‘March time’: UConn secures another Big East title
UNCASVILLE, Connecticut. For nearly 30 years now, with the calendar moving to March, Geno Auriemma has been preparing UConn for the best game on the biggest stage.
This season has been one of the toughest in recent memory for the Hall of Famer and his Husky. The Huskies lost straight games for the first time in three decades and suffered injury after injury, leaving them with just seven healthy players in some games.
Despite these setbacks, the end result was the same: another Big East tournament title.
Alia Edwards had 19 points and 15 rebounds to lead No. 7 UConn to their 10th consecutive conference title with a 67-56 win over No. 10 Villanova in Monday Night’s Championship Game .
“Well, we talked about it before the game, given everything we’ve been through,” Auriemma said. “I think it gave us a little more resilience, a little more strength. I think we got a little tougher as the season went on. And it manifested itself in these three days. These kids know it’s March, they’re in a pair of Final Fours. I think our team has a different atmosphere.”
Dorca Juhas added 16 points and Lou Lopez Seneschal scored 14 for the top Huskies (29-5), who earned an automatic conference call to the NCAA Tournament. UConn has now won 21 Big East Tournament crowns, including the last three since re-entering the conference in 2020. The Huskies would then attempt to increase their record by reaching 14 final four in a row.
“We are talented, but we are disciplined and determined to win,” Edwards said. “It speaks to our standard and what we are and we are a winning program. This is what we did today.”
The Huskies celebrated by throwing confetti at each other, and Auriemma even showed off his dance moves by performing “The Griddy” with his grandchildren. It was a difficult year for Auriemma personally, as his mother died in December and he had to miss time due to illness.
“So much has happened on and off the court this past season personally, as a team, in everything that to get to this point you want to close this book,” Auriemma said. “Now start a new one, starting next Sunday. This book ended right. Lots of action, lots of tragedy, ups and downs. The book ended right. Now it’s time for a new one.”
Trailing 22-21 in the second quarter, UConn turned their defense around and beat Villanova (28-6) 13-2 in the last 6:09 of the half to go up 34-24 at halftime. Edwards, the most outstanding player of the tournament, scored 12 points on all six shots and nine rebounds in the first 20 minutes.
The Huskies ended the game with 22 of their first 29 points in the third quarter, extending their lead to 25.
It’s been a tough year for the Huskies, who have suffered numerous injuries, starting with Paige Buckers tearing her cruciate ligament in the summer. UConn’s health has been improving lately, with Azzi Fudd returning to the Big East tournament after missing the previous 14 games with a knee injury.
Lopez Seneschal and Edwards are the only UConn players to appear in every game this season.
The Huskies lost two conferences for the first time since the 2012–2013 season and suffered consecutive defeats for the first time since the 1992–93 season.
But UConn turned it on in March. Monday’s win was a rematch of last year’s championship game, which UConn won 70-40. This half was more competitive, as were the two regular season meetings that the Huskies won by five and nine.
“I think we are a team that is always ready for March,” Lopez Seneschal said. “I think that even if we had hard times, we knew how to overcome them, we knew how to play together. I think that’s why we’re here now. I’m very proud of the whole team.”
Villanova was cold off the field early on, shooting just 6 of 25 (24%) in the first quarter, including missing all 10 3-point attempts. The Wildcats trailed 19-14 at the end of the first despite 10 offensive rebounds. They finally hit a 3-pointer to open second and went on an 8-2 streak to take the lead. Then UConn took over.
Maddy Sigrist led the Wildcats as they moved up to 10th in Monday’s AP Poll for the school’s all-time best ranking with 22 points.
“She’s better at it than most,” said Villanova’s trainer Denise Dillon. “Finding different ways to score a goal. Pure determination. She found dots and created a couple of looks around the basket.”
Siegrist has scored 984 points this season and is looking to become the fifth player to score over 1,000 points in a season. East Player of the Year will be Kelsey Plum (1109), Jackie Stiles (1062), Odissi Sims (1054) and Megan Gustafson (1001). Siegrist led the nation in scoring (29.7 points) going into Monday night’s game. She extended her streak to 34 consecutive games with 20-plus points. She lacks one Plum record set in the 2016-17 season.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.