Coming off of their signature win against current No. 13 Tennessee, the No. 8 University of Connecticut Huskies are slated to take on Maddy Siegrist and the Villanova Wildcats. The Wildcats currently sit at fourth in the Big East with a 9-3 conference record, behind just UConn, DePaul and Marquette. Villanova has generally had a successful season so far at 15-6, but this is ultimately is not enough to crack ESPN’s bracketology field.
The Wildcats have won eight straight games, all in conference, with one of those wins coming against Creighton. Villanova started out the season losing its first two games against formidable opponents, the first being Princeton, which sits atop the Ivy League and is firmly in the NCAA tournament race. The second was No. 15 Maryland, which is in a tight race towards the top of the Big Ten. Both games were decided by about 20 points, establishing Villanova’s status as a squad in the 40-60 range–better than most teams, but not quite good enough to compete with teams in the top 30 like Princeton or Maryland.
Villanova’s star is clearly Siegrist, who has been playing at a Big East Player of the Year level, despite missing six games in late November and early December. In the 15 games she has played, the junior forward has averaged 25.7 points and 9.5 boards on 50.2% shooting. Siegrist’s scoring average is good for second in the country, and she’s only gotten better as of late. In her past five games, Siegrist is scoring 30 points and grabbing 9.7 rebounds per game. Siegrist is an easy option for the All-Big East team, and could play herself into some more prestigious all-league honors.
The clear second option for the Wildcats is Lior Garzon, who has also had a solid season. On the year, Garzon scored 14.2 points and 4.2 rebounds, but she really shined during Siegrist’s six-game absence. She scored 20 or more points in three of those games, helping Villanova tread water and stay afloat for that period. Over the past three games, Garzon has averaged just over 20 points per game, really emerging as a three point threat. In that span, she’s gone 11-for-24 from deep, a substantial improvement from her 31.2% season mark.
For the Huskies, they’ll look to just keep doing more of the same. They’ve won their past six games, and are fresh off a massive victory against the No. 13 Tennessee Volunteers, in which Azzi Fudd scored 25 points on 7-for-9 shooting from deep. Fudd could be primed for another big game, with her new confidence to shoot the ball whenever she’s open. This confidence didn’t exist for her previous few games, as she’s been either injured or still acclimating to the college game. Coach Geno Auriemma has continually encouraged the talented freshman to be more aggressive, so it will be interesting to see if Fudd can continue her sharp, high-volume shooting tonight.
Aaliyah Edwards will be a second Husky to watch for, as she had one of her better performances of the season against the Volunteers. Edwards scored 14 points, grabbed four boards and swatted two shots, earning the approval of Auriemma.
“Aaliyah worked real, real hard at the little parts of the game,” Auriemma said postgame. “It doesn’t really matter the number of points you score, but she was active and had a positive impact.”
Edwards has been spotty all season, only scoring in double figures season six times, after averaging 10.7 points last year. If she can find some consistency, the reinvented center could be the championship piece for UConn.
A factor that has yet to be determined, however, is whether Caroline Ducharme will play. The freshman phenom has led the Huskies in scoring a team-high six times this season, but was a last-minute scratch for the Tennessee game after taking a few hits in the previous couple of games. Her status is unknown, but she will certainly give UConn a lift if active.
The game will air on SNY at 7 p.m. and will be played at the XL Center in downtown Hartford.