No. 5 UConn women gut one out against No. 21 Villanova in Big East battle
Hartford — With nothing going right and fatigue settling in, it took 6 minutes, 27 seconds of the third quarter Sunday afternoon for fifth-ranked UConn to score its first points of the second half.
UConn still trailed by six with 8 minutes remaining against stubborn Villanova and the nation’s leading scorer in Maddy Siegrist, with first place in the Big East Conference on the line.
And then the Huskies, playing their fourth game in nine days and with their roster pared to eight due to injuries, found a way to win anyway, beating Villanova 63-58 before a boisterous crowd of 14,375 at the XL Center.
“That was a hard-fought win and it’s definitely rewarding. It was a huge win for us,” said UConn graduate forward Dorka Juhasz, one of three Huskies who remained on the court for all 40 minutes. “I think that last quarter, it was kind of like that adrenaline that was taking us over.
“Obviously that third quarter, we were not able to score for what, like seven minutes, so you know I think just obviously being tired — playing a lot, playing a lot of games — but we don’t really take it as an excuse so we really needed that fourth quarter and we really had to dig deep inside of us.”
Aubrey Griffin led UConn (20-2, 12-0) with 19 points, becoming the Huskies’ go-to down the stretch despite playing with four fouls, while Juhasz had 16 points and seven rebounds and Aaliyah Edwards 13 points and six rebounds.
It was the first game of the season that Lou Lopez Senechal, the graduate transfer who dazzled in a win Thursday before the hostile fans at Tennessee, didn’t reach double figures, finishing 2-for-13 for six points.
UConn used just six players in the game and had no subs at all in the second half, shooting 21.4% in the third quarter (3-for-14) as it fell behind.
“We talked about that a little bit in the locker room afterwards that it was a pretty impressive win given that we didn’t get, for the first time all year, what we’ve come to expect from Lou and we didn’t get what we’ve come to expect from Aaliyah,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said.
“It’s really hard to win a game against a really, really good team when you have that happen, but somehow you’ve got to figure it out. You’ve got to gut it out somehow.”
After Siegrist gave Villanova a 51-45 lead, UConn’s Edwards, also on the floor for the duration of the game, scored on a deft inside move to pull the Huskies within four and Nika Muhl brought the fans to their feet with a 3-pointer to make it 51-50.
WIth the score tied 52-52, thanks to two free throws from Griffin, Griffin drove and drew the foul, completing a three-point play that gave UConn its first lead since early in the half.
The score was tied 55-55 after a three-point play by Villanova’s Lucy Olsen before Juhasz hit a 3-pointer from the top of the arc to give the Huskies the lead for good with 1:44 to go. Edwards drilled two free throws to give UConn a 60-55 lead.
The Huskies turned the ball over on a jump ball with 31 seconds remaining and Villanova’s Olsen made them pay with a 3-pointer to pull within 60-58, but following a UConn timeout, Juhasz was able to inbound the ball to Lopez Senechal and Edwards made three free throws in the final 10.4 seconds to seal the win.
Siegrist finished with 25 points and eight rebounds for Villanova (18-4, 9-2), attempting to beat the Huskies at the XL Center for the second straight season.
Last year, Villanova beat eighth-ranked UConn 72-69 in Hartford, breaking a Huskies’ winning streak against conference opponents that dated back to 2013. The teams then met in the Big East championship game, with UConn winning 70-40 at Mohegan Sun Arena.
UConn next plays Wednesday at Providence and has a game next Sunday against No. 1 South Carolina, the defending national champion, back in Hartford.
“Today, I thought talking to them afterwards, today was the first game all year where we looked really tired,” said Auriemma, whose team won 84-67 in a nationally televised matchup Thursday at Tennessee. “Right after that first quarter, you could see the energy drain.”
“I think that we’re all glad we could bring out the win,” Edwards said, “especially after what happened last year. ... It came from us. I think everybody contributed in their own way, whether that was offensively or defensively and we were able to pull out the win.”
UConn sophomores Caroline Ducharme (concussion) and Azzi Fudd (right knee) remain sidelined. Junior Paige Bueckers and freshman Ice Brady are out for the season due to knee injuries.