Women crowned Big East Champions

Cailin Brophy

Slow and steady won the race.

In what was undoubtedly the biggest upset in women’s college basketball this season, Villanova stole the show and the Big East championship from juggernaut Connecticut, ending the Huskies’ phenomenal 70-game winning streak in a stunning 52-48 win.

The ‘Cats became the first team besides UConn to win the Big East crown in nine years while grabbing the honors for the fourth time in Villanova’s school history.

Although the game was close throughout, the ‘Cats put themselves in position to win by controlling the tempo of the game, playing the slo-mo style of half-court offense which enables them to wear down and frustrate their usually superior athletic opponents.

“We got away from what we normally do,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “You can get away with that against certain teams, but you can’t against a team like Villanova. They make you think about what you have to do, and after awhile you just get tired of thinking and want your talent to take over.”

The snail’s pace style allowed the ‘Cats to hold the Huskies to a mere 17 points in the opening stanza, was the lowest first half total for UConn all season.

The Huskies also headed into the locker room without the lead for the first time in 86 games.

With 9:38 remaining in the contest, it looked as though the Huskies had broken out of the Wildcat hypnosis, as Big East Player of the Year Diana Taurasi capped off a 7-0 run with an easy layup inside.

However, the ‘Cats responded with an 8-0 run of their own, taking advantage of costly UConn turnovers as well as clutch three-point shooting from All-Tourney team selection Nicole Druckenmiller and aggressive play from forward Courtney Mix to regain the lead, 38-36.

With time winding down and facing a four-point deficit, the Huskies were forced to foul the ‘Cats and hope they’d miss their free throws. No such luck. The ‘Cats calmly sank six of seven free throws down the stretch, including four straight by captain Trish Juhline, to put the game out of reach while leaving the stunned Huskies with the unfamiliar runner-up trophy.

Juhline earned the distinction of tournament MVP, leading all scorers with 18 points, four rebounds and no turnovers, while classmate Druckenmiller chipped in 13 points, nine of which came from downtown. Mix provided her usual steady stream of stats, with eight points, four assists, a team-leading seven rebounds, a block and a steal.

After the final buzzer sounded, the Wildcats celebrated jubilantly on the court in front of the fans who were smart enough to take the short trip up the New Jersey Turnpike to witness Villanova basketball.

“I’m still in shock,” senior guard Katie Davis said. “It still hasn’t hit me yet that we won. We knew the streak was going to end eventually, we just didn’t know it was going to be [against] us.”

Davis and her teammates weren’t the only ones in shock. UConn’s roster features only three players who have ever experienced a collegiate loss. The last time the Huskies found themselves in this position was at the hands of Notre Dame in the 2001 NCAA semifinals.

“The last few weeks we haven’t been playing all that well, and today it caught up with us,” Taurasi said. Yet, when asked at what point Taurasi and her teammates felt that they might lose the game, the junior forward tersely replied, “When it was over.”

For the Wildcats and head coach Harry Perretta, the realization of what they have accomplished might take even longer to set in.

“I turned to [assistant coach] Joe Mullany when the horn went off and said, did we win?” Perretta said.

“When you’re meant to win and when things are meant to happen, it’s weird, but it happens.”

Boasting a 25-5 record, not to mention top billing on the ESPN SportsCenter highlight reels, the Wildcats will enter the NCAA tournament for the third straight year’ and can expect a favorable seeding thanks to their most recent heroics.