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UConn lands No. 1 recruit Sarah Strong day after heartbreaking Final Four loss

CLEVELAND — It never stays gloomy in Storrs, Connecticut for long.

The morning after UConn's heartbreaking Final Four loss to Iowa, it added a third No. 1 recruit to its 2024-25 roster. Sarah Strong, the No. 1 recruit in the 2024 class, announced her commitment to the Huskies on Saturday morning during the Chipotle Nationals championship game.

The 6-foot-2 forward will join two more No. 1 recruits in Paige Bueckers (2020) and Azzi Fudd (2021). Bueckers came to UConn with outsized expectations of four titles in four years a la Breanna Stewart and didn’t back down from that. After a Final Four loss as a freshman, she was joined by Fudd, a good friend, and expectations rose even higher. But injuries have plagued both of them — an ACL that took Buckers out all of last season and one for Fudd this season — and they’ve barely played together. There are no titles yet.

‘The standard at UConn is national championships, so it's always disappointing,” Bueckers said after the loss to Iowa on Friday night. “But I know we'll reflect after this and just get better from here.”

Strong, the last recruit in the ESPN HoopGurlz top 100 to commit, is a key piece. She said last month she was considering UConn, Duke and North Carolina and set the decision for Saturday. UConn is losing All-American forward and Canadian national team pool member Aaliyah Edwards, who is expected to be taken in the first round of the WNBA Draft next week. Edwards was the constant for UConn while it dealt with an unlucky skid of injuries.

Strong’s lengthy accolades include two 3x3 U18 World Cup gold medals, McDonald’s All-American Game co-MVP, Naismith High School Player of the Year and a Jordan Brand All-American. The North Carolina native won the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year award twice and North Carolina Miss Basketball twice playing for Grace Christian High School. She averaged 23 points, 16 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 3.3 steals and 2.3 blocks per game over a three-year career. She led them to a second consecutive state championship title last season, scoring 30 points with 21 rebounds in the title game.

She is the 12th No. 1 recruit to join the 11-time national champions. UConn also received commitments from Allie Ziebell (ranked No. 4) and Morgan Cheli (No. 18) as the Huskies seek their first championship since winning four consecutive with Breanna Stewart from 2013-16. The expectations remain high for the program even while parity grows throughout the country.

“I just want them to win,” Stewart said on the alternate broadcast with fellow Huskies Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi. “They haven’t won since I left, and I just feel the pressure and I don’t want to feel it anymore.”

UConn will also lose point guard Nika Muhl, who announced last month she would not take her extra year of COVID-19 availability. But the backcourt should benefit from depth after freshmen KK Arnold and Ashlynn Shade received nearly a year’s worth of starting time.

Jana El Alfy, a redshirt freshman who sustained a ruptured Achilles at the 2023 FIBA U19 World Cup in Spain, should be ready to go, as will forwards Arianna Patterson (knee), Ice Brady (missed last season) and Amari DeBerry (unavailable for this postseason).

Strong grew up in a basketball family and was born in Europe while both her parents were playing professionally. Allison Feaster, Strong's mother, was drafted No. 5 overall in the 1998 WNBA Draft by the Los Angeles Sparks. She played for 10 years with the Sparks, now-defunct Charlotte Sting and a final season with the Indiana Fever in 2008. She earned votes in the Defensive Player of the Year race three different seasons and finished second in Most Improved Player in 2001.

Feaster played collegiately at Harvard and led the nation in scoring average with 28.5 ppg as a senior. She finished her collegiate career with 2,312 points and four First-Team Ivy League selections as well as three conference player of the year awards.

Strong’s father, Danny Strong, played at NC State from 1995 to 1997, as well as professionally overseas.