Wildcats Come Up Short in Big East Championship Game, Fall to UConn, 70-40


Courtesy of Villanova Athletics

Brianna Herlihy (above) finished with 8 points and 5 rebounds.

Meghann Morhardt, Co-Sports Editor

UNCASVILLE, CT— 26 days after upsetting No. 8 UConn on the road, the Wildcats came up short Monday night in the Big East Tournament Finals, falling 70-40 to the Huskies. With a fully healthy nine-player rotation, the depth of the Huskies was too much for the Wildcats to handle. 

Junior forward Maddy Siegrist, named to the All-Tournament Team, led the ‘Cats with 16 points, but secured just one rebound, an uncharacteristic stat for the forward who averaged 9.7 rebounds per game over the course of the regular season. Siegrist played the entire 40 minutes and despite struggling offensively, her effort and leadership never wavered. 

“(Siegrist) is the Big East Player of the Year, so she’s giving it her all every possession of the game,” Villanova head Coach Denise Dillon said. “She’s carried us in so many different areas of the game and situations. She’s a competitor, she’s never going to let up and she’s just battling from start to finish.” 

No other Wildcat scored in double figures, but graduate forward Brianna Herlihy added eight points, five rebounds and three assists. Herlihy has brought veteran leadership to the team all season and was a crucial part of the team’s first two wins in the tournament. 

Similar to Siegrist, Herlihy showed grit and determination for all 32 minutes that she was on the floor. With under four minutes to play in the fourth quarter and Villanova trailing by 27, the super senior fought for an offensive rebound, diving out of bounds to save the ball leading to a three from sophomore guard Bella Runyan.

“That example is so important for our program,” Dillon said of the effort Herlihy displayed. “We have five freshmen and I say regularly, I want them to recognize that you have this sixth year player, had an ACL injury, missed a year, and gives everything to this program. There is nothing more rewarding as a coach than to see that.”

Despite valiant efforts from their veteran leaders, the Wildcats were unable to fall into an offensive rhythm with the Huskies taking them out of their game plan from the jump. Dillon and her team are known for their motion style offense centered around constant cutting and moving the ball, but UConn’s size and athleticism took many of their inside options out of the picture as the Wildcats scored just 16 points in the paint. 

With the inside options unavailable, Villanova turned to the three for some scoring, but was only able to connect on seven of its 23 attempts. In the first matchup between the two teams, Villanova shot 51.8% from the field and 45.5% from the three, but on Monday night, the ‘Cats shot 32% and 30.4% in the respective categories. 

“We made shots last time and we didn’t today,” Siegrist said. “Defensively, I don’t know what we held them to, but it wasn’t 90, it wasn’t 100. So, you know, they scored the ball, but we just didn’t make shots today.” 

Not only did the size impact the Wildcats’ game on the offensive end, but it gave them fits on defense as well. 

“They have obviously a lot of size inside,” Herlihy said. “We were trying to front and then they would lob, we would try to stay behind and they would get the ball in the post. They definitely put up a really good fight and especially with Nelson-Ododa back, we had two bigs to guard, so it was definitely a tough battle inside.”

The game started with a 9-0 run for the Huskies, setting the tone and putting the Wildcats on their heels early in the contest. Villanova cut the lead back to five in the first quarter, but the Huskies stretched their advantage to 15 midway through the second and the Wildcats could not get within single digits for the remainder of the game. 

Without the automatic bid from the tournament title, the Wildcats must now wait for Selection Sunday, Mar. 13, when the committee determines their fate in postseason play. 

Villanova has been “on the bubble” all season and has been sitting amongst the First Four Out for the past few weeks, following the aforementioned upset over UConn. With a strong resume, including two wins over ranked teams and a second place regular season finish in the Big East, the Wildcats have certainly done the necessary work. 

“I think just looking at our resume, you look at it from January on. Everyone talks about UConn missing Paige (Bueckers) and others in some games, and we’ve played six games without (Big East) Player of the Year,” Dillon said when asked to make her case to the committee. “[I’m] just really proud of the effort put forth and I think we did exactly what we needed to from that point when we got her back, to put us in the championship game with the Player of the Year in the Big East and one of the best in the nation.” 

The selection show will air at 8 p.m. on ESPN when the official bracket will be announced and the Wildcats will find out if they did enough to earn an at-large bid. With the loss, nothing is guaranteed, but Herlihy isn’t ready for Villanova’s run to end.

“I don’t think we’re done yet.”