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Azzi Fudd Is Shooting Her Shot

STORRS, CT - NOVEMBER 14: UConn Huskies guard Azzi Fudd (35) in action during a women's college basketball game between Texas Longhorns and UConn Huskies on November 14, 2022, at Harry A. Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, CT.
M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Let's get irresponsible: Azzi Fudd's jumper, quick and minimal, is the prettiest in the world. The shooter only turned 20 this month, but a rich and satisfying lore explains the shot. It was ordained by Fudd's namesake, the Olympian Jennifer Azzi, who holds the WNBA record for career three-point percentage. It was modeled after Fudd's mother's shot; Katie Fudd played at Georgetown, and the two have spent years refining it together. At Steph Curry's invitation-only basketball camp, which Fudd was the first girl to attend when she was 15, it stole the show. She won the camp's three-point shooting contest and held her own when she was presented with the prize: a spot in another shooting contest against Steph and Dell Curry. When Fudd committed to UConn in 2020, Steph told ESPN's Katie Barnes, "I think she has more of a textbook jumper than anyone I've seen. Maybe Klay Thompson and Azzi Fudd."

The shot is really, exceptionally good, and the only real complaint about Azzi Fudd, a year and change into her college career, seems to be that she doesn't shoot it enough. "She’s just too nice," Geno Auriemma said after Fudd put up 22 second-half points in an 86-79 win over Caitlin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes Sunday afternoon. "Too concerned about the team and everybody."

Fudd's timidity last year, if it frustrated fans and her coach, made sense. She arrived at UConn with a mountain of hype on her shoulders, spent her freshman year dealing with a nagging foot injury that kept her sidelined for several weeks, and shared a backcourt with one of college basketball's biggest stars, Paige Bueckers. A profile of Fudd that ran at The Athletic this October reveals that all sorts of insecurities dogged her as a freshman, so extreme was the weight of playing for a legendary program. She wondered if the team that lost to South Carolina in the NCAA championship last year—Fudd had a stomach bug and only played 16 minutes—was "the worst UConn team." When she missed those regular-season games with the foot injury, she worried that she had let down her end of the bargain in NIL deals, asking her parents "why anyone would want to work with her when she couldn’t even play." In hindsight, these pressures all seem like rather obvious explanations for Fudd's unspectacular season. Even in basketball's new age of publicized camps and viral high-school mixtapes, the nerves never totally go away. And so it is both ironic and a little heartening that in a year the pressure on Azzi Fudd is even greater than before, she looks like she might be the best player in the country.

Fudd's performance against Iowa yesterday was exactly what Auriemma has said he wants from her—not letting an early miss or two quiet her for an entire game. It was this resolve that proved the difference: Fudd scored just two points in the first half, but came alive in the third quarter, which saw Iowa lead by as many as 11 points. I don't mean to slander, but which of these is your national player of the year? Clark, who went 0-for-5 from the field for a scoreless third quarter? Or Fudd, who went 7-for-7 for 16 points? (People are talking...) In seriousness, it was an unusual treat to see the two of them share a court: a junior perpetually in heat check mode battling against a shy sophomore and spiritual opposite.

What the two of them do have in common is the capacity to take over entire games with their shooting, and the Huskies are relying on Fudd to do that this year. In August, UConn announced that Bueckers had torn her ACL in a pickup game and would miss the entire basketball season. Junior Nika Muhl (seen making the lovely pass in the first clip above) has replaced Bueckers at point guard and is currently averaging 11 assists a game. The versatile junior post player Aaliyah Edwards didn't look out of place stepping out to guard Clark on the perimeter. But the leap Auriemma needed is the one Fudd has taken. Through five games, three of them against top-10 teams, Fudd has averaged 25 points, more than doubling her per-game average from last year. One of those top-10 teams was then-No. 3 Texas, against whom Fudd put up her season-high 32 points. "There's not enough Tylenol for me to take after watching that," Texas head coach Vic Schaefer said afterward.

In many of her interviews lately, Fudd has distinguished between her current form and "freshman Azzi," the unconfident, unsure, unhealthy shell of herself. Here's to sophomore Azzi. May she give all her opponents a splitting headache.

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