February 10, 2022 

How Villanova snapped UConn’s historic conference winning streak

And what it means for a crowded BIG EAST race

HARTFORD — The Villanova Wildcats were not intimidated by an XL Center crowd poised to cheer their hometown Huskies to their 170th consecutive conference win.

UConn fans, who traditionally stand until Connecticut scores its first bucket of the game, remained on their feet as Villanova junior sensation Maddy Siegrist coolly slid into the post to hit a layup under a minute into the game. As the early minutes of the game progressed, the Wildcats’ lead ballooned to 25-15 at the end of quarter one.

Villanova would not lose the lead for the rest of the game, handing the Huskies their first conference defeat since a 61-59 loss to Notre Dame on March 12, 2013.

“They played harder than us. They played smarter than us. They beat us to every loose ball. They rebounded better than us. They made more shots than us. So you don’t win games just because you show up, you know, you actually have to win the game. And today Villanova came in here and won the game,” said UConn head coach Geno Auriemma.

UConn has been simply dominant in conference play. As members of the BIG EAST conference from 1982-2013, the Huskies won 19 regular season and 18 conference tournament titles. While in the American Athletic Conference (AAC) from 2013-2020, Connecticut posted a resounding 139-0 record in regular season and conference tournament games.

When the Huskies re-joined the BIG EAST last season, it was more of the same. They went undefeated in conference play and clinched the regular season and conference tournament titles.

On Wednesday evening, UConn tasted the bitterness of a conference defeat for the first time in eight seasons.

”I could speak to them just being their second year in the BIG EAST,” Villanova head coach Denise Dillon said. “I think just trying to embrace opportunity when it presents itself…every practice and game plan is to prepare against the best, for sure. And UConn has proven to be that team.”


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The Siegrist effect

Maddy Siegrist occupies rarified air in the BIG EAST. After leading the conference in points and rebounds last season, Siegrist joined Minnesota Lynx forward Angel McCoughtry (Louisville; 2008-09, 2007-08, 2006-07) and five-time WNBA champion Rebekkah Brunson (Georgetown; 2003-04) as the only players to achieve the feat in BIG EAST history.

Siegrist, who is on both the Katrina McClain and Wade Trophy Award watch lists, isn’t the type relish in individual recognition, though.

“You know, you try not to worry about that stuff during the season and read into it too much,” Siegrist said. “But whatever your team needs—my team needed me to rebound today—so that was the emphasis. And then you reflect on [individual accomplishments] in April or May. But you got to get ready for March.”

When Siegrist was sidelined with an injury earlier this season, the Wildcats went 3-3. With her in the line-up, they have a 13-3 record, currently riding an eight-game winning streak.

“I do feel Maddy has proven her progression and shown what she does for our team,” said Villanova coach Denise Dillon. “I think it’s tremendous what she does for our team off the court…her impact while she wasn’t playing leads us to this win right here…And then as soon as she got back, and then she was off and running. So just showing so many different sides of her game. You see stats of rebounding and scoring, but I think the passing and her defense has jumped immensely and I think on the national scale that has to be recognized.”

Connecticut roster woes persist

Moments before tipoff, UConn head coach Geno Auriemma learned that senior starter Olivia Nelson-Ododa wasn’t available to play.

”Liv let us know after we put the names in the book that she wasn’t gonna be able to go today which, you know, kind of catches you by surprise a little bit,” Auriemma said.

Auriemma did not specify the reason Nelson-Ododa was unavailable to play. With freshman Caroline Ducharme sitting out a second consecutive game as a precautionary measure related to a head injury, UConn was once again working with a limited roster.

“I mean with guys being out, we’re not gonna use that as an excuse,” said UConn senior Christyn Williams. “We have guys that can play. As long as we have five, we should be ready to go.”

For Auriemma, roster challenges are nothing he hasn’t experienced before. And he knows that his program hasn’t been the only one impacted by tremendous roster inconsistencies during the COVID-19 pandemic over the past two seasons.

”I think the circumstances, you know, being what they have been the last two years…The roller coaster goes down and then it goes back up. And while you’re down, you’re down. And when you’re going back up you feel like you’re on top of the world. The problem is staying there has become more challenging. So I always know when it’s down, it’s going to go back up. Is it fun to be in that situation? No, it’s not. But every coach in the country has gone through this.”

BIG EAST standings

Next on the schedule for both the Huskies and the Wildcats are match-ups with critical conference tournament seeding implications.

On Friday, the DePaul Blue Demons, second in the BIG EAST at 11-3, travel to Storrs to face off against first-place Connecticut at 9-1 in conference play. The Huskies beat DePaul in a 80-78 nail-biter during the teams’ most recent meet-up two weeks ago. The Blue Demons are looking to break another one of the Huskies’ active streaks, 1,043 consecutive games without back-to-back losses.

The Wildcats return home on Friday to face Marquette. The teams have identical 10-3 records in the conference. Both teams are riding win streaks (Villanova, 8 games; Marquette, 6 games) and hope to advance in the BIG EAST rankings.

Written by Tee Baker

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