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Home College For the third time this season, UConn’s one-loss record is on the...

For the third time this season, UConn’s one-loss record is on the line

Villanova players celebrate after taking down No. 8 UConn. NCAA photo.
Villanova players celebrate after taking down No. 8 UConn. NCAA photo.

Villanova’s upset of No. 8 UConn last night was far more one-sided than the 72-69 result indicates.

The Wildcats outplayed the Huskies in every aspect of the game for 37 minutes, leading by many as 18 points several times, and by 15 with three minutes remaining. UConn’s furious 17-5 comeback in those last minutes fell short after Christyn Williams missed a contested layup with 13 seconds remaining.

Villanova played like Husky teams of old, controlling the game with crisp passing, constant motion and scoring both in the paint and from beyond the arc, apparently at will. They out-rebounded their opponents 37 to 21, and shot a blistering 51.8 percent for the game and 45.5 percent from three-point range.

“Villanova played great,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “I thought (Wildcat coach) Denise [Dillon] did a great job getting them ready to play. Their game plan was perfect and they executed offensively, perfectly.”

The victory broke the Huskies’ 145-game undefeated conference winning streak. It was also their third loss this year to an unranked team. The last time that happened was 2012.

Dillon became just the second person to defeat an Auriemma-coached team, as both player (with Villanova in the early 90s [“That was a heck of a long time ago,” Dillon said]) and a coach. The other is Dawn Staley, as a player at Virginia in 1994 and coach at South Carolina in 2020 and 2021.

“We put up 72 against UConn,” Dillon said of the win. “Saw a lot of players contributing.”

“We talked about shrinking the scoring gap against UConn. . . . And for these guys to experience such a great win is exciting. And I keep saying that . . . is putting us in the right position as we move forward here in February.”

The Wildcats are now 10-3 in conference and have won eight Big East contests in a row.

On the other end of the spectrum, the blows just keep on coming for the Huskies in an injury-riddled season. Star guard and top scorer Paige Bueckers’ return to play is uncertain, and leading scorer Caroline Ducharme sat out for a second game, apparently for concussion recovery. Then, minutes before tipoff Thursday, leading rebounder and defensive stalwart Olivia Nelson-Ododa was ruled unable to play. That is 43.8 points sitting on the bench.

Nelson-Ododa’s absence was obvious. Without her to rebound and anchor the defense, inspired Villanova spread the floor, drove the lane, and found open players inside and outside. And they hit their shots.

“[They were] just playing loose, like you have to play with our motion offense,” Dillon said.  “It allows many [players] to get looks and they just have to be confident to shoot them.”

“So they were falling. And as we’ve all seen basketball for a long time, you know, you make shots, it becomes contagious. So it worked in our favor there.”

The Wildcats were the more active team from the start, and they never let up. They outscored UConn by 10 in each of the first and third quarters using screens, cuts, and crisp passing for the bulk of the shot clock, and scoring far more often than not.

Four from Villanova – Lucy Olsen, Lior Garzon (5-10 from 3), Brianna Herlihy and Maddy Siegrist) scored in double figures, and the team finished shooting 51.8 percent.

Williams (24) and Azzi Fudd (29) scored 53 of the Huskies’ points, while the remainder of the team was 10-21.

“Well, you have to you have to be able to, to score inside and outside, right?” Auriemma said. “I mean, you’ve got to have some kind of balance in your offense. You can’t rely just on how many jump shots you’re going to make that game to win and if you don’t make the jump shots, you don’t win. And it’s mind boggling that we’re not able to score in the lane more than we do. Really is.”

“It’s got to be a combination inside, outside, and getting to the free throw line and offensive rebounding. And the last couple games especially, we’re more of a just trying to get a jump shot and being content with that, and then not even not even running to try to get an offensive rebound. So it was just a bad performance.”

The inability of UConn to grab any contested rebounds was the most startling aspect of the matchup. The Wildcats finished with a 37-21 advantage on the glass, and 12 offensive rebounds.

There is a tiny bright spot for the Huskies to take from the game: They made a furious attempt to win. Yet, that energy came too late. Down by 15 with three minutes left, the Huskies closed to within four with 26.2 seconds left.

Nika Muhl hit a three, and UConn turned three Villanova turnovers into six points. After two missed free throws by Herlihy, they had a chance to cut it to two or to one, but Williams missed a contested layup. Herlihy was fouled and missed two more, and just 10 seconds remained. Fudd’s drive to the hoop cut the score to two, but the Huskies had to foul again with just 2.1 seconds left. Herlihy made one, and no one could get off a shot at the buzzer. UConn took the fourth quarter 24-10, but, oh, that missed layup!

On the line is one of the more astonishing records in all of basketball. UConn has not lost back to back games since March of 1993 – a streak of 1,043 games.

Two weeks ago, they erased a 16 point deficit to defeat the DePaul Blue Demons, 80-78, on a last second Ducharme layup. If they cannot get healthy, that record is in real jeopardy.

The Huskies face DePaul again tomorrow.

Villanova returns home to face Marquette.

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