UConn women's basketball team tries to avoid fatigue through stretch of five games in 12 days

HARTFORD — The UConn women’s basketball team has played four games in nine days.

The Huskies have gone 4-0 during that stretch to extend their winning streak to 13 games. During that span, UConn faced its two toughest conference opponents and its longtime rival, but managed to come out victorious and remain atop the Big East standings.

And while the Huskies are only one of two Big East teams ranked in this week’s AP Top 25 Poll — the Huskies remained at No. 5 — it's because of the competition they face in the league that helps make them so dominant.

While Providence likely won’t be as much of a challenge as No. 19 Villanova was on Sunday , the Huskies know every Big East game prepares them for March and for top nonconference opponents like South Carolina, who they’ll face on Sunday.

"We have a lot of really good teams that are really a pain in the ass to play. Really, really difficult," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said Sunday. "The coaches in this league are fantastic and that's why we do so well in the NCAA Tournament. … People might look at our league and go, 'Yeah, this guy is ...' I tell them all the time, ‘Yeah, wait until you have to play one of them. Then you'll see."

"And I'm proud that we have to play the way we have to play every night out against the teams in our league because they challenge us every night. Mentally and physically, they challenge us every night. … Our league really taxes you and I love it. Love it. It gets us ready for the NCAA Tournament."

Last Monday, UConn defeated DePaul 94-51 . Blue Demon sophomore Aneesah Morrow, last year’s National Freshman of the Year, was UConn’s biggest challenge in the post up to that point in the season.

Thanks to Aaliyah Edwards , who was named Big East Player of the Week Monday, and Dorka Juhász, the Huskies were able to slow down Morrow to her fourth-worst shooting performance of the year. While she had 20 points with 12 rebounds, Morrow was DePaul’s only player in double figures. UConn was not only able to control DePaul's biggest threat but also take away the team’s other options.

That game helped prep the Huskies for the physicality and test they’d see three days later in Knoxville.

After scoring 33 points in the first quarter, UConn was held to just seven in the second against Tennessee. Yet, the Huskies regrouped after halftime to escape with the win 84-67 . The game had 35 fouls called and quickly got physical.

Three days after that, UConn faced its most competitive opponent in the Big East: Villanova.

The Wildcats were looking to repeat last year’s historic upset over UConn. And they almost did.

But because of its most recent battles against Morrow and Tennessee, the Huskies were able to defend reigning conference Player of the Year, Maddy Siegrist, and hold her to her worst shooting game in over two months (and second worst of the year). The game went to the wire, but UConn was able to dig deep for an extra boost of energy when it needed it the most and pull out the 63-58 win .

"I actually did say to our team, 'You know, this Villanova game Sunday is going to be, in some ways, much harder than the Tennessee game,'" Auriemam said. "Simply because one, we play so much alike. There isn’t a 180-difference almost where we can play off each other. We play them so many times … They know how to play against us. They know how to compete against us. So I knew it was going to be very difficult."

The Huskies looked tired and fatigued all game against the Wildcats. All five UConn starters played 36 minutes or more with Edwards, Juhász and Nika Mühl all playing the full 40 minutes. Mühl, who was named among 10 candidates for the 2023 Nancy Lieberman Award Monday, did not leave the floor for the second game in a row.

After the win over Villanova, Auriemma admitted that that was the most tired his team had looked all season, but they couldn’t do anything about the tight schedule.

Meanwhile, that was Villanova’s first game in over a week.

"The schedule falls the way it falls because we play a lot of nonconference games, you know, that bye-time is taken away from us because we have to play those games," Auriemma said. "So, there's nothing anybody can do about it. So, you ended up having to cram four games in nine days and you just gotta gut it out somehow, someway."

The Friars (13-10, 4-8) won’t be as much as a challenge as UConn’s last three opponents, however; the game will keep UConn fresh as it ends a stretch of five games in 12 days.

With so much recent tough competition under their belt and likely a couple of days off this week after Providence, the Huskies will be fresh for facing the Gamecocks, led by reigning National Player of the Year, Aliyah Boston, on Sunday.

"I think just obviously being tired, playing a lot, playing a lot of games, but you know, like, we don't really take that as an excuse," Juhász said Sunday. "... Everybody was you know, putting a little bit extra energy. And that's what we did. … I'm really proud of the team. I'm really proud of every single person. We played a lot of minutes but everybody chipped in that last quarter and that’s going to take us forward."

Maggie.Vanoni@hearstmediact.com   @maggie_vanoni