New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)
Huskies hang on
UConn survives challenge from visiting Villanova
HARTFORD — Nearly a year after Villanova ended the UConn women’s basketball program’s 169-game conference winning streak with a victory over the Huskies at the XL Center, the Wildcats were poised for another upset Sunday afternoon.
But this time, UConn survived. Barely.
After sputtering on offense and falling into a six-point hole early in the fourth quarter, the
No. 5-ranked Huskies came out on top with a 63-58 victory. The win is UConn’s 13th straight and fourth within just the last nine days.
The No. 21 Wildcats (18-4, 9-2 in the Big East) seized control of the game in the third quarter and were on the brink of pulling away in the fourth. But UConn (20-2, 12-0) relied on its upperclassmen, including redshirt junior Aubrey Griffin (team-high 19 points, six rebounds), to push through.
“It’s really hard to win a game against a really, really good team,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “But somehow you know, you gotta figure it out and Aubrey came up big, made some big shots, big plays … We made our free throws for the most part. They’re (Villanova) a really good team. A really good team. Not only are they really good, they’re really hard to play against.”
Griffin watched last year’s historic loss on TV as she was stuck at in New York recovering from season-ending back surgery. There was nothing she could do but watch as her team came up short against the Wildcats.
This year, with her back now repaired, the guard sparked UConn’s comeback attempts against the Wildcats the whole game.
At 4:52 in the fourth quarter, Griffin drew a foul while shooting. She made both her free throws to tie the game for the third time.
Griffin again drew a foul about a minute later while driving to the basket. Her bucket gave UConn the lead for the
first time in over 14 minutes and her free throw put the Huskies up by three with 3:48 left in the game.
“Her confidence is more intact,” Auriemma said about Griffin. “She did a terrific job on (Maddy) Siegrist today. Not easy. Again, that’s been, but for a few exceptions, that’s been pretty much the whole season (for her). And you know, we still forget that she didn’t play it for a year and a half almost.”
Yet sealing the game wasn’t easy. Leading by five, Aaliyah Edwards was picked off by Villanova’s Kaitlyn Orihel with 31 seconds left. The Wildcats capitalized on the momentum and made it a onepoint game thanks to Lucy Olsen’s 3-pointer nine seconds later.
Orihel then fouled Edwards with 10 seconds left to slow time. The Husky power forward went 1 of 2 from the line.
The Wildcats’ final attempt to tie the game failed. Reigning Big East Player of the year and current nation-leading scorer, Siegrist missed a 3pointer with five seconds left. The team rebounded the ball and tried again from deep with Olsen, who missed her shot also.
But it wasn’t until Edscoreless wards closed the game with two free throws with one second left that the Huskies were able to breathe in the win.
UConn led 25-17 after the first quarter, but everything began to fall apart in the second.
Villanova opened with a 7-0 run to make it a onepoint game. UConn called timeout and it was Griffin who broke the Husky drought with a layup in transition at 6:16. Griffin’s bucket sparked an 8-2 UConn run in which the redshirt junior had six points.
“It’s all your composure, your awareness of everything that’s going on and Aubrey’s grown up a lot in that area,” Auriemma said. “I think she’s more aware of what she’s doing, more confident about where ‘I have to go. What I can do.’ Not hesitating which leads to more fouls. So, her maturity has really come at the perfect time for us.”
But Villanova fought back to end the half down by three, scoring 10 points off UConn’s 10 first-half turnovers.
After halftime, it was clear the Huskies’ were worn down. After four games in nine days, the starters were running on fumes — meanwhile, Sunday was Villanova’s first game in nine days.
The Huskies missed their first 10 shots of the third quarter and went for six-and-ahalf minutes until Lou Lopez Sénéchal (6 points, four rebounds in her first game all season not scoring in double figures) made a pair of free throws. UConn didn’t score a field goal until 2:58. UConn finished the third making three of 14 shots while Villanova led by as much as six.
“Today was really the first game all year where we looked really tired,” Auriemma said. “Right after that first quarter, the energy just drained. But, again, somehow, someway, they found a way against a team that wasn’t necessarily going to go away, regardless of what you were doing.”
After Ayanna Patterson played for five-and-a-half minutes in the second quarter, Auriemma didn’t sub out any of his starters at all in the second half.
Villanova expanded its lead to 51-45 with 8 minutes left in the fourth. The Huskies responded with a layup from Edwards and a 3-pointer by Nika Mühl to make it 51-50.
However, then Mühl fouled on the Huskies’ next defensive possession.
Olsen’s free throw for Villanova made it a twopoint game before Griffin, who was playing with four fouls, was able to ignite UConn’s final surge with less than five minutes left.
Dorka Juhász followed Griffin with 16 points and a team-high seven rebounds. Edwards, matched against Siegrist, had 13 and six. While Siegrist led all players with 25 points and eight rebounds.
The Huskies will travel to Rhode Island on Wednesday to face Providence at 7 p.m. (SNY).