No. 6 UConn wins 20th Big East title, tops Villanova 70-40

March 8, 2022 GMT
Connecticut players celebrate with the championship trophy after defeating Villanova in an NCAA college basketball game in the Big East tournament finals at Mohegan Sun Arena, Monday, March 7, 2022, in Uncasville, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Connecticut players celebrate with the championship trophy after defeating Villanova in an NCAA college basketball game in the Big East tournament finals at Mohegan Sun Arena, Monday, March 7, 2022, in Uncasville, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Connecticut players celebrate with the championship trophy after defeating Villanova in an NCAA college basketball game in the Big East tournament finals at Mohegan Sun Arena, Monday, March 7, 2022, in Uncasville, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
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Connecticut players celebrate with the championship trophy after defeating Villanova in an NCAA college basketball game in the Big East tournament finals at Mohegan Sun Arena, Monday, March 7, 2022, in Uncasville, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
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Connecticut players celebrate with the championship trophy after defeating Villanova in an NCAA college basketball game in the Big East tournament finals at Mohegan Sun Arena, Monday, March 7, 2022, in Uncasville, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) — There wasn’t too much doubt that UConn would win its 20th Big East championship.

Now Geno Auriemma and the Huskies will turn their attention to trying to win a 12th national title. And they’ll need Paige Bueckers to continue to get healthier to do it.

“She’s got a lot of work to do. She has her good days, her bad days,” Auriemma said. “She has her good days mentally, her bad days mentally. My big thing is, yeah, get her physically feeling better. She has to get her mind right now. She hasn’t been in that mode for three moths or whatever it is now. That will be job number one (the) next 10 or 11 days.”

Even without getting much from Bueckers, the Huskies had more than enough to beat Villanova 70-40 on Monday night in the Big East title game and win their ninth straight conference championship — seven coming when they were in the American Athletic Conference.

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Evina Westbrook scored 13 points and No. 6 UConn put forth another dominant defensive effort.

“We are pretty efficient on defense and that’s what we hold ourselves to,” said Aaliyah Edwards, who had 12 points. “Being able to switch one through five is very impactful and shows how aggressive we can be on defense, which leads to being aggressive on offense as well.”

UConn avenged a loss last month to the Wildcats. That three-point defeat ended UConn’s 169-game conference winning streak dating to 2013.

“I think all of us knew in the locker room before the game that it would be a totally different game than the first time,” Westbrook said.

The Huskies (25-5) only had eight healthy players for that game with Bueckers, Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Caroline Ducharme all sidelined. Now the Huskies are healthy and Auriemma has one of his deepest teams over the past two decades.

“We never lost sight of who we are and what we were trying to do,” he said. “Some days it was really bleak. Some days you go to practice and we had five able bodies. ... We knew when these players come back we’ll be whole again.”

That includes bringing Bueckers off the bench. The reigning national player of the year has started only one game since returning from a two-month absence after suffering a left knee injury in December. The sophomore guard played eight minutes Monday night, entering the game for the first time in the second quarter with UConn leading 17-10. She made one of her four shots and finished with two points.

Conference player of the year Maddy Siegrist led the Wildcats (23-8) with 16 points.

“We made shots last time and we didn’t today,” Siegrest said. “I mean defensively, I don’t know what we held them to, but it wasn’t 90, it wasn’t 100. So, they scored the ball, but we just didn’t make shots today.”

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The Huskies extended their advantage to 33-18 at the half, holding the Wildcats to eight field goals in the opening 20 minutes. It was the eighth straight time the Huskies have held their opponent under 20 points in the first half. Only one of those teams finished with more than 49 points.

The Wildcats got within 34-23 in the third quarter before UConn used a 15-3 run to put the game away. The Huskies scored the first seven points in that burst, including back-to-back layups, and led by 23 heading into the final period.

The only real question in the fourth quarter was whether the Huskies would be able to break their own record for fewest points given up in the Big East championship game. UConn beat West Virginia 60-32 in 2010.

Siegrist wouldn’t let that happen, scoring three quick points in a 6-0 run by Villanova early in the fourth.

BIG PICTURE

UConn looks like a threat to win a 12th national championship after going through one of the most difficult seasons of Auriemma’s Hall of Fame career. He said he doesn’t care where the Huskies are seeded and who they play, although the opportunity to be in the Bridgeport Region and not have to leave the state of Connecticut until the Final Four would be appealing to the team and its fans. UConn will most assuredly host the opening two rounds at home.

Villanova last played UConn in the Big East championship game in 2003, when the Wildcats snapped what was then the Huskies’ NCAA-record 70-game winning streak.

UP NEXT

UConn: Awaits to see where it is placed in the NCAA Tournament when the bracket is revealed on Sunday.

Villanova: Hopes to hear its name called when the tournament field is unveiled.

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More AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25