back until he got on the bus for the trip to New York.

“He said he was coming on the trip, that’s when I knew,” she said. “I just wanted to make sure he was in a good place and he should come back and he was ready to come back. He assured me he was.”

Fudd missed eight games after injuring her right knee against Notre Dame on Dec. 4. She was cleared to resume basketball activities two weeks ago and had gone through warmups a few times before playing.

“I had to go into the game and just remind myself to stay aggressive,” said Fudd, who scored 14 points in 20 minutes in the 82-52 win. “I’ve been out for a while so I felt like I did a good job of kind of shaking the rust off, but I know that my reaction time and all that will get better as we keep playing.”

UConn was still missing Caroline Ducharme and Ayanna Patterson, who are in concussion protocol. Paige Bueckers (ACL tear) and freshman Ice Brady (dislocated patella) are out for the year.

“I think once we get (Caroline Ducharme) back and Ayanna in the mix it’s just going to add to what we’re working towards,” said Dailey. “So I just think everybody’s in a good place now.”

The Huskies have a busy stretch coming up with six games over 14 days and having a full roster would make that a little easier.

“We’ve tried holy water. We’ve tried sage burning. None of them seem to work,” Dailey said after a win over Xavier last week. “It’s just something we have to deal with. Whoever we have, we feel like we have enough.”

UConn’s Geno Auriemma to miss 4th game this season due to illness

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
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STORRS, Conn. — UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma will sit out the Huskies’ game at Xavier, the fourth game he has missed this season due to illness.

The Hall of Fame coach also sat out at Butler. The school didn’t release a timetable for his return.

Associate head coach Chris Dailey, who has been at UConn with Auriemma since 1985, will take over the head coaching duties. She is 16-0 when filling in for him.

“It’s been an extremely difficult month for me, and I’ve been feeling under the weather and run down,” Auriemma said in a statement. “I thought I was ready to return, but I need a little more time. I’m going to take a step back to focus on my health and will return when I feel ready.”

His 91-year-old mother Marsiella Auriemma died on Dec. 8.

No. 5 UConn (12-2) has been beset with injuries and illness this season. Former national player of the year Paige Bueckers and freshman Ice Brady are out for the season with knee injuries. Leading scorer Azzi Fudd is expected to return shortly from a knee injury that has kept her on the bench since early December. Shooting guard Caroline Duchareme is sitting out her second consecutive game in concussion protocol.

Only three Huskies have played in every game this season.

No. 6 UConn star Azzi Fudd out 3-6 weeks with knee injury

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
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STORRS, Conn. — Sixth-ranked UConn’s top scorer, Azzi Fudd, is expected to be out three to six weeks because of a right knee injury she suffered during her team’s weekend loss to No. 5 Notre Dame, a university athletic spokesperson said.

The sophomore guard was injured in the first half of the game when a teammate collided into her. She returned midway through the second period to play four hobbled minutes, but sat the rest of the way.

“I think she’ll be all right,” coach Geno Auriemma said afterward.

Fudd entered the game averaging 24.0 points but finished scoreless on two shots over 13 minutes in the team’s first loss of the season.

The athletic spokesperson didn’t specify the type of knee injury Fudd sustained.

She underwent evaluation and an MRI confirmed the injury, the spokesperson said.

The Huskies host Princeton next.

Iowa State hits women’s AP Top 25 milestone; Gamecocks No. 1

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Iowa State has reached its best ranking in 20 years in The Associated Press women’s basketball poll while South Carolina remained the unanimous choice at No. 1.

Iowa State (21-3) moved up three spots to sixth on Monday – it’s highest mark since the 2002 season – and has a huge week ahead with games against No. 14 Texas and No. 15 Oklahoma. The Cyclones, who were sixth on Jan. 7, 2002, hold a one-game lead over Oklahoma and Baylor in the Big 12 standings. Iowa State has only won the conference’s regular season crown once, in 2000.

The Gamecocks received all 30 votes from a national media panel after beating Kentucky and Georgia on the road last week. Stanford, Louisville, N.C. State and Indiana round out the top five.

No. 7 Baylor and No. 8 Arizona follow Iowa State while Michigan fell from fourth to ninth after losing at Michigan State and Northwestern. UConn dropped two spots to No. 10.

Virginia Tech is back in the Top 25 at No. 23 after beating then-No. 11 Georgia Tech and former No. 23 North Carolina last week.

CONFERENCE RANKINGS

Louisville and N.C. State are two of six Atlantic Coast Conference teams ranked this week. The SEC and Big Ten each have five teams in the poll. The Big 12 has four and the Pac-12 two among Power Five conferences.

SNAPPED

UConn’s nine-year undefeated run of conference wins ended against Villanova last week; the Huskies hadn’t lost a regular season or postseason conference game in either the Big East or American Athletic Conference since 2013, when they fell to Notre Dame. UConn rebounded with wins over DePaul and Marquette and still has not had back-to-back losses since 1993.

GAME OF THE WEEK

No. 12 Tennessee at No. 1 South Carolina, Sunday. The top two teams in the SEC will square off with the Gamecocks hoping to put some space between themselves and the rest of the conference. ESPN will be on hand for the third-ever “College GameDay” at a women’s basketball game.

Dixon scores 24, No. 12 Villanova beats No. 17 UConn 85-74

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PHILADELPHIA — Collin Gillespie received a roaring ovation from nearly 19,000 fans when Villanova’s leading scorer returned to the bench after a sprained right ankle sent him to the locker room.

With a 23-point lead shrinking, coach Jay Wright asked Gillespie if he could play. The short answer, no.

Now the Wildcats take a deep breath and hope Gillespie won’t miss much more than the final minutes of another decisive Big East win.

Eric Dixon scored a career-high 24 points, Gillespie scored 19 before he hurt his ankle, and No. 12 Villanova beat No. 17 Connecticut 85-74 on Saturday.

Gillespie returned for a fifth season after a torn ligament in his left knee cost him the 2021 Big East Tournament and NCAA Tournament. He grimaced as he was helped off the court on Saturday and went straight to the locker room. He needs X-rays and there was no immediate word if he could play Tuesday at St. John’s.

Dixon had the breakout game of his two-year career and cruised past his previous best high of 15 points. Dixon grabbed 12 rebounds, made 10 of 15 shots for the Wildcats (17-6, 10-3), and keyed a 12-0 run in the second half that busted the game open and seemingly put it out of reach.

“He’s got so much more in him,” Wright said. “It’s amazing. He can shoot it, too. It’s growth. He’s smart enough to know it doesn’t happen overnight. You’ve got to just keep working at it.”

Dixon said he learned patience by watching former Wildcats bide their time and then break out when needed.

The Wildcats played the final 6:53 without Gillespie and the entire game without second-leading scorer Justin Moore (sprained left ankle). That opened the door for the Huskies to cut a 23-point hole to 10 with 2 minutes left.

The Wildcats sealed the win at the free-throw line and made 21 of 22 overall.

“I just wanted to show Justin that we were there for him,” Dixon said. “We were going to go out there and play hard and be together.”

RJ Cole led the Huskies (15-6, 6-4) with 25 points.

“I still think we’re one of the best teams in this league.,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said.

The Wildcats bounced back from a loss at Marquette to win their fifth game of the season against a Top 25 team. The key stretch came early in the second half after the Huskies pulled to 47-40.

Unhappy with UConn’s run, Wright called timeout and pulled his team together. Chris Arcidiacono hit a 3, Caleb Daniels turned a steal into a dunk, Dixon scored off another UConn turnover, and then came the shot of the game: Gillespie fired a 3 and the ball took a high bounce off the rim, a second bounce, then two taps off the rim and in for a 57-40 lead.

“At that point, I was just in a panic,” Wright said. “Just stop the bleeding. It wasn’t like we had some great plan. Let’s take a break here. They were steamrolling us. Maybe we got our composure.”

The 3-point happy Wildcats — they twice this season hit 13 in a game — had made only one with 7 minutes left in the first half and still led by seven.

Dixon, who averages 9.1 points, scored 14 in the first half. He made all four free throws and five shots from the floor. Gillespie made all three 3s he attempted in the half. With chances from beyond the arc at a minimum, the Wildcats countered with a 22-6 edge in the paint.

BIG PICTURE

UConn: The Huskies missed 11 of their first 16 shots and slogged through a second straight game off a tepid first half. Against Creighton on Tuesday, UConn scored only 22 points in the half and trailed by 10. Cole’s halfcourt heave at the halftime horn was good and pulled the Huskies to 40-29.

“I just thought that we did really nothing in the first half that we talked about doing,” Hurley said. “I think we were just a little bit out of sorts.”

Villanova: Moore sprained his left ankle against Marquette. Moore is second on the Wildcats in scoring at 15.1 points. … Arcidiacono, who scored nine points, would start for Villanova if Gillespie can’t play.

WEATHER DELAY

The Huskies’ chartered flight couldn’t leave Connecticut for weather reasons, so they made a long bus trip Friday night. It’s going to feel like a longer trip home — the Huskies haven’t beaten Villanova since 2014 (0-5).

“I don’t think any particular team in the league is in our head,” Hurley said.

UP NEXT

UConn: Hosts Marquette on Tuesday at the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut.

Villanova: Plays Tuesday against St. John’s at Madison Square Garden.

Dan Hurley, sick with COVID-19, says virus has taken a mental toll

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STORRS, Conn.- UConn coach Dan Hurley was reveling in the return of basketball this season – the ability to travel to a tournament his team played in the Bahamas, the loud crowds at home and away games – when just before Christmas he began feeling sick.

Like many other programs, the Huskies (10-3) are now in a pause because of COVID-19, with Hurley, other staff members and nine players having tested positive or showing symptoms, so far. Two games have been canceled or postponed.

Since the season began Nov. 9, more than 190 men’s Division I basketball games and more than 160 women’s D-I games have been canceled or postponed due to COVID-19. The majority came after mid-December, with several stretching into the new year.

Like last year, the pandemic is again taking a mental as well as a physical toll, Hurley said Thursday, speaking from home where he is isolated with other family members, who also have the virus.

“Pausing again and that feeling of being isolated and away from your team and the season and your purpose, starts to weigh on you,” he said.

Hurley said its clear that even if UConn has enough players to suit up for their next scheduled game at Seton Hall on Jan. 8, they won’t be at full strength, because of the staggered nature of people testing positive.

Hurley said there has been talk around the Big East about instituting a five-day rather than 10-day quarantine for players who come down with COVID-19, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But, because of all the public health and political officials who would have to sign on to that, he’s not clear as to how soon that can happen.

“There’s a sense, I think, of getting through the first six weeks of I don’t know, 13 games, that we were kind of in the clear with this,” Hurley said. “It’s been a real humbling reminder.”

Hurley, who said he’s been feeling better over the last day, has been trying to keep spirts up on his team, telling them that since everyone is getting the virus now, and everyone is vaccinated they’ve got a good chance of being healthy the rest of the season – at least he hopes so.

“This should be our last pause, hopefully,” Hurley said. “Or, I’m telling them this is our last pause and that we’re going to play out the rest of the way. I think that’s what’s keeping everybody going.”