Women’s Basketball: No. 9 Huskies advance to Big East Championship behind offensive eruption 

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By Sofia Sawchuk / The Daily Campus

In both of their regular season meetings, the Marquette Golden Eagles applied physical pressure and used their defense to limit the No. 9 UConn women’s basketball team to a 13-point win and a seven-point loss. With a trip to the Big East Championship game on the line, UConn grabbed revenge from what head coach Geno Auriemma called the team’s lowest part of the season and used a white-hot offense to solve Marquette’s aggressive style of play for an 81-52 victory. In a game where all but one available player made a bucket, the Huskies crossed the 80-point mark for the first time since Jan. 26 and never trailed, leading by as much as 33. 

“Playing a regular season game in February, that is one thing,” Auriemma said. “Playing a tournament in March, that is a whole different mindset.” 

Both Aaliyah Edwards and Dorka Juhasz further improved their chances of making the All-Big East Tournament Team as they recorded a double-double in their second straight game. Edwards crossed the 20-point mark for the 13th time this season with 12 rebounds while Juhasz added 11 points and three blocks to her 14 points, but they were not alone in that venture. Big East Defensive Player of the Year Nika Muhl had just one defensive rebound and two total boards but scored 11 points and collected 10 assists for her second career double-double. 

UConn scored first like it did in their first two meetings, but Marquette answered immediately as Liza Karlen scored on the very next possession. Facing the adversity, the Huskies broke out to a 7-0 run in over two minutes and the Golden Eagles could never tie the game from there. Not even a Marquette timeout at the tail end of that run stopped Connecticut as they limited them to 10 points in the final six minutes and forced four turnovers. 

The Golden Eagles are known for their physical play and tough defense, and that helped cut into UConn’s lead during a four-minute stretch in the second quarter where it went on an 8-0 run. Coming out of the media timeout in that frame however, Connecticut dashed Marquette’s hopes of coming back for a second straight tournament game as they ended the half on a 12-2 run. The Huskies made the Golden Eagles pay the price for their aggressive play by rejecting shots and pushing them over the limit with multiple offensive fouls. 

La Chapell drew first blood to begin the second half, but UConn’s offense continued to produce and pull further away throughout the duration of the third quarter. It started with a 6-0 run as the Huskies made multiple jumpers and carried over into a 7-0 run after Jordan King buried a long two. Even with Makenzie Hare burying two triples as part of the team’s 14 points in the period, Connecticut’s defense kept Marquette off the board for multiple stretches that almost lasted two minutes long. 

Not much needed to happen in the final frame as the Huskies scored as many points through three quarters as they did in their first meeting against the Golden Eagles, but the offense kept piling it on. On five continuous possessions, Ines Bettencourt blocked a shot, missed a layup, forced a steal and buried a three that brought the UConn-heavy crowd to their feet. That was one of many fourth quarter highlights in a 20-point frame as Connecticut advanced to their 19th consecutive conference tournament championship game. 

Lopez Senechal finished with 14 points, 10 of which came in the first half, in 25 minutes on 5-11 shooting and two threes while Griffin finished three boards away from a double-double to go alongside 11 points and four steals. UConn as a team shot 49% from the field, had almost many points in the paint as Marquette had the entire game and outrebounded them 45-32. 

One day removed from scoring 34 combined points, King and Chloe Marotta were limited to seven total points and a 3-24 clip with one three. Liza Karlen scored 18 points on 7-12 shooting with two blocks while Hare finished with 15 and four triples off the bench. In the postgame press conference, head coach Megan Duffy acknowledged how different their games against Connecticut in the regular season were compared to the Big East Tournament semifinal contest. 

“That was the UConn of March we are used to seeing.” 

LOOKING AHEAD 

As of 5 p.m. on Sunday, the Huskies will play one of the No. 11 Villanova Wildcats or the Creighton Blue Jays in the Big East Championship game in the hopes of winning their 21st Big East Tournament title. UConn went 4-0 against both opponents, but even with the revenge game out of the way, both foes will bring their A-game with the tournament title and the automatic bid at stake. 

A last-second free throw from Lucy Olsen helped the Wildcats rally late in regulation against the DePaul Blue Demons in the quarterfinals for a one-point win. While Olsen is productive herself, no one has been more dominant offensively during the season than Maddy Siegrist, who leads the nation with 28.9 ppg while scoring at least 21 points in every single contest. Villanova is hoping to win their first conference tournament title since 2003. 

The Blue Jays beat the Seton Hall Pirates in the quarterfinals after Morgan Maly beat the overtime buzzer. Maly is one of two players averaging 15 points alongside Lauren Jensen with both juniors shooting better than 44% from the field. Creighton is looking for their first Big East Tournament title in program history and their first conference tournament championship since winning the Missouri Valley Conference in 2012. 

Tipoff at Mohegan Sun Arena is scheduled for 7 p.m. on FS1. Although both teams appear to be locks in this year’s March Madness, the winner officially clinches their spot in the tournament with the automatic bid. 

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