Wildcats Cruise to Quarterfinal Victory, Defeat St. John’s, 76-52


Courtesy of Olivia Pasquale/Villanovan Photography

Brianna Herlihy (above) recorded a career high 17 rebounds to go along with 16 points.

Meghann Morhardt, Co-Sports Editor

UNCASVILLE, CT — As the only player on the roster with any NCAA Tournament experience, graduate forward Brianna Herlihy showed her experience on Saturday night, leading Villanova to a dominant 76-52 victory over St. John’s in the Big East Tournament Quarterfinals. 

Herlihy finished with a 16-point, 17-rebound double-double, her seventh of the season. Her 17 rebounds mark a new career best, beating her previous high of 14. 

“That was my main priority today,” Herlihy said of her rebounding. “It was just keeping number 20 off the board. She’s a huge rebounder, we watched their game yesterday and she did a lot of offensive rebounding and putbacks so I just knew that my main priority today was to keep her off the boards and I guess that resulted in me getting the rebounds.”

Maddy Siegrist led all scorers with 24 points and added eight rebounds. Prior to tip-off, the junior forward was honored for being named Big East Player of the Year, and she spent the next 40 minutes proving she deserved the award. Siegrist currently sits at second in the nation in scoring with 26.4 points per game and on a team fighting for a bid to the NCAA Tournament, her dominant presence is felt in every contest.

“I think the great basketball that we’re playing, what we’ve done since January, and just the roll we’re on,” said Dillon when asked why this team should be in the tournament. “We have Maddy Siegrist, one of the best players in the country and I think she should be on that national stage, it should be seen. So it’s how she’s leading the team and how we’re playing some really good basketball.” 

Two more Wildcats scored in double figures with sophomore guard Lior Garzon and freshman guard Lucy Olsen adding 15 and 13 respectively. 

Olsen had bursts of offensive success this season, but she has really found her footing recently. St. John’s came into the game with a plan to exploit the freshman’s inexperience on the big stage, but Olsen made them pay. She drained four threes and recorded four assists, with no turnovers, to help her team advance. 

“That was huge,” said Siegrist of Olsen’s success. “We knew that everyone was going to have to step up. St. John’s is a smart team and they had a good game plan, but with Lucy and Lior hitting those shots right off the bat, they had to go with them and it makes them a threat offensively.”

Led by Herlihy, rebounding was key for the ‘Cats as they earned a 41-31 advantage on the boards, including 15 offensive rebounds which resulted in 14 second chance points. 

While rebounding was the more obvious advantage for Villanova, a possible more important stat was the disparity in assist totals for the two teams. The Wildcats recorded 17 assists on 27 field goals, while St. John’s finished the game with just four assists. 

“That’s the difference, it’s just our style of play is sharing the ball and moving the ball,” said Dillon. “Everyone is a threat and everyone is an option. I thought it was great and we didn’t turn the ball over either so we gave ourselves those opportunities.” 

Both teams started hot with Garzon and Olsen bearing much of the offensive load early, each drilling two threes in the opening period. The ‘Cats went cold and the Red Storm used their quickness to attack the basket, breaking down the Villanova defense and keeping themselves within striking distance.

Siegrist got herself going midway through the quarter, scoring seven points to lead her team to a 22-17 advantage entering the second quarter. 

After seeing the St. John’s game plan for 10 minutes, the WIldcats made some adjustments at the break and were able to hold the Red Storm to 6-of-16 shooting in the second quarter, including 0-7 from beyond the arc. 

“We got too caught up in the personnel of ‘I have No. 2’ or ‘I have No. 30’,” said Dillon. “We had to recognize the importance of crowding the paint a little bit on the drive, being able to take away the drive and then help each other. It was almost like that switch went off, like we can recover on the drive and that’s exactly what happened. It just forced them to take a little bit more time off the clock with each possession.” 

The increased defensive pressure coupled with nine more points from Siegrist extended the Wildcat lead, as they entered the halftime break with a 44-30 advantage. 

Villanova extended its lead to 18 early in the third quarter, but a 6-0 run from the Red Storm cut the lead back to 12, putting the ‘Cats on their heels for the first time. A timeout to regroup followed by an 8-3 run, fueled by Herlihy, settled the Wildcats and put them back in front by 17. 

The ‘Cats rode out the momentum, carrying them to a 62-41 lead entering the final 10 minutes of play. 

Villanova continued to dominate in the fourth quarter, holding off every Red Storm run and cruising to a 24 point victory. 

With the win, Villanova advances to the semifinals and will face the winner of Creighton/Seton Hall on Sunday at 5:30 p.m. The Wildcats split their season series with each team, winning both home contests and falling twice on the road. Herlihy will look to carry the momentum from Saturday’s game into the semifinal matchup and lead her team to the finals on Monday with a chance to control their own fate in the NCAA Tournament.

“I mean this is March, either win or go home,” said Herlihy. “I want this team to continue playing, I want to play with them as long as I can.”