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UConn men’s and women’s basketball teams head to Elite Eight together for first time since 2014

UConn men's and women's basketball teams head to Elite Eight together for first time since 2014

UConn’s men’s and women’s basketball teams are both in the Elite Eight simultaneously for the first time since 2014. Another notable fact? Both won their respective championships that year. Oh, and the same thing happened in 2004. 

There is still a lot of basketball left to play before potentially lifting the trophy, but Saturday was already an exciting day for UConn fans. Dan Hurley’s men’s team saw an incredible 30-0 run against Illinois. Meanwhile, the women’s team just played in the program’s 30th consecutive Sweet 16. 

Although the men’s team has been a heavy favorite to defend their national title, Geno Auriemma’s women’s squad would’ve been excused for not even making it this far. It’s not that the women’s team isn’t talented — they’ve set the standard through the years — but the 2023-24 Huskies have been relying on a seven-player rotation due to injuries and inexperience. 

Auriemma’s team was looking like one of the strongest teams in the nation during preseason, but then five Huskies suffered season-ending injuries.

The Huskies almost had a major slip up late in the game against Duke. After trailing by 20 in the third quarter, the Blue Devils had climbed back to make it a five-point game with under a minute remaining. The main culprit?

“The fatigue factor became a big issue because it forced us to change our game plan,” Auriemma said postgame. “We got up 20 because we just pushed it, pushed it, pushed it. And then I felt like, ‘OK. We need a breather here or we’re not going to be able to finish the game.'”

Despite taking that breather, the Huskies got it done behind a 24-point performance by redshirt junior guard Paige Bueckers. She also contributed five rebounds, three steals and two blocks. Bueckers won 11 major awards in 2021 during her freshman season, but she sat out all of last season with a torn ACL. She is back to her regular self, having led UConn with 21.9 points per contest this season, while also improving her defense.

Needless to say, the Huskies are glad to have her back.

“I’m not really surprised when the ball goes in the hoop for her,” senior forward Aaliyah Edwards said. “Some of the moves that she gets leading up to the bucket is pretty impressive, but that’s just how Paige plays basketball, and it’s beautiful to watch.”

Edwards has been another dominant player for UConn. She entered Saturday’s game averaging 17.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per contest. She was UConn’s key player last year, when they made it to the Sweet 16 but fell short against Ohio State. 

UConn only checked in six players against Duke, but the team still got the job done. Earlier this weekend, Auriemma said not having many players available becomes harder in March because of what’s at stake. However, he said this team seems to have a little extra energy this time around.

“We don’t seem to be as mentally or physically worn out like we were last year at this time,” Auriemma explained. “I think having Paige makes us a little more confident than maybe we were last year at this time. I think [KK Arnold] gives us a different element that we didn’t have last year at this time. I would say those two things probably are the biggest difference. 

“There’s a lot of similarities, too, unfortunately. It doesn’t feel the same. I think our practices and everything that we’ve done leading up to this feels a little bit different than it did last season… I think we’re in a better frame of mind than we were last year.”

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