UNCASVILLE, Conn. – For nearly 30 years, when the calendar turns to March, Geno Auriemma has UConn ready to play their best on the biggest stage.
This season has been one of the toughest in recent memory for the Hall of Fame coach and his Huskies. The Huskies lost consecutive games for the first time in three decades and suffered injury after injury that left them with just seven healthy players some games.
Despite these setbacks, the end result was the same: another Big East tournament title.
Aaliyah Edwards had 19 points and 15 rebounds to lead No. 7 UConn to its 10th consecutive conference tournament title with a 67-56 victory over No. 10 Villanova in Monday night’s championship game.
“Well, we talked about it before the game, considering everything we’ve been through,” Auriemma said. “I think it gave us a little bit more resilience, a little bit more strength. I think we got a little tougher as the season progressed. And that showed in those three days. These kids know that when it’s March, they’ve been in a few Final Fours. I think there’s a different vibe in our team.”
Dorka Juhasz added 16 points and Lou Lopez Senechal scored 14 for the Huskies (29-5), which won the conference’s automatic bid for the NCAA Tournament. UConn has now won 21 Big East Tournament crowns, including the last three since returning to the conference in 2020. Next, the Huskies will look to extend their record of reaching 14 consecutive Final Fours.
“We’re talented, but we’re disciplined and determined to win,” Edwards said. “It reflects our standard and who we are as a program and we are a winning program. That’s what we did today.”
The Huskies celebrated by throwing confetti at each other and Auriemma even showed off her dance moves, doing “The Griddy” with her grandkids. It was a difficult year for Auriemma personally, as his mother passed away in December and he had to miss time due to illness.
“So much happened on and off the pitch last season personally, at a team level, everything, that to come to this, you want to close that book,” Auriemma said. “And now start a new one from next Sunday. This book ended the right way. Lots of deeds, lots of tragedies, ups and downs. The book ended the right way. way. Now it’s time for a new one.”
Trailing 22-21 in the second quarter, UConn strengthened its defense and beat Villanova (28-6) 13-2 in the final 6:09 of the half to come back 34-24 at the break. Edwards, the tournament’s most notable player, had 12 points, making six shots and nine rebounds in the first 20 minutes.
The Huskies ended the game scoring 22 of the first 29 points in the third quarter to increase the lead to 25.
It’s been a tough year for the Huskies, who have dealt with a host of injuries, starting with Paige Bueckers tearing her ACL over the summer. UConn has been healthier lately, with Azzi Fudd returning for the Big East Tournament after missing the previous 14 games with a knee injury.
Lopez Senechal and Edwards are the only UConn players to appear in every game this season.
The Huskies lost two conference games for the first time since 2012-13 and suffered back-to-back losses for the first time since 1992-93.
But UConn activated it in March. Monday’s win was a rematch of last season’s championship game UConn won 70-40. This one was more competitive for one half, as were the two regular season games the Huskies won by five and nine.
“I think we’re a team that’s always ready for March,” Lopez Senechal said. “I think even though we had a tough time, we knew how to get through it, we knew how to play together. I think that’s why we’re here right now. I’m super proud of the whole team.”
Villanova was cold off the field early on, going just 6 of 25 (24%) in the first quarter, including missing all of his 10 3-point attempts. The Wildcats trailed 19-14 at the end of the first despite having 10 offensive rebounds. They eventually hit a 3-pointer to open the second and raced 8-2 to take the brief lead. Then UConn took over.
Maddy Siegrist led the Wildcats, who climbed to 10th in Monday’s AP poll for the school’s best standings to date with 22 points.
“She does it better than most by scoring the ball,” Villanova coach Denise Dillon said. “Finding different ways to score. Sheer determination. She found points and created a few looks around the basket.”
Siegrist has 984 points this season and is looking to become the fifth player to score over 1,000 points in a season. The Big East Player of the Year would join Kelsey Plum (1,109), Jackie Stiles (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 by scoring more than 20 points. She is one short shy of Plum’s record set in 2016-17.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.