ESPN News Services4 minutes to read
UNCASVILLE, Conn. — For nearly 30 years, when the calendar turns into March, Geno Auriemma UConn has been ready to play his best on the biggest stage.
This season was one of the most challenging in recent memory for the Hall of Fame coach and Huskies. The Huskies lost back-to-back games for the first time in three decades and struggled with injury after injury that left them with only seven healthy players in some games.
Despite those setbacks, the end result was the same: another Big East championship title.
Aaliyah Edwards had 19 points and 15 rebounds to lead No. 7 UConn to its 10th straight conference championship title with a 67-56 win over 10th-ranked Villanova in the championship game Monday night.
“Well, we talked about that before the game, given everything we’ve been through. I think it gave us a little bit more flexibility, a little bit more strength. I think we got a little tougher as the season went on. Those three days showed up.” “These kids know that when March comes around, they’ve been in a couple of Final Fours games. I think there’s a different feeling on our team.”
Dorka Juhas added 16 points and Lou Lopez Senich scored 14 for the ranked Huskies (29-5), who earned the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. UConn has now won 21 Big East Tournament championships, including the last three since entering the conference again in 2020. Then, the Huskies would attempt to extend their record of reaching 14 consecutive Final Fours.
“We’re talented, but we’re disciplined and dedicated to winning,” Edwards said. “It speaks to our standards and what we are as a program and we are winners. And that’s what we did today.”
Trailing 22-21 in the second quarter, UConn lifted his defense and beat Villanova (28-6) 13-2 over the final 6:09 of the half to go up 34-24 at the break. The tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, Edwards scored 12 points, hitting all six of her shots, and nine rebounds in the first 20 minutes.
The Huskies put the game away by scoring 22 of their first 29 points in the third quarter to extend the advantage to 25.
It’s been a tough year for the Huskies, who have dealt with a host of injuries starting with Paige Bueckers tearing his anterior cruciate ligament over the summer. UConn has been getting healthier lately, with Azzi Fudd returning to the Big East Tournament after missing the previous 14 games with a knee injury.
Lopez Senechal and Edwards are the only two UConn players to have appeared in every game this season.
The Huskies lost two conference games for the first time since 2012-13 and suffered back-to-back defeats for the first time since 1992-93.
But UConn turned it on in March. Monday’s victory was a rematch of last season’s championship game that UConn won, 70-40. This was a much more competitive half-year, just like the regular season meetings the Huskies won five and nine.
“I think we are a team that is always ready for March,” said López Senechal. “I think even if we had a tough stretch, we knew how to beat it, we knew how to play together. I think that’s why we’re here now. I’m so proud of the whole team.”
Villanova was cold off the field at first, making 6-of-25 (24%) in the first quarter, including all 10 of their 3-point attempts. The Wildcats trailed 19-14 at halftime despite grabbing 10 offensive rebounds. They finally hit a 3-pointer to open the second and went on an 8-2 run to take the short lead. Then UConn took over.
Maddy Siegrist ahead of the Wildcats, who advanced to No. 10 in the AP Monday poll for the school’s all-time best ranking, with 22 points.
“She does it better than most kickers,” Villanova coach Denise Dillon said. “Finding different ways to score. Pure design. I found points and created looks around the basket.”
Siegrist has 984 points this season and is looking to become the fifth player to score more than 1,000 points in a season. Big East Player of the Year will join Kelsey Bloom (1,109), Jackie Styles (1,062), Odyssey Sims (1,054) and Megan Gustafson (1,001). Siegrist led the nation in scoring (29.7 points) heading into Monday night’s game. She extended her streak to 34 consecutive games and scored 20+ points. It’s one short of Bloom’s record set in 2016-17.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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