The No. 8 UConn women’s basketball team was riding high after a big win against the Tennessee Lady Volunteers. Azzi Fudd was electric, scoring a career-high 25 points on seven three-pointers in her first career start.
The Huskies dominated the game without both Paige Bueckers and Caroline Ducharme, who was unavailable as a precaution. Little did everyone know that things would spiral afterward.
Minutes before tipoff against the Villanova Wildcats, the Huskies announced a change to their starting lineup as Evina Westbrook replaced Olivia Nelson-Ododa. There are no specifics currently as to why she did not play. Regardless, this was a huge loss against a rebound-heavy team.
The Wildcats controlled the tempo from the start. After a jumper by Fudd, Villanova reeled off a 10-0 run behind Big East Player of the Week Maddy Siegrist and Lior Garzon. UConn spent the rest of the quarter responding, but every time they made a shot, Villanova came back with one of their own.
This back-and-forth pattern ended when Christyn Williams and Aaliyah Edwards put the Huskies on a 5-0 run with all the momentum on their side. That momentum continued in the second quarter as the Huskies cut the deficit to five points behind a flurry of jumpers that got the crowd going.
UConn got the deficit down to five points multiple times but every time they did, Villanova went back to what worked in the first quarter, responding to every Husky bucket. Whether it was a pullup jumper or a driving layup, the Wildcats knew how to respond. Down 41-34 at the half, the Huskies needed to fight back.
The wheels fell off the in the third quarter. Almost 96 seconds into the half, Edwards picked up her fourth foul, but that was just the beginning. Villanova, who had secured 18 rebounds by halftime, got to work extending the lead. UConn had made it a six-point game before two Wildcat buckets stretched the lead out to 11.
After a two-minute scoring drought highlighted by rebounds, jumpers and fouls, Brooke Mullin made a turnaround jumper to extend the lead to 13. Fudd cut the lead down to 10 with a three-pointer before Villanova scored nine unanswered points on three buckets from downtown.
Now down by 19, the Huskies desperately had to respond. Fudd drained her second three-pointer of the quarter, but Villanova answered in the paint to go up 17 with 10 minutes to play.
The fourth quarter is when things changed. Williams and Fudd scored four points for the Huskies’ within the first 90 seconds of the frame. Fudd’s shots at the line came after Siegrist was assessed an intentional foul. Neither team scored until the four-minute mark when the Huskies’ offense woke up.
For the first time since the third minute of the second quarter, the Huskies scored on back-to-back shots. The Huskies, now down by 10 with two minutes to go, were not done yet. Fudd made a driving layup off a turnover less than 15 seconds later to trim the lead to single digits for the first time since the second frame.
One thing that made this game closer at times was free throw shooting. UConn finished a perfect 5-5 from the line while Villanova shot 4-12. In the fourth quarter alone, the Wildcats made three out of 10 shots from the charity stripe.
Brianna Herlihy scored in the paint with 1:26 to play, but that was the Wildcats’ last field goal of the game. Their defense would need to finish the job, but was not up to the task as Fudd and Williams made critical layups to make it a six-point game with 56 seconds left. After being down so much, the Huskies had a chance to do something special.
Lucy Olsen went 1-2 from the line a second later, and it led to Fudd finding the bucket in the paint again to cut the deficit to five. Williams made two free throws to cut the lead down to four and had a chance to make it a one-possession game, but her jumper did not go in.
The Huskies had their chance with nine seconds left as Fudd made a layup after Edwards had fouled out and Villanova missed the ensuing free throws. Fudd had to foul with two seconds remaining, but two more missed Wildcat free throws gave UConn one last chance.
Despite doing everything right in the fourth quarter, the Huskies came up short as Westbrook’s shot was not released in time, causing Villanova to walk out of the XL Center with a 72-69 upset. It was the Huskies’ first Big East loss in 10 years, when they lost to Notre Dame in the 2013 Big East Championship game.
Fudd scored 29 points on 11-20 shooting with four three-pointers. Williams was not far behind with 24 points on 9-15 shooting. They were the only two players to score in double figures.
“I thought except for the last three minutes, we didn’t do anything to deserve to win that game.”Head Coach Geno Auriemma
“I thought except for the last three minutes, we didn’t do anything to deserve to win that game,” Head Coach Geno Auriemma told the press.
“As long as we have five, we should be ready to go,” Williams told the press with regards to the team’s adversity.
Villanova was one step ahead of the Huskies. Siegrist had 17 points, but Garzon stole the show with 19 points while going 5-10 from behind the arc. Two other players, Herlihy and Olsen, scored 15 and 11 respectively.
The Wildcats dominated the glass, taking advantage of Nelson-Ododa’s absence and outrebounding the Huskies 37-21. The Wildcats collected so many chances as they outrebounded UConn offensively 12-4 despite only scoring four second-chance points.
The Huskies (15-5, 9-1 Big East) will look to rebound against the DePaul Blue Demons this Friday from the Harry A. Gampel Pavilion at 7 p.m. on SNY and the UConn Sports Network. Live stats are available through StatBroadcast.