Minutes aren't going to come easy for the Connecticut women's basketball team this year. According to head coach Geno Auriemma, this is the deepest squad he has had in years, really since the last Huskies team that won a national championship.
That depth is breeding competition for playing time, Auriemma said.
"We have 14 players on our team," he said. "How many realistically are going to play? Twelve every night getting double-figure minutes? I doubt that. The competition for those top eight or nine spots will be pretty intense. We've got a month to figure out who they are."
The Huskies return all five starters from last year's Final Four squad, plus a heralded freshman class that features top prospects Azzi Fudd, Caroline Ducharme, Amari DeBerry and Saylor Poffenbarger. Poffenbarger joined the Huskies last season instead of playing her senior season at Middletown High School in Maryland due to COVID-19.
Connecticut also added transfer Dorka Juhász, a graduate transfer who earned All-Big Ten honors playing at Ohio State.
"We had a lot of guys have to play a lot of minutes last year, and I don't see that being the case this year," Auriemma said. "That second unit, whoever that turns out being, will be a really strong group."
The Huskies held their first practice on Friday, and are in an unfamiliar position. After losing to Arizona in the Final Four, UConn hasn't won a championship since 2016. The dearth of more banners hanging from the rafters marks the longest drought since the Huskies won the program's first title in 1995.
The team entering practice Friday afternoon, however, is looking ahead.
"We have goals," said senior guard Christyn Williams. "That's all I'll say."
One of those goals is keeping everyone healthy. Williams is coming off elbow surgery to fix a nerve issue in her elbow that hampered her at the end of last season. And reigning national player of the year, Paige Bueckers had surgery on her ankle over the summer, which sidelined her for most of the off-season. She still found some time to hit the weights, and put more strength on her frame.
"Please don't ask her how strong she is or how much bigger she is," Auriemma said. "She'll start showing you her muscles.
"People don't realize how hard she works. She might work harder than anybody on the team. Lot of people out there think that she's just this cocky kid and talented. You roll the ball out there and she's good. That kid works harder than anybody on the team. At everything."
Connecticut will open its season against Arkansas on Nov. 14. Arkansas handed the Huskies their only regular-season loss in the 2020-2021 season.