Itâs no secret how fragile the 2020-21 college basketball season is and will be due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But Fridayâs announcement that the Duke University women would opt out for the year after playing just four games caught many people off guard.
âI was really surprised,â UConn coach Geno Auriemma said on a Zoom call Monday. âYou never know the whole story. You never know what anyoneâs motivation is. There had to have been some circumstances within the program that brought about that decision. It was a decision made at Duke, âWe donât feel good going forward.â â
Duke, under first-year coach Kara Lawson, was off to a 3-1 start but had not played since losing to Atlantic Coast Conference foe Louisville on Dec. 9. A game against Miami-Florida scheduled for Dec. 12 was postponed. On Dec. 16, Duke announced the program had paused all team-related activities indefinitely due to two positive COVID-19 tests and precautionary contact tracing measures among individuals within the travel party. Games against North Carolina State Dec. 20 and UNC Wilmington Dec. 22 were postponed.
Then came the decision that became public on Christmas Day. According to the school, it was the playersâ call to stop.
Duke is the first Power 5 school to opt out of the season.
âSomebody asked me, âDo you think more programs will do that?â â Auriemma said. âWho knows? In this particular year, there isnât anything that you just say, âThatâs crazy.â Who would have thought, right? Surprising? Obviously, very surprising. But unexplainable? No, totally explainable but just very, very surprising.â
The coronavirus hit close to home for Auriemma when it was announced Sunday that Villanova menâs coach Jay Wright had tested positive for COVID-19. Auriemma had spent time with the two-time national champion when his Huskies were at Villanova last week. Auriemma said he has had two negative tests for the virus since returning.
âIt just goes to show you,â Auriemma said. âI donât think this is the first pause theyâve had a Villanova. You just never know. You have no idea how any of this happens. You take every precaution in the world.
âItâs unlike anything I have ever seen. Itâs unlike anything anyone has ever seen. 2021 canât get here fast enough. There are years youâre like, âI wish time would slow down. Iâm getting old.â This is one of those years that youâre like, âI canât wait for this year to end. I canât wait for 2021.â â
Though UConn played just one game last week, beating previously unbeaten Villanova by 38, it dropped one spot in the Associated Press poll released Monday.
The Huskies (5-0) checked in at No. 4, one point behind third-ranked North Carolina State, which was idle last week.
Stanford (7-0) stayed atop the poll with 26 first-place votes and 744 points. Louisville (5-0) got one first-place votes and 692 points. North Carolina State (8-0) got the same two first-place votes it received a week ago and picked up one point to total 675 points. UConn kept its first-place vote from last week but lost two points to check in at 674. South Carolina (5-1) remained fifth.
Arizona, Baylor, Oregon, Texas A&M, and Arkansas rounded out the top 10.
There was no change in the 25 teams in the poll. DePaul, UConnâs opponent tonight, was the only other Big East team to get votes and remained at No. 18.
A GRAND NIGHT?
Junior guard Christyn Williamsâ first basket on Tuesday night will make her the 49th member of UConnâs 1,000-point club.
That could have been taken care of a week ago. With about a minute to go and sitting at 998 points, Williams caught a lead pass on her way to a breakaway layup. But as the pass was made, Auriemma called a time out to get reserve freshmen Piath Gabriel and Autumn Chassion into the game negating the hoop.
âI did not know that,â Williams said. âIs that why he did that? I didnât know I was that close to 1,000 points.
âThatâs amazing. I remember getting my 1,000th point in high school. Iâm a scorer and Iâm grateful for that.â
Auriemma didnât feel bad about delaying Williamsâ milestone, not at all.
âCâmon, who wants to get her 1,000th point in a 30-point win on a layup on the road?â he said. âI hope she gets 30 (tonight) and then Iâll be happy.â
âChristyn has had two really good years here at Connecticut,â he added. âWhen you score 1,000 points in pretty much two years, youâve had a pretty good two years. Then all of a sudden you get into your junior year, and you want to elevate that. You want to get better at shot selection. You want to get better at making the shots you do get. You want to get better defensively. You want to get better at the things that help elevate you.â
UConn freshmen Aaliyah Edwards (right ankle) and Nika Muhl (left foot) have practiced the last three days and should be available tonight. Muhl has missed three games while Edwards sat out at Villanova âŠ With a nine-day break between tonightâs game and their Jan. 7 contest at Baylor, the Huskies were hoping to add a game this weekend but have had no luck yet. âWeâve tried, but nothing has come of it,â Auriemma said.