UConn questions: Paige Bueckers' development, newcomers adapting, managing crowded roster

UConn players huddle before their Final Four game against Arizona on Friday at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

UConn players huddle before their Final Four game against Arizona on Friday at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

Eric Gay / Associated Press

SAN ANTONIO — The 2021 season didn’t end the way UConn would have liked, but the Huskies can take solace in what’s to come.

Most — if not all — of the current roster will return next season, including a transcendent talent in Paige Bueckers. That, coupled with the addition of another prized recruiting class, already has Geno Auriemma thinking big.

“At least on my end, I’m going to be coaching in the Final Four next year on April 2, whatever that date is,” the Hall of Fame coach said Friday following a Final Four loss to Arizona. “What my team is going to look like, I don’t know because we got a whole bunch of new guys coming in, how that goes.

“But I believe that what we learned this year through all the ups and downs is really going to benefit us for the next couple years, for sure.”

The Huskies finished 28-2, having made their 13th consecutive Final Four.

Here are some questions to ponder as they head into the offseason.

What kind of sophomore leap will Bueckers make?

While she didn’t accomplish her ultimate goal of a national championship, Bueckers did just about everything else, including winning multiple national player of the year awards. Simply put, Bueckers’ freshman season was sensational, one of the best in NCAA history.

And you know what?

“The scary part,” associate head coach Chris Dailey said before the NCAA Tournament, “is that she’s only going to get better. There’s so many things that she’s going to learn and develop and become better at in the game. She’s only starting to scratch the surface.”

Bueckers averaged 20.0 points, 5.8 assists and 2.3 steals. She shot 46.4% from 3-point range. All those were team highs.

The 5-foot-11 guard was mostly stellar in March too — she became only the fifth freshman to score 100 points in the NCAA Tournament, joining Tamika Catchings, Cheryl Miller, Breanna Stewart and Clarissa Davis — before Arizona held her in check.

That experience should serve her well as she returns as the focal point of UConn’s offense.

“I learned a lot on the court, off the court,” Bueckers said. “Just the details of the game, little things in the game I never thought about in high school, just how to play the game the right way. It’s a lot harder in college, so it’s just getting under Coach Geno’s wing and learning all the little details of what makes a great player. I feel like I sort of took steps in seeing what it takes to be great.”

What are the roles for Griffin and Makurat?

Aubrey Griffin and Anna Makurat both seemed to be emerging as key rotational players as freshmen when the NCAA Tournament was canceled last season due to COVID-19. But a year later, their roles look less defined.

Griffin, a 6-1 wing, made five starts but injured her knee in February and never got back on track, struggling with inconsistency. She played only six minutes in the Final Four. Meanwhile, the 6-2 Makurat was limited to just 16 games because of a stress fracture in her leg. She averaged only 3.7 points, sparingly seeing the floor in San Antonio.

Where they fit on the roster remains to be seen.

How will the newcomers adapt?

The Huskies are set to bring in another highly touted recruiting class next season, headlined by Morgan Wootten National Player of the Year Azzi Fudd. Joining her will be fellow five-star prospects Caroline Ducharme and Amari DeBerry. Expectations are immense, especially for Fudd, who’s considered by some to be a better prospect than her good friend Bueckers.

If the trio acclimates as quickly as this season’s freshmen, Auriemma will have an embarrassment of riches at his disposal. If not? Well, the Huskies will still be plenty deep.

How many is too many?

Evina Westbrook announced Sunday she is returning to UConn, even though she had the option of entering the WNBA Draft.

UConn recruits Azzi Fudd, Caroline Ducharme and Amari DeBerry.

UConn recruits Azzi Fudd, Caroline Ducharme and Amari DeBerry.

Doug Bonjour / Hearst Connecticut Media

With Westbrook back, the Huskies will have 14 scholarship players on roster. Logic says that Auriemma, who traditionally likes to keep his rotation at seven, maybe eight max, won’t give serious minutes to that many players during the season.

Will anyone transfer? The portal is as active as ever.

dbonjour@ctpost.com; @DougBonjour