UNCASVILLE, Conn. – For nearly 30 years, when the calendar turns to March, Geno Auriemma has UConn ready to play its best on the biggest stage.
This season was one of the most challenging in recent memory for the Hall of Fame coach and his Huskies. The Huskies lost back-to-back games for the first time in three decades and suffered through injury after injury that left them with just seven healthy players some games.
Despite these setbacks, the end result was the same: another Big East tournament title.
Aaliyah Edwards had 19 points and 15 rebounds to lead No. 7 UConn to its 10th straight tournament title with a 67-56 victory over No. 10 Villanova in the championship game on Monday night.
“Well, we talked about it before the game, given everything we’ve been through,” Auriemma said. “I think it gave us a little more resilience, a little more strength. I think we got a little tougher as the season went on. And it showed in those three days. These kids know when it’s March time, they’ve been to a couple of Final Fours. I think there’s a different vibe on our team.”
Dorka Juhasz added 16 points and Lou Lopez Senechal scored 14 for the top-seeded Huskies (29-5), who earned the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. UConn has now won 21 Big East Tournament crowns, including the last three since reclaiming the conference in 2020. Next, the Huskies will look to extend their record run of reaching 14 consecutive Final Fours.
“We’re talented, but we’re disciplined and dedicated to winning,” Edwards said. “It speaks to our standard and to what we are as a program, and we’re a winning program. That’s what we did today.”
The Huskies celebrated by dumping confetti on each other, and Auriemma even showed off her dance moves and did “The Griddy” with her grandchildren. It’s been a tough year for Auriemma personally, as his mother died in December and he had to miss time with an illness.
“So many things happened on and off the court this past season personally, team-wise, everything, to get to this point you want to close that book,” Auriemma said. “And now start a brand new one from next Sunday. That book ended the right way. Lots of action, lots of tragedies, ups and downs. The book ended the right way. Now it’s time for a new one.”
Trailing 22-21 in the second quarter, UConn turned up the defense and outscored Villanova (28-6) 13-2 over the final 6:09 of the half to go up 34-24 at halftime. Edwards, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, had 12 points, making all six of his shots and nine rebounds in the first 20 minutes.
The Huskies put the game away by scoring 22 of the first 29 points in the third quarter to extend the advantage to 25.
It’s been a tough year for the Huskies, who have dealt with a slew of injuries, starting with Paige Bueckers tearing her ACL over the summer. UConn has gotten healthier lately, with Azzi Fudd returning to the Big East Tournament after missing the previous 14 games with a knee injury.
Lopez Senechal and Edwards are the only UConn players to have been in every game this season.
The Huskies lost two conference games for the first time since 2012-13 and suffered back-to-back defeats for the first time since 1992-93.
But UConn has turned it on in March. Monday’s win was a rematch of last season’s championship game, UConn won 70-40. This one was more competitive for half a year, as were the two regular season meets the Huskies won by five and nine.
“I think we’re a team that’s always ready for March,” Lopez Senechal said. “I think even though we have a tough stretch, we knew how to overcome it, we knew how to play together. I think that’s why we’re here right now. I’m super proud of the whole team.”
Villanova was cold from the field early on, making just 6-of-25 (24%) in the first quarter, including missing all 10 of its 3-point attempts. The Wildcats trailed 19-14 at the end of the first despite having 10 offensive rebounds. They eventually hit a 3-pointer to open the second and went on an 8-2 run to take the brief lead. Then UConn took over.
Maddy Siegrist led the Wildcats, who moved up to 10th in the AP poll Monday for a school-best ranking ever, with 22 points.
“She does it better than most people who score the ball,” Villanova coach Denise Dillon said. “Finding different ways to score. Pure determination. She found spots and made a few looks around the basket.”
Siegrist has 984 points this season and is looking to become the fifth player to score over 1,000 in a season. The Big East Player of the Year would join Kelsey Plum (1,109), Jackie Stiles (1,062), Odyssey Sims (1,054) and Megan Gustafson (1,001). Siegrist led the nation in scoring (29.7 points) at Monday night’s game. She extended her streak to 34 straight games and scored 20 plus points. She is one shy of Plum’s record set in 2016-17.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.