How Dorka Juhász, Aaliyah Edwards contributed to UConn women's basketball win: 'When it counted the most'

HARTFORD — With just under three minutes remaining Sunday afternoon against Villanova at the XL Center, UConn women's basketball forward Dorka Juhász let fly a 3-pointer that would have broken a tie.

Juhász missed, so she tried again two possessions later. Same spot. Same shot. Same score. It came with 1:44 remaining in a really tense and really exhausting game.

This time she made it, giving the fifth-ranked Huskies the lead for good as they muscled and inched their way to a 63-58 victory over the No. 21 Wildcats , who came up just shy of upsetting UConn in Hartford two years in a row.

“Sometimes Dorka's misses hit the side of the rim and then we have to chase it out of the tunnel and she gets ready to shoot another one and I’m holding my breath, and I'm not really crazy about it,” coach Geno Auriemma said. “But lately, just like in the Tennessee game, she's really confident in herself and you've got to have confidence in your upper classmen. Otherwise, they're going to be afraid to take that shot and we don’t win that game, maybe. I'd rather lose the game by her taking that shot than her being afraid to take it, period.”

A small group had to cover a lot of ground for the Huskies on Sunday. The same five players were on the court for nearly the entire game, with Ayanna Patterson spelling Lou Lopez Sénéchal and Aubrey Griffin for a grand total of 5 minutes and 36 seconds.

The post players — Juhász and Aaliyah Edwards — weren’t having the easiest time, having to participate in the arduous responsibility of guarding Maddy Siegrist, the nation’s leading scorer, and being bottled up and crowded in the paint.

But both played 40 minutes, and both mustered the energy and confidence to make a difference down the stretch.

Juhász, who made two 3-pointers Thursday at Tennessee (one with 30 seconds left in the half that accounted for three of the Huskies seven points in the second quarter), buried her shot with 1:44 to go Sunday, giving UConn a 58-55 lead. Edwards’ two free throws with 51 seconds left pushed the cushion to five. Edwards went back to the line with 10.1 seconds left, making one of two this time, and then secured the game’s final rebound after the defense forced two less than desirable shots from the Wildcats.

“I thought they struggled a lot early on,” Auriemma said. “There's no room in the lane, so I think there was a little bit of a struggle there. And sometimes you have to use up so much energy to guard these guys, because of all the movement, that you're a little bit fatigued on offense, and now you've got to work extra hard because every time you catch the ball there are bodies and hands and arms everywhere. But I thought they were really good in the fourth quarter, and that's when it counted the most.”

Juhász, who missed last season's Final Four with a broken wrist, had 16 points and a game-high seven rebounds Sunday. Edwards had 13 and six.

This is a good time for UConn post players to thrive. January play is over. The regular season stretch run has essentially arrived. Top-ranked South Carolina, the team that overwhelmed UConn with offense rebounds and general post play in last season’s national championship game, comes to XL Center on Sunday. Aliyah Boston is the next, and most significant, challenge that Juhász and Edwards must meet.

Neither dominated Sunday but they did what was needed on the latest step of the ladder. Edwards is having an All-American season and both have been shown significant growth since last year, when they were joined in the rotation by senior Olivia Nelson-Ododa.

Edwards is averaging 17.4 points and 9.1 rebounds. Juhász is averaging 14.7 and 9.9.

Edwards drew a game-high seven fouls Sunday that allowed her to go 7-for-8 from the line.

“Hey, man, I know I can knock in those free throws,” Edwards said. “I know I missed one but I knew I could knock in the rest of them.”

That’s how Juhász felt about her jump shot down the stretch. When the same opportunity presented itself just moments after a miss, she didn’t hesitate.

“He always says he has his full trust in us,” Juhász said of Auriemma. “He's our biggest supporter and biggest fan but he says it has to come from inside of us. After I missed that 3, I knew the next one was going in.”

UConn, Auriemma conceded, looked really tired for the first time this season. The Huskies built an eight-point lead after the first quarter but could not pull away, outscored by five points in the second and five in the third to enter the fourth trailing 45-43.

“We had to go with our reserves and find that extra oomph and energy,” Edwards said.

Because Auriemma was not going to his limited bench.

Amari DeBerry and Inês Bettencourt joined Patterson as available reserves, but neither played. On the bench in street clothes beside them were injured players Paige Bueckers, Azzi Fudd, Caroline Ducharme and Ice Brady, and newcomer Jana El Alfy, who is not expected to play this season.

“Being tired, playing a lot [in the rotation], playing a lot of games, but we don’t really take that as an excuse,” Juhász said. “We really needed that fourth quarter and we really had to dig deep inside of us. That was a hard fought win. It's definitely rewarding. I'm really proud of every single person. We played a lot of minutes but everybody chipped in in that last quarter.”

Aubrey Griffin steadied everything Sunday, scoring 19 points to help UConn compensate on a day when there was no clear reliable scorer purely inside or purely outside. Edwards and Juhász at least remained in the game and in the fight and, ultimately, made sure the Huskies actually won.

“It wasn't their best game, like some of the other games this year where the both get double-doubles or 20 points each; it wasn't one of those,” Auriemma said. “But like I said to Dorka, it's not how many 3's you're going to make during the season, it's when you make them. And that's what happened today.”