Coach Auriemma, that answer is not good enough

Huskies coach Geno Auriemma. UConn Athletics photo.

With criticism growing about the uncommon number of non-contact injuries in the UConn program – including from Women’s Hoops World – longtime coach Geno Auriemma purported to address the question recently.

But unfortunately, instead of discussing the unusual number of serious, season-ending leg and knee injuries, he relied on a classic deflection strategy: answer a different question.

After discussing the understandable negative effect of three years of injuries on player morale, Auriemma segued into a non-defense of the Huskies’ strength and conditioning program.

“And then what adds to the frustration, is none of these things were things that could be prevented,” he said.

“None of these things are like, you know, if you guys only did more of this, you could have prevented that. If you’d done less of that, it could have prevented that. If you’d have done this instead of that, you know, it would have been different.”

“What, that would have kept Dorka [Juhasz] from breaking her wrist or catching her thumb on some kid’s jersey and breaking her thumb? That would have kept Carol [Ducharme] from getting hit in the head five times?”

The problem with this response is that nobody was questioning contact injuries like those to Ducharme or Juhasz, who was drafted into the WNBA last spring. By limiting his response to those two injuries, Auriemma only raised larger questions about why he said nothing about the epidemic of non-contact leg injuries.

Those injuries include:

Dec. 5, 2021: Paige Bueckers suffered an anterior tibial plateau fracture and lateral meniscus tear of her left leg. It was easy to see that she was physically exhausted, but she was still on the court in the final minute of a game that her team was leading Notre Dame by 19 points. Bueckers had played every minute of that game, until the injury. No one was near her as she dribbled down the right side of the court, and her left leg simply collapsed. Bueckers returned to play three months (and 19 games) later, on February 25, 2022. She finished out that season strong.

Aug. 3, 2022: Bueckers tore her ACL in a pickup game and missed the entire 2022-23 season.

Dec. 1, 2021: Azzi Fudd suffered a “foot” injury. She missed eleven games, returning Jan. 26, 2022, and playing out the rest of the season.

Azzi Fudd will miss a second straight season with injury. UConn Athletics photo.

Dec. 4, 2022: Fudd suffered a right knee injury. She returned to play, after missing nine games, on Jan. 11, 2023.

Jan. 15, 2023: Fudd re-injured her right knee in the second game after her return, missing another 13 games. She returned to the team March 5, 2023 for Big East Tournament. Within three days, she was playing over 32 minutes a game.

Nov. 14, 2023: Fudd tore her ACL during practice, and will miss the entire season.

Oct. 2022: Ice Brady dislocated her patella and missed the entire 2022-23 season.

July 2023: Jana El-Alfy ruptured her Achilles tendon. Although she was playing for the Egyptian National Team at the time of the injury, she had been practicing with the Huskies for a full semester. She will miss the entire 2023-24 season.

Jan. 5, 2023: Ayanna Patterson sustained a leg injury, not further disclosed. She missed four games, and returned Jan. 23.

Spring 2023: Patterson underwent meniscus surgery, reportedly to repair damage done during high school. She has not played this season, and Auriemma suggested recently that she would miss the whole season.

It isn’t as though we at Women’s Hoops World were unclear that the injuries that raised concerns were the non-contact leg and knee injuries. After focusing on non-contact injuries, this is what we wrote on Nov. 27:

“No top 25 program has had more injuries than the Huskies over the last three seasons.

To be clear, other than the year after year repetition of leg, ankle and knee injuries, nothing objective indicates that the Huskies are doing anything wrong. But, on the other hand, are other programs doing different things right to avoid injury?

The question may have a neutral answer, but needs to be asked, and we at Women’s Hoops World are not the only ones.”

Auriemma avoided the neutral answer to this question. In doing so, he answer left the impression that he really had no viable response. He certainly did nothing to defend the practices of the program.

Perhaps more confusing, he followed up his non-answer with a vague suggestion that the injuries were somehow the players fault.

“And you know that the things that that have happened – it’s almost like when you when you look back, and some of the things that happened to these kids when they were in high school, after the fact you look back and you go ‘it was a ticking time bomb,'” he said

“If you knew then, what you know now, you would go ‘it’s just a matter of time.” So that’s probably the most frustrating part.”

As far as we know, there were no signals that Bueckers or El-Alfy were injury prone.

As to the others, to take a didactic cue from Auriemma, “What, UConn didn’t know that Azzi had torn her ACL in high school? UConn didn’t know that Patterson had injured her meniscus before coming to Storrs?”

If the Huskies did not know about this history, why not? And what, specifically, did the strength and conditioning staff, and the medical staff, do to guard against a repeat of those injuries?

Perhaps next time, the coach will answer those questions.