VILLANOVA, January 14, 2012 – When the Villanova Wildcats Women’s basketball team took the floor against the #3 University of Connecticut Huskies they looked to see how much they have grown as a team. This game would be a measuring stick. Villanova had not beaten Connecticut in eight tries. The last Villanova victory was in February of 2004. The last two games were dominated by UConn although this years squad is not as experienced. However, the Wildcats know they are growing as a team even though the losing streak is now nine games as UConn takes a 72 – 49 win at the Pavilion. The game was closer than the final score indicated.
“I thought we executed our stuff well,” said Villanova Coach Harry Perretta. “We got shots, something we haven’t been able to do against them for a long time. The game helped us a great deal, and it helped their younger players as well. We tried to do certain things, but in the end we can’t sustain those things for forty minutes. They disrupted us with their press. I told our kids that we competed, and it was fun.”
The start of the game would be important for the Wildcats. Villanova appeared to be able to play with UConn. In the first five minutes UConn led 11 – 7. Villanova began a run when Senior guard Lindsay Kimmel made consecutive threes to give her team a 13- 11 team. On the inbounds pass following that basket, Senior forward Laura Sweeney stole the pass and made a reverse layup giving Villanova a 15 – 11 lead with 13 minutes to play.
“I looked up and said ‘wow’ we’re winning,” said Junior guard Rachel Roberts. “We said we can stay in this game, we can play with these girls. We used to feel like we were being dominated by them. Maya Moore and Tina Charles literally destroyed us. In this game even though we were more mature and have composure when we play. It was nice to look up at the scoreboard and say we’re still in this game, and have a fighting spirit.”
Sensing the need to make the game faster, UConn played five guards and put on full court pressure. The Huskies turned that pressure into a 21 – 1 run holding the Wildcats without a basket for over nine minutes. The run keyed layups by guard Tiffany Hayes and guard Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis giving UConn a 32 – 17 lead. Villanova committed 11 turnovers in that stretch. The Wildcats broke the streak when Sophomore Devon Kane made a three-pointer with 3:31 left in the half. Not going away Villanova got threes from Redshirt Freshman forward Lauren Burford and Roberts as the teams went into the locker room with UConn leading 37 – 26.
“Once we got the pressure we wanted deep in their back court it unsettled them (Villanova) a little bit,” said UConn Coach Geno Auriemma. “They like to play in a certain rhythm, and we disrupted that. But that is hard to do when you don’t score. When we scored we got in it (the press), and that is what turned the whole game around.”
Villanova committed 23 turnovers in the game which led to a 21 – 7 advantage for UConn in points off turnovers and 9 – 0 in fast break points. Their 15 steals and resulting layups gave the Huskies a 28 – 4 lead in points in the paint. The Wildcats made 11 three-point shots compared to 10 for UConn. The Huskies shot 50% for the game, Villanova 39.5%. The Wildcats had 17 assists on their 17 field goals.
“Their (UConn) defense is stifling, it’s hard to see who is open.” said Roberts. “A lot of us were jumping up and throwing the ball even though we didn’t know who was there. UConn is a team that forces a lot of turnovers, they get a lot of fast break points and layups in the game. Those are the easy baskets that kill you.”
For UConn Hayes led all scorers with 22 points as she made 9 of 14 field goal attempts. Mosqueda-Lewis scored 16 points. Guard Kelly Faris put in 11 points and pulled down 7 rebounds. Hartley had 10 points and 7 assists.
Roberts had a team-high 16 points as she converted 4 of 5 shots from beyond the arc. Burford scored 7 points and took down 6 rebounds.
Villanova was the victim of a team with faster athletes. The Wildcats stayed in this game, especially compared to the last six games against UConn. The Wildcats lost those contests by an average of 39 points. More work needs to be done, but Villanova is getting better as a team. The improvement is there. Coach Harry Perretta sees it. This game pointed that out no matter what the final score said.
We’re so much better than last year, but we slip back into the syndrome of where we were last year where we lose concentration,” said Perretta. “Today we were really focused but we need to understand that you need to be focused not only for UConn, but for every single game.”
Written By: Glenn Papazian