Grading the 2021-22 UConn women’s basketball roster and what it could look like next season

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When a team reaches the NCAA championship game, it’s hard to be a hard marker. The inclination is to go off the series of games just witnessed. In the case of the UConn women’s basketball team, it took an A-plus effort to knock off No. 1 seeds NC State and Stanford to reach the final, where the Huskies were schooled by South Carolina.

Evaluation is especially tricky this year because the midseason injuries offered opportunities for several players to shine — and they generally did — but their roles diminished later when players began coming back. And there is a curve. More is naturally expected of the most experienced players and expectations are very high with some of the younger ones.

With the season over, it’s time to look at the roster, player by player, and offer some evaluation. UConn (30-6) is going to lose three seniors/graduate students in Christyn Williams, Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Evina Westbrook. Their leadership through trying times should be lauded, and all will be difficult to replace. Incoming freshmen Isuneh “Ice” Brady and Ayanna Patterson will have big shoes to fill.

The roster figures to get better by the individual improvement of a healthy Paige Bueckers, who will be a junior, and sophomores-to-be Azzi Fudd and Caroline Ducharme. The return of Dorka Juhász as a graduate student will help. It’s a possibility the NCAA transfer portal will offer the missing pieces the Huskies need in the frontcourt.

By and large, it’s a healthy roster and a program in solid shape that will be bidding to get UConn back to the Women’s Final Four for what would be the 15th year in a row.

Here’s a look at the players and the seasons they had:

Seniors/graduate students

Christyn Williams

Grade: A-

2021-22 role: Williams finished a solid, four-year career at UConn despite the upheaval of the pandemic, scoring 1,850 points. As a senior, she averaged 14.2 points and won the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award as the nation’s top shooting guard. She’s graded against very high expectations as a No. 1 recruit, but a disappointing final game shouldn’t overshadow her accomplishments.

Next season: Projected first-round WNBA pick.

Olivia Nelson-Ododa

Grade: B+

2021-22 role: Played 133 games for UConn and averaged 6.7 rebounds. Also graded against high expectations, ONO was perhaps expected to be something she is not, especially when going up against bigger, stronger frontcourt players at the Final Four. But she was a consistent, durable performer who will be more appreciated when she is gone.

Next season: Projected as a WNBA pick.

Evina Westbrook

Grade: A-

2021-22 role: “Mama E” gets extra credit for leadership and accepting an off-the-bench role in midseason, averaging 9.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists. She didn’t get everything she came for when she transferred from Tennessee, or came back for a final season, but leaves a memorable mark.

Next season: Projected first-round WNBA pick.

Dorka Juhàsz

Grade: B+

2021-22 role: After a slow start, she found her niche in midseason and was an important contributor when the Huskies were hit with so many injuries, averaging 7.3 points and 5.7 rebounds. Her Big Ten experience was useful and she wasn’t afraid to mix it up inside. Her fractured wrist kept her out of the Final Four, which may have made a difference, but she has decided to return to UConn to finish her eligibility. .

Next season: Would assume a large role, inherit ONO’s minutes if healthy.

Junior

Aubrey Griffin

Grade: N/A

2021-22 role: Missed the season with a back injury that required surgery. She began traveling with the team during the postseason. She has been a valuable player and averaged 17 minutes and 6.3 points per game in her first two seasons.

Next season: If healthy, she can help in a variety of ways, especially defense and rebounding.

Sophomores

Paige Bueckers

Grade: A

2021-22 role: The national player of the year as a freshman, Bueckers looked like she’d have an even better year when she started the season with 34 points vs. Arkansas. Her knee injury and subsequent surgery cost her 19 games, and it took several more for her to look close to her usual self. Her performance in the Bridgeport Regional final against NC State shows the A-plus player she is when healthy. Made the All-Final Four team.

Next season: Barring another injury, she should resume as one of the faces of women’s basketball.

Nika Mühl

Grade: A-

2021-22 role: The Big East defensive player of the year, Muhl was tenacious and brought energy as a starter or off the bench. Her main foible was foul trouble. The 3.8 points and 2.6 assists are irrelevant, she’s about intangibles any contending team needs.

Next season: More minutes, maybe a starting spot, and more assignments to shut down top guards.

Aaliyah Edwards

Grade: A-

2021-22 role: For much of the season, Edwards did not look like the same player who had such an impact as a sophomore. But she regained her form and aggressiveness and really dominated the Big East Tournament and early rounds of the NCAA.

Next season: Will be a starter and counted on to provide a counter for physical opponents.

Piath Gabriel

Grade: N/A

2021-22 role: Played in 13 games, averaging 4.9 minutes, 3.0 points.

Next season: To be determined by her offseason progress.

Freshmen

Azzi Fudd

Grade: A

2021-22 role: Expectations for Fudd, the top recruit in the country, were off the charts. She was hampered by a foot injury the first couple of months, then broke out with 25 points against Tennessee, maybe the biggest win of the regular season. She was fearless at the free throw line (91.2 percent), especially in the NCAA Tournament. She also took on a challenge and became a better defender. Her 43.0 percent 3-point shooting was as good as advertised.

Next season: Will start and be the Huskies’ primary 3-point threat, her 12.1 points per game should rise.

Caroline Ducharme

Grade: A-

2021-22 role: The freshman dubbed “silent assassin” by teammates may have done more than anyone to save UConn’s season with a series of great performances in December and January when the roster was depleted by injuries. Later in the season, after a series of hits, she missed time and did not look like the same aggressive player again until the championship game.

Next season: Has the look of a big-time player in the UConn mold going forward.

Amari DeBerry

Grade: N/A

2021-22 role: The freshman played very sparingly, though DeBerry did get meaningful minutes in the championship game.

Next season: With a good summer could work her way into the rotation.

Incoming freshmen

Isuneh “Ice” Brady

2021-22: McDonald’s All-American, 19.3 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists.

Next season: At 6 feet 4 she’ll have a chance to make an impact in an area of need.

Ayanna Patterson

2021-22: Indianapolis Star’s Miss Basketball for the State of Indiana, averaged 25.8 points, 11.3 rebounds.

Next season: A versatile guard/forward at 6-3 could add more length to Huskies’ lineup.

Recruiting

Two signees for the Class of 2023 won their state’s Gatorade Player of the Year award. Kamorea “KK” Arnold, a 5-9 guard, led her team to a Wisconsin state championship averaging 24,8 points and 7.9 assists. Aslynn Shade, a 5-11 junior, averaged 20.9 points 8.3 rebounds, scored 31 points in a state championship game and edged out Patterson for the Gatorade honors in Indiana.

Dom Amore can be reached at damore@courant.com