The Wildcats Fall 81 – 60 to the Huskies at the Finneran Pavilion
VILLANOVA, PA. 1/31/2024 –
The nationally ranked UConn Huskies came to the Main Line. They were coming off a loss. Time for the Villanova Wildcats to make some noise in front of 4,109 home fans. Wildcats guard Lucy Olsen said it is more fun to play a ranked team at a crowded home venue. And for the first half the Wildcats and the Huskies fought like Cats and Dogs.
Then in the second half #10/11 UConn asserted themselves both on offense and especially on defense winning 81 – 60 going away limiting Villanova to 24 second half points.
All through the game Connecticut played the game where they wanted to, close to the basket and won it in the fifteen-foot distance around the hoop, the paint by a 44 -22 margin. Huskies forward Aaliyah Edwards scored a game-high 22 points and pulled down a contest-best 8 rebounds.
“Obviously, Aaliyah Edwards is a force to be reckoned with,” said Villanova Coach Denise Dillon. “It’s not a team you can double off in the post with a player like Edwards with all the threats they have on the outside. You’re counting on one on one coverage, but just a little bit better with position in the post.”
Inside Game Favors the Huskies
Connecticut did not pound the ball inside as much as the ball moved and got the guards in position to drive to the basket. Of the 56 field goal attempts they took 40 came from inside the arc, and UConn made 29 of those shots. From distance the Huskies took only 16 and drained 5. Guard Paige Bueckers scored 21 points making 9 of 18 from the floor and just 1 of 5 three-pointers. Edwards was more efficient sinking 9 of 13 shots, all close, and made 4 of 5 from the free throw line. Villanova took 6 more shots, but was successful on 23, and went 6 of 21 from beyond the arc.
Defense Improvement in the Second Half for Connecticut
The differential at halftime was a single point, 37 – 36 UConn. The Wildcats were getting points from Lucy Olsen with 12 in the opening twenty minutes and 11 from guard Maddie Webber. The only points from that duo in the second half was a traditional three-point play from Olsen, who for the game made 6 of 17 attempts and 2 of 4 from distance.
“In the first half we were a little bit lax in keeping Lucy (Olsen) out of the lane,” said UConn Coach Geno Auriemma. “When she gets in the lane, she makes it really difficult. Not just her scoring but with everything else that happens. She controls the ball so much in their offense.”
In that second half of play Nova converted 10 of 30 shots and of the 8 three-pointers taken, only 2 went in the basket, both by forward Kaitlyn Orihel. The Huskies did so by focusing on Olsen and changing the match-ups on her.
“She knew what to expect and they mixed it up a little, it was not just Muhl,” Dillon said about the UConn defensive strategy. “They will switch the screens aggressively to keep the ball out of her hands.”
“They made some nice adjustments,” Olsen observed. “I think Maddie Webber and I got too caught up in the speed. We weren’t changing pace like we did in the first half. We weren’t using each other. They made adjustments and we didn’t. Their defense is pretty good.”
Key Run of the Game
With 6:35 showing on the clock in the third quarter Villanova guard Zanai Jones hit a short jumper to give her team a 43 – 42 lead. The Wildcats would fall victim to a 14 – 3 run by the Huskies over the next 3:40 to trail by double-digits with 1:40 to go in the third. The only points for Nova came on a three-pointer by Orihel. Connecticut would stretch that lead in the fourth quarter. The largest lead was 21 points for UConn with only 35 ticks on the clock remaining.
“The key is you have to convert offensively,” Auriemma said. “That way you force Villanova to have to make shots. We needed to get some separation and that second half was about as good as you can draw it up.”
What the Numbers Say
Some stats that happened that may not make sense, but they did happen.
Connecticut turned the ball over more than Villanova 13 – 11, but had a 16 – 6 edge in points off turnovers. The Wildcats paid for their mistakes.
Nova got 14 offensive rebounds compared to 10 for UConn. But of those offensive caroms Villanova only got 8 second chance points. Connecticut had 13 second chance points.
Jones was the other double-digit scorer for Nova getting 14 points, and she assisted 4 times while taking down 4 rebounds.
For UConn guard Nika Muhl posted a double-double scoring 12 points and assisting 10 times. It is her third game getting 10 assists. Her season-high is 13 in the win against Providence. Muhl pulled down 5 rebounds. Guard KK Arnold scored 13 points making 5 of 6 from the floor, 2 for 2 from the line, and a three-ball.
Another Home Coming for Auriemma
The UConn coach is from Norristown and a 1981 graduate from West Chester. The trips to the Philadelphia area are a return home. And they are usually tough games especially against Villanova. The Wildcats pose a tough challenge and that has not changed with the transition form Harry Perretta to Dillon.
“I would hate to play them in the NCAA Tournament,” Auriemma said. “I’m just glad it’s over with. I’ve been coming down here for forty years except for the seven we were in the other league. Been down here 35, 36 years or so and hated every one. At least Denise is normal. You can have a conversation with her. The other guy, forget about it.” (followed by a smile and press corps laughter)
And there are other distractions.
“There is going to be friends and family, guys I went to college with who don’t get the chance to see you play in person. So you put more pressure on yourself to want to play well here, knowing it’s going to be different than any other game you’ll play. I would say for Chris Dailey and myself, we appreciate winning here more than anywhere else. It means an awful lot to us.”
Written By: Glenn Papazian