By clinching a Final Four berth Monday night, the Arizona Wildcats are set to face the greatest college basketball program in modern history, the UConn Huskies. The two teams will square off Friday evening at a time still to be determined.
On the surface, it’s a matchup of David vs. Goliath. Arizona is in its first ever Final Four. UConn just clinched its 13th consecutive ticket to college hoops’ promised land.
Dig a little bit deeper, however, and you will find that this is not an ordinary Huskies group. Yes, UConn is 28-1 and considered one of the nation’s top two teams along side Stanford, but the Huskies are remarkably young.
UConn only has three upperclassmen – all starters – but the name that most fans will immediately recognize is Paige Bueckers, the freshman phenom putting up one of the greatest rookie seasons in women’s hoops history.
A 2021 First-Team All-American, Bueckers is a 5-foot-11 point guard who averages 20 points a game on 53% shooting. She is notoriously clutch in late-game situations and proved to be in the difference in UConn’s 69-67 Elite Eight win over Baylor. Bueckers scored 28 points including three three-pointers.
Bueckers maneuvers the backcourt next to a pair of juniors, Christyn Williams and Evina Westbrook.
Williams is a career 1,000-point scorer who has scored a combined 48 points over UConn’s last two games. Westbrook, a Salem, Ore. native and Tennessee transfer, has started every game for the Huskies this season. At 6-foot, she embodies the wing position and has a knack for getting to the glass.
Bueckers, Williams and Westbrook all played a full 40 minutes against Baylor Monday night.
UConn’s front court is led by junior Olivia Nelson-Ododa, the 2021 Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year. Ododa has recorded four or more blocks in three of UConn’s last eight games. She also averages 12.4 points and 7.9 rebounds a game.
Then there’s Aaliyah Edwards, a prolific freshman and the 2021 Big East Sixth Man of the Year. An Ontario, Canada native, Edwards might be considered UConn’s wild card. She scored 17, 19 and 18 points in the Huskies’ first three NCAA Tournament games but also has a tendency to go quiet, as she did Monday against Baylor, scoring just four points in 26 minutes.
Nelson-Ododa and Edwards are 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-3 respectively, giving UConn’s starting five plenty of size.
Despite a loaded roster, UConn’s rotation has been cut to six, sometimes seven players. On Monday sophomore forward Aubrey Griffin was the only Husky to see time off the bench. She played 26 minutes and scored two points.
As a team, the Huskies average nearly 83 points and hold opponents to 52 points a game. UConn carries a +11.7 rebounding margin and a +3.7 turnover advantage.
If the Huskies have a true weakness, it’s free throw shooting: they make only 71% of their attempts from the charity stripe.
UConn will try to force Arizona into an up-and-down affair, something the Wildcats are well used to playing in the Pac-12. If Arizona is able to withstand UConn’s pressure, limit Bueckers’ scoring efficiency and avoid a lopsided rebound disparity, this game could go to the wire.