Despite derailed First Night, Auriemma impressed after first week of practice

Photo of Maggie Vanoni

STORRS — If Geno Auriemma had to pick a walk-out song for himself, he said it would be “Pomp and Circumstance,” just to confuse the crowd of young players and students.

On Friday night, however, it wasn’t any walk-out song or weird play that confused the nearly 8,000-student crowd at Gampel Pavilion for First Night.

Instead, it was the struggle of a handful of equipment guys trying to align a basket along the edge of the court.

Unable to get the hoop set up properly, and without bringing in any backup basket, the crowd’s first chance to see the highly anticipated women’s team up close in action was derailed.

While the team played a relaxed, no-contact 4-on-4 half-court scrimmage for 10 minutes, Friday was still a warm welcome into the 2021-22 season for the UConn team, with more than half of its 14 players in front of a home-court crowd for the first time.

“Tonight serves one purpose only and that’s for our students to get a chance to come and watch the team,” Auriemma said before First Night. “Some of the kids that were freshmen here last year, they came to UConn with all these great expectations: going to games, throwing the place up and being all rallied and having a good time, and they never got the chance to do that. So tonight’s for them and for our players to kinda just be kids.”

The crowd showed the Huskies what they were missing all last season with loud cheers for all the players during the night’s introductions. Gampel erupted in celebration as 2021 National Player of the Year Paige Bueckers was introduced to the crowd on top of a stage illuminated by lasers and smoke.

The team’s 10-minute scrimmage was played in relaxed pace with no contact with the White team (Olivia Nelson-Ododa, Saylor Poffenbarger, Mir McLean, Evina Westbrook and Azzi Fudd) boasting a 26-9 victory over the Blue team (Bueckers, Christyn Williams, Dorka Juhasz, Caroline Ducharme, Amari DeBerry and Aaliyah Edwards).

And full scrimmage or not, the event still boasted a true Gampel Pavilion home game in front of a special front-row crowd of UConn 2022 commits Ice Brady and Ayanna Patterson, along with recruit target Kiki Rice.

Injury updates

Aubrey Griffin sat out of the scrimmage Friday night due to a sprained ankle. After recovering from a back injury last week, Auriemma said she ran into another player during practice which caused her ankle injury. She wore a boot earlier in the evening but wasn’t wearing it during the team’s introductions and scrimmage.

“It’s one after another for the poor kid,” Auriemma said. “But hopefully there’s going to come a time soon where she’s going to be able to contribute and do a lot of the stuff that she does.”

Practice impressions

After the first full week of practice, Auriemma said he’s been pleasantly surprised with what he’s seen from the team so far.

“We’ve actually gotten a couple things accomplished that’s been good. We got a lot of work to do obliviously, nine freshmen and sophomores on the team, things move slowly. So considering that, I think we’ve got a bunch of stuff accomplished,” he said.

A big part of the welcome surprise has come from freshmen Fudd and Ducharme, whom Auriemma said play like they’ve already been with the team for some time.

“Right now, if we had a game tomorrow, Azzi and Caroline they look like they just blend right in,” Auriemma said. “Azzi and Caroline, they look like they’ve been here and there are some things they do that look like they’ve been part of the team for a while. I’m really thrilled where they are.”