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UNCASVILLE, Conn. — For nearly 30 years, when the calendar turns to March, Geno Auriemma has had UConn ready to play well on the biggest stage.
This season has been 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 were plagued by injury after injury, leaving only a handful of games with seven healthy players.
Despite those 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 conference tournament title with a 67-56 victory over 10th-seeded Villanova in Monday night’s championship game.
“Well, we talked about it before the game and gave it 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. It showed these three days. These kids know when it’s March and they’re there. Two Final Fours. There’s a different vibe on our team. I think.”
Tarka Juhasz added 16 points and Lou Lopez Senechel had 14 for the 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 re-entering the conference in 2020. Next up, the Huskies will look to extend their streak of 14 consecutive Final Four appearances.
“We’re talented, but we’re disciplined and dedicated to winning,” Edwards said. “It speaks to our quality and what we are as a program, that we’re a successful program. That’s what we did today.”
The Huskies celebrated by showering each other with confetti, and Auriemma showed off her dance moves, doing “The Griddy” with her grandchildren. It has been a difficult year for Auriamma personally as her mother died in December and she has had to miss time due to illness.
“A lot of things happened last season personally, team-wise, on and off the court, and to get to this point you want to close that book,” Auriemma said. “Now start a brand new one next Sunday. That book ended the right way. Lots of action, lots of tragedy, ups and downs. The book ended the right way. Now it’s time for a new one.”
Trailing 22-21 late in the second quarter, UConn turned on its defense and outscored Villanova (28-6) 13-2 over the final 6:09 to go up 34-24 at halftime. Edwards, the tournament’s MVP, scored 12 points, made six of his shots, and grabbed nine rebounds in the opening 20 minutes.
The Huskies put the game away, scoring 22 of their first 29 points in the third quarter to extend the advantage to 25.
It’s been a tough year for the Huskies as they’ve dealt with multiple injuries over the summer, starting with Paige Beukers tearing her ACL. UConn has been getting healthy lately, with Aziz Fatt 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 had back-to-back losses for the first time since 1992-93.
But UConn turned it on in March. Monday’s win ended last season’s championship game with UConn winning 70-40. As with the two regular-season meetings the Huskies won by five and nine, it was a more competitive half.
“I think we’re a team that’s always ready for March,” Lopez Senachal said. “Even though we had a tough stretch, we know how to get through it, we know how to play together. I think that’s why we’re here right now. I’m really proud of the whole team.”
Villanova was cold from the field early, shooting 6-of-25 (24%) in the first quarter, including missing 10 of its 3-point attempts. Despite 10 offensive rebounds, the Wildcats trailed 19-14 at the end of the first. They finally hit a 3-pointer and went on an 8-2 run to open the second to take a brief lead. Then UConn took over.
Maddie Siegrist led the Wildcats, moving to No. 10 in Monday’s AP poll with a school-best 22 points.
“He’s doing it better than hitting the ball a lot,” Villanova coach Denis Dillon said. “Finding different ways to score.” Sheer determination. She found the spots and made a pair of looks around the basket.”
Siegrist has 984 points this season and is on pace to become just the fifth player to score over 1,000 in a season. The Big East Player of the Year will 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) entering Monday night’s game. He extended his streak by scoring 20-plus points in 34 consecutive games. He was one short of Plum’s feat in 2016-17.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.