UConn women’s Caroline Ducharme’s season turnaround

STORRS — A little over two weeks ago, UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma was asked what he saw from Caroline Ducharme’s start to her sophomore season that he liked.

“What have I seen that I like? Not much,” he said.

Ducharme was asked moments later what grade she’d give her season start.

Her response: “Not what I would like.”

Since that day, Ducharme has flipped a switch.

The 6-foot-2 guard was averaging 6.0 points per game in the first eight games of the year. In the last four games alone, she averaged 13.7 points. While her process of getting back to playing like her old self has had its bumps this season, Ducharme’s recent progress shows she’s finally turned a corner — despite still not being 100 percent healthy.

On Saturday, against Marquette, Ducharme scored a season-high 19 points along with seven rebounds, two assists and one block in 38 minutes. In a game where the No. 8-ranked Huskies allowed the unranked Golden Eagles to get as close as five, Ducharme helped the team stay afloat by scoring nine of UConn’s 17 fourth-quarter points.

“I always knew that about Caroline, that she has a knack for making a big play when you really need a big play, get a rebound, get a steal, get a basket because really that’s who she is,” Auriemma said Saturday evening. “That’s part of what she brings to the team. You can’t duplicate that. We’ve got kids who can shoot and make plays, but she makes them in big moments. And today she had a lot of those moments.”

Ducharme’s standout performance against Marquette came just three days after she set her career high in rebounds by grabbing down eight in UConn’s win at Creighton.

Against Seton Hall on Dec. 21, Ducharme scored 16 points on 6 of 8 shooting, including tying her career high of four made 3-pointers in a single game.

Ducharme admits her slow start was in part due to a preseason neck injury she suffered this fall. The injury forced her to sit out both of UConn’s exhibition and season opener. While she made her season debut against Texas on Nov. 14, she played just four minutes.

However, due to UConn’s other injuries, Ducharme had to rush the process of coming back. She started against Princeton on Dec. 8 after Azzi Fudd went down and again on Dec. 11 at Maryland when the team was down to seven players.

Ducharme averaged 17 minutes per game in her first six games of the year coming off the bench. In the last six games, she started four times due to UConn’s lack of available players and averaged 33 minutes per game.

The sudden increase in her role has made it hard for Ducharme to fully heal from her neck injury. Auriemma said Ducharme still isn’t “100 percent” healthy. Plus, it doesn’t help that in both of UConn’s last two games, she’s gotten hit in the head and had to immediately check out of the game to put ice on her head on the bench.

“Yeah, it’s taken Caroline a while. She’s still not 100% free and clear,” Auriemma said. “You can tell (by) how many times she’s like sitting on the bench between timeouts. But her effort is there. She’s gotten better defensively. Her mobility is better. And if her mobility is better, that means she can get to the basket more often, get open and she really doesn’t need much time to catch and shoot.”

Ducharme will likely return to the bench sometime within the next couple of weeks when UConn returns former starters Aubrey Griffin (who sat out two games due to COVID-19) and Fudd (knee injury). While the decrease in minutes will continue to help Ducharme heal, she’s happy about her recent progress on the court and knows she’ll only continue to improve.

“I think just being able to kind of get back to the flow, like just trying to improve every day a little bit and being able to kind of just play with a patience and just being more comfortable out there,” Ducharme said of feeling better . “It’s something that I’m dealing with and I’m working on it.”

Maggie.Vanoni@hearstmediact.com @maggie_vanoni

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