December 22, 2022 

Around the BIG EAST: UConn’s reinforcements return, St. John’s can’t be beat

It's an exciting season so far in the BIG EAST conference, and there's more to come

The end of the year may be near, but BIG EAST conference play is just picking up. With the start of holiday break on Dec. 22, and no games for BIG EAST teams until Dec. 28, let’s take stock of where things are at so far this season, some recent highlights and what’s ahead for the conference.

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UConn victory, Villanova defeat in Hall of Fame showcase

It was a BIG EAST double header at Mohegan Sun arena on Sunday. As part of the Hall of Fame women’s showcase, two games were featured on national television, and both games included BIG EAST programs. In game one, UConn took down Florida State 85-77. In game two, Villanova fell 74-62 to Iowa State.

Mühl and Juhász return

For UConn, the game against Florida State featured the return of two UConn players who are critical to the team’s success: forward Dorka Juhász and guard Nika Mühl.

Juhász, who last played in a Nov. 14 matchup against Texas, came out with a strong return performance, contributing 15 points, nine rebounds and a career-high five blocks. Her return as a 6’5 post presence also opened up some spacing on the offense for Aaliyah Edwards to find her rhythm. Edwards scored a career-high 26 points and pulled down seven rebounds.

“Having [Dorka] on the floor just opens up space for everybody, because she’s so versatile, you know, she can shoot, she can get in there, you know, spark the offense. She had five blocks today, that’s all I’m saying … So having her back is amazing,” teammate Nika Mühl said postgame.

Nika Mühl also returned to action for UConn against Florida State, after missing a game to concussion protocol last week. She did Nika things, dishing out 12 assists and adding six points and six rebounds. Her consistent level of play on both ends of the court for 40 minutes helped stabilize Connecticut. With Nika handling point guard responsibilities, Lou Lopez Sénéchal was free to find her shot. Lopez Sénéchal was UConn’s second-leading scorer with 23 points.

Overall, Nika and Dorka’s successful returns are a good sign heading into holiday break. The Huskies need to watch their turnovers though. To date, they average 17.6 turnovers per game. As players have rotated in and out of the lineup with injuries, UConn has demonstrated some sloppy play that leads to opponent baskets on the other end. Headed back to conference play after the break, the Huskies will need to demonstrate more discipline and consistency to avoid turning the ball over.

Siegrist shines in loss

Villanova could not complete the BIG EAST sweep at the Hall of Fame women’s showcase, despite Maddy Siegrist’s best efforts.

Iowa State seemed to be in control from the jump in this match-up, pressuring Villanova on the defensive end and getting the Wildcats out of their offensive rhythm. The Cyclones had five players in double-figures, while Villanova only had two players that scored above five points, Maddy Siegrist (32 points) and Lucy Olsen (14 points).

For Siegrist, the tournament was a chance to showcase her talent to a national audience. And she did not disappoint. In addition to 32 points, Siegrist also added 12 rebounds and four blocks for the Wildcats.

“I always tell [Maddy], ‘Sky’s the limit,’” Villanova head coach Denise Dillon said. “Her drive, her work ethic, and her commitment shows, and she gets results because of it.”

Maddy shined for the Wildcats, clinching her fifth double-double of the season. For Villanova to win against top teams in the country, though, others will need to step up. Defensive pressure on Siegrist opens up teammates on the offensive end, and they need to take and hit those shots to increase the Wildcats’ offensive efficiency. Throughout much of the game, Villanova simply looked out of sorts against the Cyclones while trying to find offensive rhythm.

“As a coach, I just feel like I need to do a better job having them prepared for what they’re going to face in a game like this,” Dillon said. “We had a week to practice against tendencies … but I think just doing a better job of mental preparation.”

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Red Storm are red hot

St. John’s women’s basketball is having an historic year, starting with a program-best 12-0 record to kick off the 2022-23 season. On Monday, the Red Storm entered the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2015.

The Red Storm are a perfect 3-0 to start conference play this season. Senior guards Jayla Everett (16.8 points per game) and Kadaja Bailey (13.9 points per game) lead a balanced scoring effort this season for St. John’s, whose resume includes a 66-62 over nationally-ranked Creighton. For a team that was projected this preseason to finish the BIG EAST at No. 7, the Red Storm appear to be exceeding expectations to date.

As conference play continues, keep an eye on St. Johns to see if its historic run can continue. St. John’s head coach Joe Tartamella, the winningest coach in program history, is proud that the Red Storm are being acknowledged on the national level.

“It’s great to be recognized and I’m proud for our kids,” Tartamella said. “We know we have a long way to go in the year. Obviously to be recognized nationally, you can’t take that for granted. It’s been a while and to know this group got us back in is pretty cool.”

‘Not able to look past anybody’

After a week-long break, BIG EAST conference play resumes on Dec. 28, and the competition will be fierce. To end the year, the following games remain to be played between BIG EAST foes:

Dec. 28Wed.8:30 p.m.UConnCreightonSNY
Dec. 31Sat.4 p.m.CreightonDePaulFOX
Dec. 31Sat.NoonMarquetteUConnSNY

UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey (affectionately known as CD) has served as head coach in her team’s last two matchups as head coach Geno Auriemma recovered from an illness. CD knows there are no easy games in the BIG EAST conference, even for the preseason favorite Huskies.

“It’s just a matter of every year [the conference] getting better … we’re not able to look past anybody … You know, we get to … play at Creighton and then Marquette at home. So there are no easy games. And that’s a good thing. I think kids come to Connecticut to play in those kinds of games; people, they understand that. I think one of them said, ‘the hate is real.’ So for us, you know, our players understand that when they come to UConn, there’s a target on their back. And people love to see us lose.”

UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey

It’s an exciting season so far in the BIG EAST conference, and there is more to come. Talent runs deeper than ever, the coaching is excellent and there are multiple teams contending for the title.

Written by Tee Baker

Tee has been a contributor to The Next since March Madness 2021 and is currently a contributing editor, BIG EAST beat reporter and curator of historical deep dives.

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