Azzi Fudd's impact 'immeasurable' in UConn's Round 2 victory

STORRS, Conn. -- UConn coach Geno Auriemma put sophomore guard Azzi Fudd at the free throw line after an intentional foul was called in the Huskies' second-round NCAA tournament game on Monday versus Baylor.

Fudd -- who missed most of the season knee due to injuries -- hadn't shot her usual high-efficient clip since her return in early March, but Auriemma thought putting Fudd at the foul line at that moment would allow her to see the ball go through the net and get her confidence going.

The plan worked. Fudd's 16-point third-quarter, in which she outscored the entire Baylor team single-handedly, lifted the No. 2 seed UConn to a 77-58 victory over the 7-seed Bears, catapulting the Huskies to a 29th consecutive Sweet 16 appearance. The next-longest active streak is owned by South Carolina, with nine.

Baylor -- under second-year coach Nicki Collen, who took over after Kim Mulkey left for LSU -- fell in the second round of the NCAA tournament for consecutive years. UConn and No. 3 seed Ohio State will face off in the Sweet 16 in the Seattle 3 Regional on Saturday.

Fudd's 9-for-22 performance from the floor (3-for-12 from 3) wasn't her most efficient, but her impressive third quarter (7-for-12, including 2-for-5 from 3) was certainly more characteristic. And better yet, it was impactful when the Huskies needed it most.

"If she misses 100 shots that game, I would still get her the last shot for the win," UConn junior point guard Nika Muhl said. "That's how good of a shooter she is. She is definitely the best shooter that I've ever played with."

For the first time since Fudd's initial knee injury, she finished with over 20 points (22 in all). Fudd, a renowned shooter and a former No. 1 overall recruit, had been averaging that many before suffering the injury Dec. 4 versus Notre Dame. She later injured her knee again in her second game back in January.

"Azzi Fudd looked like the Azzi we were watching in November before she got hurt," Collen said. "She was making her pull-up, getting all the way to the basket. She was obviously an All-American-type player today."

Auriemma often speaks to Fudd's perfectionism and instinct to take it upon herself to make every shot when she's on the floor. If she suffered any dip in confidence after going 2-for-8 in the first half, it didn't last long after halftime, at which point UConn only led 40-35.

In the third quarter, Auriemma said, the Huskies specifically ran plays to ensure Fudd got touches.

"Just keeping that mindset of being aggressive and having my teammates and the coaches continuing to remind me, 'Don't stop shooting, keep shooting, keep looking for your shot,'" Fudd said of her approach.

Fudd's 37 minutes on the floor were also a post-injury high, which Auriemma said demonstrates how far she has come. She had missed 22 of the Huskies' previous 24 games before returning for the Big East tournament earlier this month.

"I'm just glad she's healthy and can play, because I know how much she's missed it," Auriemma said. "But the impact that she has on the game is just immeasurable -- and the impact she has on the rest of our team."

Junior Aaliyah Edwards finished with 19 points for the Huskies despite playing with foul trouble, while senior Aubrey Griffin was "the difference-maker" off the bench, Collen said, with her effort on the glass (12 rebounds) and defensive energy.

Baylor was led by senior Ja'Mee Asberry with 15 points.