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How UConn women’s basketball has found its identity during 10-game win streak

UConn women’s basketball is on a 10-game win streak after routing St. John’s 92-49 on the road Saturday, and coach Geno Auriemma is watching a different team than the one that struggled through a brutal non-conference slate.

The actual personnel looks somewhat different from the first month of the season after three season-ending injuries and with two freshmen starting. But the Huskies have blossomed amid growing adversity with eight straight victories by 20-plus points, and Auriemma attributes that to a better understanding of their identity.

“They’ve got tremendous chemistry right now amongst themselves,” he said. “I think each individual has committed themselves differently. We spent all November trying to find out who I am, and we spent all of December trying to figure out what do we need to be. That’s really changed the entire trajectory of our team.”

No. 13 UConn (14-3, 6-0 Big East) heads to Seton Hall (11-6, 3-3) on Wednesday (7 p.m., SNY) with building momentum, and St. John’s helped showcase what the Huskies’ ceiling could look like if their development continues.

Finding balance around Paige Bueckers

Paige Bueckers ended a brief shooting slump with one of her most efficient performances of the season at St. John’s. The Huskies’ star guard played only 25 minutes but scored 22 points, shooting 8 of 9 from the field and making both of her 3-point attempts. She also grabbed seven rebounds, helping UConn to its widest rebounding margin of the season.

“I nitpick with her about the little things, but when you tell her we just got out-rebounded two games in a row, I think she takes it personally that ‘I’m going to fix this,'” Auriemma said. “She’s a winner. She knows how to win games.”

It was also Bueckers’ first game of the season scoring 20-plus points on fewer than 12 shot attempts as four other Huskies finished with at least 10 points. Five players have scored in double-digits for three consecutive games, and each game had a different leading scorer.

Auriemma was prepared for a learning curve while reintegrating Bueckers into the team this season, but the process took longer than he expected. As UConn’s identity has come together in recent weeks, so has its flow around Bueckers.

“We now are playing with her as opposed to enjoying watching her play,” Auriemma said. “I didn’t enjoy watching her play in November. I think she went for 30 and we got our a— beat. I said what’s the point? It would’ve been the same thing if you had gotten two.”

Dictating pace with high-pressure defense

St. John’s coach Joe Tartamella dubbed Nika Muhl “the head of the dragon” that is UConn’s defense, and it’s no surprise from the two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year. Unique Drake, the Red Storm’s leading scorer, was averaging 19.6 points per game, but Muhl held her to just four points on three field goal attempts. Auriemma was most impressed that Muhl wasn’t assessed a single foul in her 29 minutes on the floor.

“She was really smart about it,” Auriemma said. “I thought she did everything right. She made every right move, every right decision, and that was obviously a big difference for us defensively, because it’s tough for St. John’s to score enough points without their best player involved.”

The Huskies’ press man defense is a perfect fit for the guard-heavy roster, especially with freshman KK Arnold‘s increasing role. The former No. 6 prospect has logged at least one steal in 12 consecutive games and leads the team averaging 2.6. Bueckers is right behind at 2.3 steals per game, and all five starters are averaging at least one.

Settling into rotation without Aubrey Griffin

The Huskies made an impressively smooth transition into a new rotation after Aubrey Griffin’s season-ending ACL tear, in part because of Ice Brady. The redshirt freshman met the challenge of an expanded role by tying her career-high of seven points against Providence, then exploding for 17 points, four rebounds and a steal at St. John’s.

“She has the ability to make a right pass when she has to, make an outside shot,” Auriemma said. “Scoring in the lane is not something she’s really comfortable with but she’s getting better at it. She’s a really good defender and understands the game pretty well. She’s not a very mature player … (She’ll) keep learning and keep getting better, and (she’ll) see more night’s like this.”

For the first time since Griffin’s injury, Brady came off the bench first at St. John’s. Auriemma used Samuels at Griffin’s spot in the rotation in the previous two games, but the freshman struggled shooting 0-of-10 on 3-pointers and 16% from the field. Samuels was more successful later in the lineup at St. John’s, going 3-for-3 for seven points plus three rebounds and a steal.

The Huskies are also finding more versatile production from Bueckers and Muhl. Bueckers has logged two of her best rebounding performances of the season in three games in the void left without Griffin’s six rebounds per game. Muhl has scored 10-plus points in three straight games after doing so three times in the previous 14. It was also her third game in a row with three made 3-pointers.