Wildcats Escape Late Push From Seton Hall, Defeat the Pirates, 64-55, In Big East Semifinals


Courtesy of Olivia Pasquale/Villanovan Photography

Lior Garzon (above) drained a three with one minute left to seal the game for the Wildcats.

Meghann Morhardt, Co-Sports Editor

UNCASVILLE, CT — On Feb. 13, after beating UConn and Marquette in consecutive games and moving up to second place in the conference, Villanova traveled to Seton Hall and fell 72-60. On Sunday night, behind strong performances from their veteran leaders, the Wildcats got their revenge, beating the Pirates, 64-55, in the Big East Tournament Semifinals. 

Junior forward Maddy Siegrist played all but 33 seconds in the contest and led the ‘Cats with 24 points to go along with 14 rebounds and four steals. Fellow captain graduate forward Brianna Herlihy added 17 points, including three three-pointers, and eight rebounds. 

“[We’re] led by Maddy and Brianna with the conversations, taking young players under their wing, just doing everything necessary for Brianna to have the best last year,” Villanova head coach Denise Dillon said. “Maddy, being one of the best players in the country, it’s not just about her putting numbers up. She knew that she needed to lead her team to be in national contention.” 

Only two other Wildcats scored in the contest, both reaching double figures. Sophomore guard Lior Garzon finished with 13 points including a dagger triple to put the ‘Cats up by nine with under a minute to play in the fourth. 

“Lior, as a sophomore, just her sheer will and what she’s looking to do out there,” Dillon said. “She’s really unassuming. You’re like ‘Oh okay, Lior’s just hanging out’, and then next thing she’s driving to the basket, and then she gets that big three, and you can see the fire.” 

Freshman guard Lucy Olsen continued her strong play and added 10 points and four assists to help her team push past the Pirates. Olsen, who averages 29 minutes per game as a freshman, has borne much responsibility for taking care of the ball and defending the opposing team’s star player. Seton Hall put on the pressure late in the game and Olsen was able to step-up and control her team, finishing the game with just two turnovers. 

“I think down the stretch most definitely, but just throughout the entire contest,” Dillon said of Olsen’s impact. “I think Lucy’s a great player right now. I just think that the sky’s the limit with what she’s capable of doing for us as her role continues to develop, but yeah, today she wasn’t fazed. She wanted the ball in the back court, she wanted to be up there breaking the press and she made some good decisions there as well.” 

The Wildcats continued their rebounding success, finishing with a 39-29 advantage on the boards, including nine offensive rebounds. Similar to their quarterfinal performance, the ‘Cats stayed true to their motion offense, finishing with 12 assists on 23 field goals. 

Defensively, Villanova was able to make adjustments from the matchup in February and hold the Pirates to 17 less points, forcing 13 turnovers in Sunday’s contest. The Wildcats pushed the pace and were able to turn the Seton Hall mistakes into 13 points on the other end. 

In the first half, the Wildcats were able to take advantage of the Pirates’ shooting slump and establish an early advantage, leading by as many as 12. Seton Hall tried to weather the storm, but Villanova was able to hold the Pirates off, leading by nine entering halftime. 

The third quarter saw more of the same and an 11-4 run to open the period extended the Wildcat lead to 15 midway through the quarter. The Pirates, led by junior guard Lauren Park-Lane, made a push and cut the lead to 10 entering the final 10 minutes of play. 

The Pirates’ momentum continued in the fourth quarter, coming out with full-court pressure and going on a 9-2 run to come within four with just under four minutes remaining. 

Despite a few dangerous turnovers and crucial missed shots, the Wildcats were able to string together enough stops and free throws to close out the game and clinch their spot in the tournament finals. 

“I think resilience is a big, big thing with our team this year,” Siegrist said. “We faced a lot of adversity with injuries and COVID and we had to play in a lot of close games. So the good thing is we’re not afraid of that, we’re not afraid of playing in close games.” 

Villanova will face UConn on Monday night to compete for its first conference title since 2003. The Wildcats beat the Huskies earlier this year in a thrilling 72-69 upset on the road, handing UConn its sole conference loss of the season. 

Monday’s matchup will be one of revenge for both sides, with the Huskies looking to avenge the February defeat while the ‘Cats look to bounce back from last year’s 84-39 loss to UConn in the tournament quarterfinals. 

“I think that stung for everybody last year, especially me personally,” Siegrist said. “I thought about that game a lot and you just use that as fuel in the off season. But I think tomorrow, we got a lot going for us too, I think, and we’re just going to play the best we can and it’s exciting to play in a championship. I think we’re gonna play hard and play well.” 

As a team that has been “on the bubble” of the NCAA Tournament all season, the Wildcats will continue to make their case for a bid on Monday. 

“I think we definitely have an expectation that it’s going to be a lot harder tomorrow knowing that they’re coming back for a revenge game,” Herlihy said. “So I think we have that mindset, but we made it to the championship game, so we’re going to play like we’re in a championship game.”