OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — This season certainly hasn’t unfolded the way Geno Auriemma envisioned.
His UConn Huskies weathered a run of injuries and illness to reach the NCAA Tournament championship game last season, and the core of that team was supposed to be back this year.
Or so he thought.
“There was a period of time in June where I looked at our team and I thought, ‘How many points can we score if we have everybody available?’” Auriemma said Wednesday night after No. 8 UConn beat No. 21 Creighton 72-47 with only seven players in uniform.
So far, the season has played out eerily similar to a year ago.
The Huskies (10-2, 3-0 Big East) are winning at a high rate, as usual, but the lineups and rotations keep changing because of injuries and, in the case of the game at Creighton, a positive COVID-19 test for one player and snow-related travel issues for another.
“Unfortunately, we’re going through it again,” Auriemma said. “You never really get comfortable with it or used to it. It’s always difficult on the players and it’s difficult on the coaching staff.”
Former national player of the year Paige Bueckers and star recruit Ice Brady have been out the entire year. Bueckers, who missed 19 games with a knee injury last season, is now recovering from a torn ACL. Brady dislocated her kneecap.
Dorka Juhasz missed seven games with a broken left thumb, season scoring leader Azzi Fudd has missed five games with a knee injury and national assists leader Nika Muhl was out for a game because of a concussion. Aubrey Griffin missed the Creighton game because of COVID-19 and reserve Amari DeBerry didn’t play because she couldn’t get a flight from Buffalo, New York, where she spent Christmas.
Even Auriemma has missed two games because of a flu-like illness.
“When we got the news that Paige wasn’t playing, it was like a gut punch right from the beginning,” he said. “You can see something happens during the season and you lose somebody. But when you lose a kid like that, before you even get back to school… Then it just kept piling up. You wonder at what point are these kids going to break?”
Aaliyah Edwards, Lou Lopez Senechal and Ayannia Patterson are the only players who have appeared in every game.
Edwards had 23 points and 20 rebounds against Creighton to become the first UConn player since Maya Moore in 2010 to have a 20-20 game. She and Juhasz, who had 22 points and 18 rebounds, are among the best post tandems in the country.
Edwards said she and her teammates keep going to work each day and are able to perform at a high level despite all the changes to the rotation.
“We just have to play through it,” she said. “No one is going to give us grace. We keep playing, stay together and do what we need to get done.”
Auriemma said he has had to change the way the team practices. There isn’t as much running up and down the floor, and he monitors how much some players are on their feet.
“Maybe you’re not going to be as prepared,” he said, “but right now, I think us being as prepared as we want to be is kind of secondary to us staying healthy.”
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