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Geno says next season will be UConn's best chance for a national championship since 2016

The coach has high hopes for his team in 2023-24 – if they can stay healthy.

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Will 2023-24 be UConn’s best chance for a title since 2016?

Geno Auriemma has one simple wish for UConn’s 2023-24 season.

“I would love nothing better than to coach Paige Bueckers for an entire season. That would make me extremely happy,” he told John Fanta at the Men’s Final Four in Houston over the weekend. “She's been here three years at UConn, and she's played a season and a third, probably.”

After arguably the greatest freshman year in the history of the sport in which she won every national player of the year award possible, Bueckers missed most of the 2021-22 campaign after suffering a tibial plateau fracture and torn meniscus in her knee in December, then sat out all of last season with a torn ACL.

Auriemma has called Bueckers one of the best players to come through the program in recent years, but those injuries have limited her impact. This past season, the Huskies looked like they had all the pieces to win a national championship for the first time since 2016, only for the loss of Bueckers followed by an endless strong of additional injuries to derail it all, resulting in the team’s earliest defeat since 2005.

Despite the prognostications that the dynasty is dead, UConn enters the offseason with a strong, balanced roster. The Huskies are set to lose Lou Lopez Sénéchal and Dorka Juhász, but will get Bueckers along with top freshman Ice Brady back from injury while adding a talented freshman class of KK Arnold (the No. 6 player in ESPN’s 2023 rankings), Ashlynn Shade (No. 15) and Qadence Samuels (No. 41). Jana El Alfy will also be eligible to play after joining the team midway through the season and redshirting.

Those players will join a core that includes AP/USBWA Third Team All-American Aaliyah Edwards, single-season program assists leader Nika Mühl and Azzi Fudd, who looked like a national player of the year candidate before suffering a right knee injury.

Talent-wise, UConn has the best roster in the nation and it’s not particularly close. So even though the season is still seven months away, Auriemma believes the Huskies have all the pieces necessary to snap their national title drought — if their luck can turn.

“If we can stay healthy and avoid some of the pitfalls that we've had the last two years, the team that we have coming back, mixed in with the players that we've recruited that are coming in, I think we will have the best chance to win a national championship since 2016,” he said.

Even if UConn stays healthy, the last seven years have shown just how hard it is to win it all. In 2016-17, the Huskies lost Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck but didn’t miss a beat and went 36-0 to extend the program’s win streak to 111 games entering the Final Four. Despite being the best team in the nation, the pressure caught up to UConn in the national semifinal against Mississippi State and it fell in heartbreaking fashion.

The next season, the Huskies returned almost everybody while adding Azura Stevens. Again, they went undefeated but saved their worst performance of the season for the Final Four and came up short.

In both years, UConn had the best team but didn’t come away with a national championship. The Huskies were a cut above everyone else, but faltered when it mattered most.

Since then, UConn has been flawed just like everyone else and either hasn’t played its best basketball at the right time or hasn’t gotten the necessary luck to end up as the last team standing.

The Huskies will try to change that next season. The good news? If anyone is due for some good fortune, it’s UConn after all it’s been through the last two seasons.

“Everything has to has to fall into place,” Auriemma said. “And I don't want to say, like, we deserve it. But we deserve a break.”

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