They say it’s not about how you start, but how you finish. Wearing their gray jerseys for the first time this season, the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team flipped that script in the Big East semifinals against the Marquette Golden Eagles.
The opening 2:06 belonged to the Huskies as they made their first three field goals, forcing Marquette to use an early timeout. Despite a strong response from the timeout by Marquette, the UConn defense was too much to handle as the Huskies closed out the quarter on a 7-0 run and leading 22-6.
Christyn Williams controlled the frame, scoring eight first-quarter points on 4-5 shooting. With one more field goal and a free throw in the second, Williams finished with 11 points in the first half on 5-7 shooting.
“If you’re a senior at UConn, you need to impact every game you play. Christyn is a very streaky player,” head coach Geno Auriemma commented. “To start the game like that, she’s the perfect candidate …”
The Huskies added on to their run in the second quarter. By the time Liza Karlen ended the run with a jumper, the Huskies had gone on an 18-0 run in the span of 7:12. During that run, Evina Westbrook scored field goals on back-to-back attempts and Dorka Juhasz added another three-pointer as the Huskies nearly put this game out of reach.
One thing that helped Marquette against DePaul was their fighting spirit. That spirit propelled the Golden Eagles to score 10 points in the second half of the frame as they made their first two three-pointers of the game and piled on the rebounds. Despite everything Marquette did to cut the deficit, including a half-court attempt at the buzzer, the Huskies were up 39-18 at the break.
Williams led the team in scoring after 20 minutes, but Aaliyah Edwards brought the defense, grabbing seven boards to go alongside her six points.
After being shutout in the first half, Lauren Van Kleunen came alive, scoring the Golden Eagles’ first seven points of the third quarter. Chloe Marotta scored on the fast break to put the Golden Eagles on a 9-4 run to start the frame, but the Huskies let the defense do the dirty work from there.
Amid a 12-0 Husky run that included two threes by Westbrook, UConn’s defense forced five rebounds and came up with one steal while Marquette missed six shots. Paige Bueckers got in on the action as she scored in the paint for her only points of the afternoon.
Marquette had the hotter hand in the fourth quarter, making five of their first six field goal attempts. The Huskies seemed to get back into a rhythm in the final frame, as Williams and Juhasz scored on consecutive possessions, but it would be their final field goal until Westbrook’s three-pointer in the final minute.
The Golden Eagles did not make a field goal in the final 2:49, converting four free throws in that span, as UConn advanced to their 18th consecutive conference championship final 71-51. With the 20-point victory, the Huskies extended their streak of winning by 20+ points to seven games.
Both teams dropped over 85 points in their quarterfinal contests, something neither team did in both of their head-to-head regular season meetings. As fate and defense would have it, neither team got to 75.
Westbrook led the Huskies with 14 off the bench going 5-9 from the field and 3-4 from beyond the arc.
“She’s doing a little bit of everything, and that’s a lot better than a lot of nothing,” Auriemma commented on Westbrook’s play.
Williams and Juhasz finished with 13 points apiece and missed four combined field goal attempts (Juhasz went 4-5 from the field, Williams went 6-9) while Olivia Nelson-Ododa contributed with eight points and seven boards on 4-7 shooting.
“We know we’re going to get [points], we just don’t know from where,” Auriemma stated on the team’s scoring depth. This is the fourth consecutive game a different Husky led the team in points.
For the second straight game, Edwards scored over five points and grabbed over 10 boards, finishing with eight points and 11 rebounds, two points shy of a double-double.
“It’s just the way she looks and the way it feels when she’s out there,” Auriemma commented about Edwards’ latest stretch of games. “She’s playing better and getting more things accomplished.”
Efficiency was a critical factor in this contest. Marquette missed 23 shots in their win over DePaul, a game in which they scored 105 points, but missed 44 against UConn. UConn also outrebounded Marquette 41-33.
“Their defense was tremendous,” Marquette head coach Meghan Duffy noted. “They got anything they wanted in the first quarter, and then we couldn’t quite recover.”
The Huskies clash with the No. 2 seeded Villanova Wildcats tonight for the Big East championship. The Wildcats are coming off a 64-55 victory against the Seton Hall Pirates in the semifinals and are the only team in the last nine seasons to beat the Huskies in conference play. UConn is going for their 20th tournament title and second in a row while Villanova is going for their fourth title overall and first since 2003.
Maddy Siegrist, the Big East Player of the Year, led the Wildcats with 24 points and 14 rebounds in the win, close to or above her season averages of 26.4 PPG and 9.7 RPG. Brianna Herlihy finished with 17 points and eight rebounds, which were also close to her averages of 10.8 PPG and 8.4 RPG. The Wildcats also rely on co-Big East Most Improved Player Lior Garzon (13.9 PPG) for their offense, as she shoots 30%from downtown. Villanova averages 66.4 PPG, and with UConn averaging 74.9 PPG, the stakes are set for a high-scoring war.
The contest will tip off at 8 p.m. on FS1 with live stats provided by StatBroadcast.