The UConn Huskies are 15-2, sit fifth in the latest AP Top-25 poll, and are just getting going as injury issues have caused head coach Geno Auriemma to get creative with rotations in the first half of the season. The Huskies are without star Paige Bueckers for the season, starting center Dorka Juhasz has only played 10 games, and key reserve Caroline Ducharme has missed time, as well. Star guard Azzi Fudd has been likewise in and out of the lineup with injury, but when she’s been healthy, it’s undeniable that the Huskies have been at their best.
Missed time has quieted Fudd’s case for National Player of the Year (it was screaming at us pre-injury), but her return to the court has brought the same verve and tenacity — Fudd’s early exit from the Huskies’ recent game against Georgetown was deemed to not be serious and was precautionary according to Auriemma.
Putting Fudd’s season into context gives an illuminating image of how incredible of a season she’s having. When filtering her season through Her Hoops Stats’ database for usage (24 percent usage or higher), field goal attempts (10 or more per game), and scoring efficiency (1.3 points per scoring attempt or greater), Fudd is the only player among the eight to hit those benchmarks this season who is not a frontcourt player, shorter than 6’1, and the only high-volume three point shooter in the group.
Fudd’s efficiency as a high-volume lead guard is part of what makes her stand out, but it’s also how she gets her buckets that separates her from other prospects. She’s not the typical spread pick-and-roll high volume guard, quite the opposite. While UConn has high level guards who can operate out of ball screens, they mainly operate out of the high post, as the aforementioned Juhasz and Aaliyah Edwards are versatile bigs who can both step outside and put the ball on the floor. By inverting their spacing to operate outside-in, they open up cutting lanes and opportunities to take advantage with intuitive movement.
This play design rocks
St John’s is face-guarding and denying Azzi Fudd any sort of get or opening off a screen.
UCONN knows this, so coming off the screen they have her set a back-screen for Aaliyah Edwards, which occupies the backline defender and opens up the cut to the rim pic.twitter.com/Or2qGJLjqY
— Mark Schindler (@MG_Schindler) January 14, 2023
UConn will often operate out of a horns set, which is shown above before the action starts. Notice how St. John’s is guarding Fudd, denying any opportunity for her to receive the ball. As a built-in part of UConn’s offense, they take advantage of this, utilizing Fudd to set a back screen for Edwards. Juhasz then goes into an empty corner two player game with Nika Muhl and it’s an easy basket with the back cut out of the slot.
Fudd’s gravity in this play sets the table. Where does that gravity come from? Her blend of shooting, movement, and court vision. Fudd is shooting 43.4 percent from deep on 5.9 attempts from deep. When considering the difficulty and variety of her looks, it’s astounding.
She’s seemingly always on balance as a shooter. Her rhythm and shot preparation is rarely bothered. Fudd’s release looks the exact same every single time, the mark of a great shooter; it’s snappy, it’s quick, and the energy transfer from her lower body through her arms is seamless. She often gets her shot off from reception of the pass to out of her hands in less than a second.
The shot itself matters greatly to what Fudd does, but it’s that timing aspect that sticks out routinely.
Fudd bends the corners of the game and creates windows few players have access to because of her quickness. You’d be remiss to call Fudd fast; she likely wouldn’t light it up in a 40-yard dash against her teammates or opposition. But, in watching her, you can’t help but notice the swiftness and quickness with which she plays.
She processes the court, defenders, and her own gravity at the highest level, a supreme awareness and court-mapping. In an offense that’s predominantly read and react, Fudd thrives by reading the game faster than just about anyone. She creates separation with her decision-making and extremely fluid ability to change directions. She doesn’t necessarily blow defenders away with acceleration or burst, but she gains routine advantages with how her transmission hums. Fudd is constantly moving in multiple planes of motion, and moving with a purpose.
Everything in this play is about reading the court, reading defenders, and changing direction fluidly. This basket and opening is created by Fudd’s fluidity in combination with UConn’s scheme and versatile post-hubs. Her counter to pressure and adjusting coverages; movement, relocation, and moving the ball.
Watch this play and note how UConn works to empty out the weak side (before the ball is there) and isolating a big.
Fudd’s back-and-forth movement keeps the St. John’s defenders on their back foot and a step behind. Enter Edwards, who steps up for a screen right as Fudd receives the ball. Every single defender has their eyes on Fudd as she catches the ball. The big defending Edwards steps up to deter a shot and Fudd automatically is reacting and lofting a well-placed lob to the now rolling Edwards, who is fouled and Fudd deserves an assist for the ensuing free throws.
The threat of Fudd’s shooting and movement creates chaos for defenses, as UConn routinely deploys her as a screener to bring added confusion for help defenders. Her versatility is borne out of her effectiveness and she unlocks a level of offense that few teams in basketball can envision. This kind of efficiency from a shooting guard/wing is just uncommon, and, oh hey, the shot chart is just about the same last season.
Azzi Fudd’s shot chart is wild pic.twitter.com/ey89jp5dhs
— Mark Schindler (@MG_Schindler) January 15, 2023
As UConn looks to build off of last season’s national championship game appearance and runner-up finish, Azzi Fudd’s health and availability is key. While she is still a few seasons away from pro eligibility, Fudd is one of the brightest young stars in the sport. Basketball is better with Fudd healthy and playing, and hopefully for UConn and basketball fans as a whole, she’ll stay healthy and have a chance to shine on the biggest stage in March.