How should UConn's 2023-24 season be remembered?

The Huskies came up short of winning a national championship, but that shouldn't be the focus.

Photo by Justin Tafoya/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

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Last week’s Weekly


  • UConn finished the season ranked third in the AP Poll.

  • Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer announced her retirement, which means Geno Auriemma will need four wins to become the all-time wins leader.

How should UConn's 2023-24 season be remembered?

For the eighth season in a row, UConn women’s basketball came up short of its ultimate goal of winning the national championship. The Huskies got back to the Final Four after a one-year hiatus, but they couldn’t get by Caitlin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes in the national semifinal.

Considering all UConn went through over the past six months, this team should be remembered for what it accomplished, and the conditions. The fact that the Huskies were in Cleveland at all was a remarkable achievement.

“We put ourselves in a position to win a game that we probably had no business even being in, given the circumstances that we worked with,” Geno Auriemma said after the loss.

As strange as it may sound for a program that’s been to more Final Fours than any other, UConn shouldn’t have been one of the last teams standing considering the state of its roster.

“With what we had to work with, being here was almost impossible for us,” Nika Mühl said postgame.

When the new campaign began in November, Auriemma had a clear vision for his team. A deep group of guards would lead the way, headlined by the return of Paige Bueckers. If someone was having an off night, or wasn’t meeting the coach’s expectations, there would be plenty of options on the bench to replace them.

Bueckers, Azzi Fudd and Caroline Ducharme were supposed to carry the scoring load, while Mühl would pull the strings. Behind those four, KK Arnold, Ashlynn Shade, and Qadence Samuels could contribute in a variety of ways.

The frontcourt had more question marks, but at least Aaliyah Edwards and Aubrey Griffin could provide veteran stability while Ice Brady and Ayanna Patterson brought high-end potential.

From the time UConn began preparing for its European tour, through preseason and into the start of the regular season, that’s the team it expected to have. Everything the Huskies did was with the aim of getting that group ready.

The early returns weren’t great. After a comfortable win over Tamika Williams-Jeter’s Dayton squad, UConn traveled down to NC State and lost badly. The Huskies gave up 92 points — the most they’ve allowed since 2001 — and were run off the court in the second half.

It only got worse from there. That was the last game Fudd played — she tore her ACL two days later in practice and missed the rest of the season — while Ducharme played two more games before being shut down with head and neck injuries. She never returned either. A month later, Ayanna Patterson underwent season-ending knee surgery without playing a single game.

Suddenly, UConn found itself in the thick of a third-straight injury-plagued campaign.

“The rest of the season will never look like the way I want it to look, or the way I envisioned that it would look, or that it would look like it needed to look at this point,” Auriemma said in November. “All we can do is just try to find what works that game… We'll be constantly searching and I don't think that'll stop until the season ends.”

UConn had to rebuild on the fly before November was even over. The Huskies were left with four seniors and four freshmen — and it got ugly for a bit.

They slogged out less-than-impressive victories over Minnesota and Kansas, and were beaten handily by UCLA and Texas. For the first time, UConn appeared to be danger of collapsing. The team fell to its lowest spot in the AP Poll since 1993-94, got off to its worst start through seven games since Auriemma’s first season and looked like they might’ve finally hit a breaking point.

That’s when Auriemma made a change by putting Arnold and Shade into the starting lineup and the season flipped. The Huskies won their next 13 games — including blowouts over Louisville, Marquette and Creighton. Even when another injury struck — Griffin tore her ACL on Jan. 3 at Creighton — UConn kept rolling.

The Huskies suffered a pair of setbacks with defeats to Notre Dame and South Carolina, but they rolled through Big East play undefeated, won the conference tournament with ease and secured an automatic bid into March Madness.

When the bracket was revealed, UConn ended up in the best possible bracket to reach the Final Four. That didn’t mean it would be easy, though.

The Huskies beat a tough, veteran Jackson State team in the first round then got past Dyaisha Fair — who finished her career third on the sport’s all-time scoring list — and Syracuse in the second round. After that, they flew cross-country to Portland, won a defensive battle vs. Duke in the Sweet Sixteen and followed it up by taking down top-seeded USC and freshman phenom JuJu Watkins in the Elite Eight to punch a ticket to Cleveland.

Even though UConn lost to Iowa, that doesn’t take away from what the Huskies overcame to even get to that point.

“It was an amazing run. Loved every minute of it. Incredibly grateful and tremendously disappointed,” Auriemma said.

“We persevered and we were really resilient in our approach all the way to this last game and really left it off the floor today,” Edwards said.

In Storrs, success is often viewed as black and white: Either you win a national championship or you don’t. As Auriemma has pointed out multiple times over the last month, that’s the standard that UConn has set for itself.

There’s always exceptions, though. During a three-year stretch in which the Huskies have been decimated by injuries, this past season has been the worst. Six players — four of whom reasonably either did start or could’ve if healthy — went down for good, leaving UConn with three seniors and four freshmen in the rotation.

Despite all that, the Huskies still got as far as 11 other teams in program history. That should be celebrated.

“This year was certainly one of the most challenging seasons my career and I have a lot of admiration and I'm really proud of my team,” Auriemma said. “For them to be here right now in this spot is probably one of the most gratifying things that I've had to experience in all my 40 years at Connecticut.”

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