Women's College Basketball

Huskies Crush Wildcats, Win Big East Championship


Villanova Wildcat forward Maddy Siegrist shoots over the outstretched arms of UConn forward Aaliyah Edwards during Monday’s Big East Final at Mohegan Sun Arena. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

UConn forward Aaliyah Edwards scored 19 points and pulled down 15 rebounds as the Huskies rolled over the Villanova Wildcats 67-56 in the Big East Championship game Monday night at Mohegan Sun Arena. With the victory, UConn won their 21st Big East championship and their 30th consecutive conference tournament win.

UConn guard Lou Lopez-Senechal got the scoring started with a baseline jumper just 17 seconds into the contest to give the Huskies a quick 2-0 lead. This was answered immediately by Villanova forward Christina Dalce’s layup for the game’s first tie.

Neither team could gain momentum in the first quarter. There were four ties and the Wildcats only led once, when the score was 4-2 on a Dalce jumper with 8:19 remaining in the quarter. Lopez-Senechal scored seven of UConn’s first nine points.

Villanova missed seven field goals in a row before forward Maddy Siegrist scored on a layup with 4:42 left on the clock and UConn having a 12-10 lead.

The Wildcats pulled down 10 offensive rebounds in the quarter, but only gained two second-chance points on a jumper by guard Lucy Olsen with 44 seconds left in the quarter to make the score 19-14, in favor of the Huskies. Neither team scored during the rest of the quarter.

When the second quarter began, UConn’s Caroline Ducharme hit a long jumper to extend the Husky lead to seven, 21-14. Then the Wildcats put their shooting woes behind them temporarily and went on an 8-0 run sparked by deep three-pointers by Siegrist and Kaitlyn Orihel. Siegrist connected on a hook shot while double-teamed in the paint to give Villanova 22-21 lead with 7:27 left in the half. It would be the last time they led all day.

The rest of the second quarter was controlled by the Huskies. Edwards, Lopez-Senechal and forward Dorka Juhasz each scored as UConn went on a commanding 13-2 run to end the half with a 10 point lead, 34-24. Villanova was held scoreless for nearly the last five minutes of the quarter.

UConn guard Lou Lopez-Senechal attempts a layup over the outstretched arms of Villanova Wildcat forward Christina Dalce during Monday’s Big East Final at Mohegan Sun Arena. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

Both teams traded baskets in the opening minutes of the third quarter. The score was 40-29 with 7:01 left in the quarter when the Huskies pounced. In the next four minutes, Juhasz, Edwards and Azzi Fudd went on a tear. Fudd scored two three-pointers in less than a minute. When Siegrist hit a jumper for Villanova with 3:11 left in the quarter, it ended a UConn 14-0 run. The Huskies had a 23 point lead, 54-31. For the Wildcats, it appeared that the Big East championship game was slowly getting away.

Villanova went on a 6-0 run of their own on the strength of back-to-back three pointers by guards Maddie Burke and Brooke Mullin, but Fudd shut that down with a three-pointer of her own. UConn still maintained a 61-39 lead when the quarter ended.

Both teams hit scoring droughts as the fourth quarter began. Villanova scored the first three points of the frame, all free throws, but a Juhasz layup and Fudd jumper still left UConn with a 23 point lead with 5:21 left in the game.

The Wildcats had one last push within them. Siegrist put the team on her shoulders and powered through with seven points and Lucy Olsen added five of her own, as Villanova finished on a 14-2 run of their own. However, they ran out of time as the deficit had only been cut to 11 when the final buzzer sounded. UConn won 67-56 and took home the Big East championship and the automatic berth to the NCAA tournament.

Edwards 19 points and 11 rebounds led the Huskies in both categories. Juhasz added 16 points, Senechel-Lopez added 14 and Fudd netted 11 for UConn, who shot 49.1 percent from the field.

The Wildcats were led by Maddy Siegrist’s 22 points, which marks her 34th consecutive 20-point game, one off the record held by Kelsey Plum. Olsen added 14 points and Dalce pulled down 11 boards to lead the Wildcats. Villanova shot 30.0 percent from the field during the game.

“I’m extremely proud of our group for not quitting. We certainly knew that was going to be the case. We knew they would fight until the end. And we’ll regroup and see what we have for the NCAA Tournament,” said Wildcats head coach Denise Dillon. “I complimented our group for sticking it out together until the end. That’s something that this team has done from the start. That’s why I said they’re an absolute joy to coach because they bring it every day. Their effort is there and sometimes you can’t make up for some other areas.”

Villanova Wildcats guard Lucy Olsen shoots a layup while attempting a comeback during Sunday’s Big East Finals game against UConn at Mohegan Sun Arena. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

UConn head coach Geno Auriemma had nothing but praise for Edwards for her double-double in the contest.

“So she’s a durable kid, knock on wood, when she’s got it going and feeling it and the confidence level is high. Like Dorka [Juhasz] said, she’s able to do pretty much whatever the game calls for,” said Auriemma. “When she goes on those rebounding tears, it’s like she gets everyone at both ends of the floor – and when she’s attacking the basket and drawing fouls. So there’s an element that she brings that, if you don’t have that element it’s hard to win tournament championships.”

Juhasz noted the difference in her team between the start of the game and the finish.

“I think kind of we took that personally. In the beginning we just kind of tried to figure out how to help each other and also find out a way to box them out. And obviously in the beginning of the game we were not very successful with that,” she said. “So I think that was an emphasis put on that, that we have to get the defensive rebounds and box out. And I think as the game went on, we took advantage of that and just kept pushing the ball and got some easy post-ups and easy scores in the paint. But that’s just a quick switch of mindset and just be more physical and find a person to box out.”

With the win, UConn will advance to the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament as an automatic seed. Villanova will have to wait just a little bit longer to see if they get an invite or if they go to the NIT. Still, for the Wildcats, where they are now is an indication of how far they have come in recent years, which gives them optimism for future success.

“That’s the biggest difference between where we are this year and where we were last year. Last year we really didn’t know. So it makes you feel a little bit better,” said Siegrist. “This is going to sting. It stings tonight. It will sting tomorrow. But you’ve got to move on and get ready for the next game.”

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