UConn women's basketball surprised by Duke's decision to opt out of season

Published on Tuesday, 29 December 2020 11:49
Written by CARL ADAMEC

JOURNAL INQUIRER

It’s no secret how fragile the 2020-21 college basketball season is and will be due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But Friday’s announcement that the Duke University women would opt out for the year after playing just four games caught many people off guard.

“I was really surprised,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said on a Zoom call Monday. “You never know the whole story. You never know what anyone’s motivation is. There had to have been some circumstances within the program that brought about that decision. It was a decision made at Duke, ‘We don’t feel good going forward.’ ”

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 players’ call to stop.

Duke is the first Power 5 school to opt out of the season.

“Somebody asked me, ‘Do you think more programs will do that?’ ” Auriemma said. “Who knows? In this particular year, there isn’t anything that you just say, ‘That’s crazy.’ Who would have thought, right? Surprising? Obviously, very surprising. But unexplainable? No, totally explainable but just very, very surprising.”

The coronavirus hit close to home for Auriemma when it was announced Sunday that Villanova men’s 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.

“It just goes to show you,” Auriemma said. “I don’t think this is the first pause they’ve had a Villanova. You just never know. You have no idea how any of this happens. You take every precaution in the world.

“It’s unlike anything I have ever seen. It’s unlike anything anyone has ever seen. 2021 can’t get here fast enough. There are years you’re like, ‘I wish time would slow down. I’m getting old.’ This is one of those years that you’re like, ‘I can’t wait for this year to end. I can’t wait for 2021.’ ”

POLL POSITION

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, UConn’s opponent tonight, was the only other Big East team to get votes and remained at No. 18.

A GRAND NIGHT?

Junior guard Christyn Williams’ first basket on Tuesday night will make her the 49th member of UConn’s 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.

“I did not know that,” Williams said. “Is that why he did that? I didn’t know I was that close to 1,000 points.

“That’s amazing. I remember getting my 1,000th point in high school. I’m a scorer and I’m grateful for that.”

Auriemma didn’t feel bad about delaying Williams’ milestone, not at all.

“C’mon, who wants to get her 1,000th point in a 30-point win on a layup on the road?” he said. “I hope she gets 30 (tonight) and then I’ll be happy.”

“Christyn has had two really good years here at Connecticut,” he added. “When you score 1,000 points in pretty much two years, you’ve 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.”

HUSKY BITES

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 … With a nine-day break between tonight’s game and their Jan. 7 contest at Baylor, the Huskies were hoping to add a game this weekend but have had no luck yet. “We’ve tried, but nothing has come of it,” Auriemma said.



Posted in New Britain Herald, UConn on Tuesday, 29 December 2020 11:49. Updated: Tuesday, 29 December 2020 11:52.