“Defense wins championships.”
That simple quote has become one of dynasties. From Bear Bryant’s head coaching career at Alabama, to Michael Jordan’s first 3-peat with the Chicago Bulls, and now of Geno Auriemma and UConn, who in their first year back in the Big East since 2013, put together their best defensive stretch of the year, clinching the Big East Tournament Championship with a dominant 73-39 win over Marquette.
“I’ve never been more proud of any team, to be honest with you,” head coach Geno Auriemma said after the win. “I don’t remember quite a spontaneous and joyful celebration that these kids had… These young kids that have come in, they’ve reinvigorated everyone associated with our program. They are really unique kids and I’m really happy for them.”
In their first two quarters in the Big East Tournament, the Huskies outscored opponents by a combined 43-16, getting off to scorching hot starts on both ends of the floor, and last night’s championship matchup was no different.
Behind continued excellence from Christyn Williams, the Huskies got off to a 12-2 start that would end in a 29-10 first quarter lead. It was the smoothest UConn had looked offensively and toughest they looked defensively all tournament, shooting 12/7 in the quarter to go along with five 3-pointers and holding the Golden Eagles to just 5/17 shooting.
Williams paced all scorers after one and would finish with the second highest point-total for the Huskies with 16. Auriemma said the junior captain is getting hot at the perfect time and played as big a part in the team’s postseason success as anyone.
“Christyn hasn’t had the kind of year she wanted to have, [so] for her to come out here and do an amazing job on the three best players this weekend and still play at a real high level at the offensive end… as much as Paige was MVP, I thought Christyn could have been just as well,” Auriemma said.
As the head coach mentioned, however, the big name of the night was Paige Bueckers, who added to her already impressive trophy collection, earning the Big East Tournament Most Outstanding Player after averaging 19.3 points, five assists and 1.7 steals in UConn’s three games.
The freshman saved her best performance for last, though, going off for a game-high 23 points on 10/15 shooting to go along with six rebounds and four assists. Auriemma gave Bueckers the highest praise he could after another stretch of great games.
“She’s a great teammate because she’s a great human being,” Auriemma said. “She’s one of those kids that gets the big picture and understands the purpose of being on a team.”
This win wraps up an incredibly impressive run of games for the Huskies, who outscored their opponents 234-119 and held all three teams — including two of the most impressive offenses in the conference — to a combined 27% from the field and 20% from 3-point land.
“We’re just playing really good basketball right now, and it obviously starts at the defensive end for us,” Bueckers said. “That’s been a huge key and ever since we lost, we just tried to really focus and hone in on that and with that being our main focus it’s really helped us offensively as well. Our sense of urgency is really high right now and we know that there’s little room for mistakes going into March.”
But after the final buzzer sounded and the confetti was shot out of the cannons, the atmosphere of urgency changed, even if just for a short time, from one fueled by competition to one of camaraderie, friendship and unadulterated happiness that these players fought for unlike any UConn team has before. It was an atmosphere they’ll be sure never to forget.
“It was really fun,” Bueckers said. “That’s just kinda the team we are, we’re all about having fun. You see it on the court as well but off the court is a whole different level. Obviously winning that championship was a whole lot of fun so we just kind of showed it and we wanted to get everyone involved… We just want to enjoy the moment as much as we can especially in times like these.”
This article was updated at 9:10 a.m. on March 9, 2020.