The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

Lopez Senechal leading the way for Huskies

- By Maggie Vanoni

VILLANOVA, Pa. — Villanova had used a 10-0 run to shrink UConn women’s basketball’s once double-digit lead to three Saturday afternoon.

With about a minute left in the game, the Huskies’ spot atop the Big East standings was on the line.

Lou Lopez Sénéchal hunched down and dribbled the ball. The second she saw Dorka Juhász set the screen, she made her move.

However, the screen didn’t work and Lopez Sénéchal’s defender came sprinting down alongside her as she made her way toward the key. Yet instead of driving to the basket, Lopez Sénéchal stopped short and leaped up for the jumper to extend UConn’s lead and dismantle the Wildcats for good.

“I just tried to get some arc to it because the defender came back,” Lopez Sénéchal said. “I didn’t think too much about it, to be honest. I just tried to make the shot.”

Lopez Sénéchal led all players Saturday with 22 points in the No. 6-ranked Huskies’ 60-51 win at No. 14 Villanova.

The grad transfer from Fairfield has become one of UConn’s brightest spots this season, proving that mid-major stars like Lopez Sénéchal — the 202122 MAAC Player of the Year — have what it takes to play on the sport’s biggest stage. While her role with the Huskies may have been different if the program hadn’t yet again gone through another season of injuries, Lopez Sénéchal

has led the team all season, especially during tight games when it matters the most.

“For somebody who just came into our program in June, I think she’s been absolutely remarkable,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “I know we’re missing a lot of good players, but if we don’t have Lou, I’d hate to think of where we’d be.”

Three weeks ago, Lopez Sénéchal led UConn with a season-high 26 points (on a 68.7% field goal percentage) in its win at long

time rival Tennessee. It was her best performanc­e yet as a Husky.

“She’s not gonna get any All-American votes but I don’t know anybody that’s been more important to any team in America than she’s been to us,” Auriemma said after the game in Knoxville, Tennessee.

However, against Villanova in Hartford three days later, Lopez Sénéchal had her worst showing in a UConn uniform. The Wildcats’ defense targeted her all night and forced her into a season-low shooting performanc­e. Lopez Sénéchal went 2 of 13 from the floor for just six points — her first game all year not scoring in double-figures. The last time she scored in single digits was on Feb. 17, 2022, scoring eight points for Fairfield in a 59-54 overtime win over Quinnipiac.

She began to get her grove back slowly over the next few games. Against top-ranked South Carolina, Lopez Sénéchal had 19 points on 7 of 15 shooting.

Yet defenses had already begun to make stopping Lopez Sénéchal their focal point against UConn. She became doubled, sometimes tripled team when driving to the basket as players played more physically against her. Against the Gamecocks, Auriemma was so fed up with watching her get beat up and the officials not calling fouls that he slammed a water bottle onto the court.

UConn nearly lost a third-straight game at Georgetown on Feb. 11 with the Hoyas getting as close as four with less than 30 seconds left. Georgetown’s defense took Lopez Sénéchal out of the game. She went 0 of 4 from deep, fouled out for the second time this season and had a season-low five points.

“It took its toll a little bit, she wore down,” Auriemma said Saturday. “And when you’re a shooter, you know, you get tired. You start to force a couple of things maybe. And she started to lose her confidence a little bit. And you know, they’re going to come out of it when they’re good enough. So, you just had to wait it out. And I think Lou has played one bad game since she’s been at UConn.”

The fifth-year guard immediatel­y bounced back. In UConn’s next game, she shot 63.6 percent for a game-high 17 points against Creighton.

On Saturday, she wasn’t going to let the Wildcats limit her again.

Lopez Sénéchal was the second player in doublefigu­res and led UConn at halftime with 10 points.

Despite entering the fourth quarter with three fouls, Lopez Senechal was calm and in control.

It was her 3-pointer at 8:54 in the fourth that gave UConn its first doubledigi­t lead of the game. When Villanova made its final move to close UConn’s lead, Auriemma changed his offense to make sure Lopez Sénéchal had room to make a play.

Her jumper with a minute left, sealed the win for the Huskies as Villanova missed its last four shots.

Outside of her gamehigh 22 points, Lopez Sénécahl was the only player with more than one made 3-pointer (she went 3 of 7 from deep) and had four rebounds, two assists and a team-high two steals.

Lopez Sénéchal has started all 28 of UConn’s games this year. She’s attempted the most shots (358) and made the second-most (170). She leads the team (and the Big East) with a 45.9 3-point field goal percentage and is UConn’s active leading scorer (16.3 points per game) and free-throw shooter (86.2 percentage).

While she has less than two months remaining as a Husky, Lopez Sénéchal has already made an impact as one of, if not the, most successful transfers of all time for UConn.

“She’s been carrying us the whole season,” said Juhász, who transferre­d to UConn in 2021 from Ohio State. “... She just, you know, kept staying humble. She went to the gym, she got shots off and she understood that obviously, if shots were not falling for her, she can still contribute by setting screens and helping us get rebounds, getting defensive stuff, and she took on that role. And that’s why she’s a really great player, because some days, you know, it’s not her scoring, but today, we obviously really needed her to step up, score, and help us win this game and she was amazing. So, I’m really proud of her.”

 ?? Terrance Williams/Associated Press ?? UConn forward Lou Lopez Senechal brings the ball upcourt during the first half game against Georgetown on Feb. 11 in Washington.
Terrance Williams/Associated Press UConn forward Lou Lopez Senechal brings the ball upcourt during the first half game against Georgetown on Feb. 11 in Washington.
 ?? Jessica Hill/Associated Press ?? UConn’s Lou Lopez Senechal shoots against Creighton during the second half on Wednesday in Storrs.
Jessica Hill/Associated Press UConn’s Lou Lopez Senechal shoots against Creighton during the second half on Wednesday in Storrs.

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