UConn women's basketball backcourt preview

The Huskies should have the best backcourt in the country this season.

Photo: Ian Bethune

The story of UConn’s backcourt this season centers on Paige Bueckers returning from injury after missing the 2022-23 season.

“The difference between having Paige and not having Paige is your chances of competing for a national championship just went up exponentially,” Geno Auriemma said at Big East Media Day.

With the return of Bueckers, UConn looks poised to have the best backcourt in the country this season. The combination of Bueckers and Nika Mühl gives the Huskies flexibility at the point guard position. Pairing Bueckers with Fudd makes UConn very dangerous on the perimeter, not to mention the wealth of depth the Huskies should have available at the guard position this season.

Paige Bueckers

Bueckers, who was cleared from her knee injury earlier this summer, hasn’t played a full season for the Huskies since her freshman year. When she did, she won every national player of the year award except the Wade Trophy (because freshman aren’t eligible for it). While coming back from a serious injury is difficult, expectations are high for Bueckers’ return in Storrs.

“This is the best I've seen her look, even more so than freshman year,” Auriemma said of Bueckers after she was named the Big East Preseason Player of the Year.

“Unfortunately, it took you know that kind of an injury but she used it to her benefit and she's bigger, she's stronger, she's quicker. She just sees things a little bit differently now than she did,” he added.

Bueckers averaged 20.0 points and 5.8 assists per game in her freshman season, and while those numbers might not be as flashy with the support she’ll have surrounding her on this roster, if she can play at the same level (or higher, as Auriemma indicated) that will instantly elevate this year’s team.

Nika Mühl

In Paige Buckers’ absence, Mühl was thrust into playing a bigger role for UConn last season. She excelled in that role, shattering the Huskies’ single season assist record (previously held by Sue Bird) with 284 while averaging 7.9 assists per game, which ranked second in the nation. While her offensive contributions increased, she also repeated as the Big East Defensive Player of the Year.

Mühl also led the team in minutes per game last season with the various injuries the Huskies suffered to their backcourt. That number, and therefore her assist totals, can be expected to come down some this season with Bueckers back in the fold. However, having Mühl and Bueckers on the court together allows UConn to have multiple ball handlers on the floor — something that would have come in handy against the Ohio State press in the Sweet 16 — and allows Bueckers the opportunity to play off the ball more.

Additionally, it can be expected that Mühl will continue to set the tone defensively for the Huskies in her senior season. Her intensity on the defensive end elevates that of the entire team, and helps to create better offensive opportunities for UConn.

Azzi Fudd

Fudd’s talents as a shooter have always been celebrated but when healthy last season, she also proved her abilities as an overall basketball player. Prior to suffering a knee injury that caused her to miss over half the season, Fudd averaged over 24 points per game while shooting the lights out from three to carry the Huskies to early season victories over tough non-conference competition.

If that version of Fudd returns for the 2023-24 season, the Huskies backcourt will be nearly impossible to stop. Additionally, the return on Bueckers should help spread the floor better with two prolific threats from beyond the arc on the court for UConn. That should open up Fudd more looks on the perimeter since defenses won’t be able to devote as much personnel and energy to chasing her off the three-point line when they also have to guard Bueckers.

Caroline Ducharme

Ducharme’s sophomore season was riddled with neck and head injuries, which only allowed her to see the court in 23 of UConn’s 37 games. Despite an icepack on her head on the sideline being a fixture in Ducharme’s gameday routine last season, she still showed flashes of putting the team on her back. In particular, Ducharme stepped up to lead the Huskies to victory over Creighton and Marquette at home last season, similar to how she led the offense for stretched of her freshman year.

If healthy, Ducharme should give UConn the option they often lacked last season and provide the scoring spark the Huskies need — whether that’s as another member of the lineup or off the bench. Additionally, as a 6-foot-2 guard, Ducharme offer versatility to play at the two, three and four position. This allows UConn to change the look it puts out on the court, cater to the opponents it is facing, and maximize the strength and depth of the backcourt by using four-guard lineups.

KK Arnold

KK Arnold is a top-10 recruit for the Huskies, and despite being a freshman in an already deep rotation, she is expected to contribute for UConn this season.

“I think KK gives us and an element in the backcourt that we haven't had the last couple of years, including with Paige out on the floor,” Auriemma said of his freshman. “We haven't had that kind of quickness and that kind of electricity in our backcourt. Like Nika has it but for KK, it's different.”

Auriemma went on to also call Arnold “more aggressive” than Mühl, a level which is hard to achieve. Her quickness on the court should make an impact for the Huskies on both ends of the floor this season.

Qadence Samuels

Samuels size and athleticism give UConn another option on the wing this season, adding to the Huskies’ depth. In the exhibition game against Southern Connecticut on Sunday, Samuels showed off her ability to crash the glass as well as her willingness to step out and take the three, providing the Huskies with another versatile skillset. As she learns to navigate typical freshman mistakes like turnovers and accumulating fouls, Samuels could work her way into the rotation more throughout the season.

Ashlynn Shade

In a stacked backcourt, it may be hard for Shade to crack into the rotation for the Huskies in her freshman season, even as a top-15 recruit. That said, her aggressiveness on the offensive end and disruption on the defensive end were already on display in Saturday’s exhibition. Shade’s off the ball movement also impressed for a freshman, so even in a deep pool of guards, she could earn significant playing time.

Ines Bettencourt

Ines Bettencourt’s freshman season with the Huskies saw more playing time than expected — and even a start at Maryland — after injuries decimated the roster. While it’s unlikely she’ll see the starting lineup again this season, Bettencourt’s availability on the bench should give UConn’s main rotation players a chance to get some rest down the stretch of games that have already been decided.

Join the conversation

or to participate.