Defense is the name of the game in UConn’s 84-39 victory over Villanova in the Big East semifinal

Lori Riley, Hartford Courant
·2 min read

Top-seeded UConn put on a defensive clinic in the first half of the Big East tournament semifinal against Villanova. The Huskies held the fifth-seeded Wildcats to 13 first-half points and the Big East’s leading scorer, sophomore Maddie Siegrist, to a career-low three points en route to a 84-39 victory Sunday afternoon at Mohegan Sun Arena.

UConn will play the winner of the second semifinal game between No. 2 seeded Marquette and No. 6 Creighton in the championship game on Monday at 8 p.m. ET at Mohegan Sun.

Christyn Williams led UConn (22-1) with 26 points on 11 for 17 shooting, and Paige Bueckers added 18 points and eight assists.

Villanova’s lowest point total this season before Sunday came in the Wildcats’ 90-52 loss to UConn on Dec. 22.

Sunday marked Villanova’s first appearance in the Big East semifinal since 2015 after upsetting No. 4 seed and defending conference champion DePaul on Saturday in overtime. UConn had last played Villanova in the Big East tournament in the semifinals in 2009, beating the Wildcats 72-42.

Key to victory: De-fense, de-fense. UConn smothered Villanova and Siegrist (who was averaging 23.6 ppg before Sunday), playing perhaps its best defensive game of the season. Siegrist had scored 30 points on Saturday, her fifth 30-point game of the season, in an overtime win over DePaul. She had 15 in the December game against UConn, and her previous season-low was nine against Providence Feb. 3. Her career low was five as a freshman.

Turning point: UConn’s defense set the tone right away, and Villanova struggled to score the entire first half. The Wildcats had one basket in the second quarter and trailed 45-13 at halftime.

Player of the game: Easy. Williams. Not only did she score 11 of her team-leading 26 points in the first quarter, she held Siegrist to 1 for 7 shooting in the first half, allowing a field goal — Siegrist’s only basket of the game — and a free throw. Siegrist ended up shooting 1 for 10. Williams started the game with two straight layups and kept the Huskies’ momentum going throughout.

Highlight of the game: Evina Westbrook got the ball in to Aubrey Griffin under the basket, who went under and up and hit the shot from an improbable angle with 6:35 left in the first half to put UConn up 33-10.

Stats of the game: Villanova shot 5 for 33 from the field and 2 for 20 from the 3-point line in the first half. The Wildcats ended the game 15 for 61, shooting 24 percent.

Lori Riley can be reached at lriley@courant.com.