The Wildcats Are Dancing: Women’s Basketball Earns At-Large Bid And A No.11 Seed


Courtesy of Olivia Pasquale/Villanovan Photography

The Wildcats celebrate in The Finn on Selection Sunday after receiving their bid.

Meghann Morhardt, Co-Sports Editor

After losing to conference front runner UConn in the Big East Tournament Finals on Monday night, the Wildcats had to wait for Selection Sunday to learn their postseason fate. The team moved around “the bubble” of the bracket all week, but upon the conclusion of conference tournaments nationwide, the ‘Cats ultimately earned an at-large bid and will get a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament. 

The Wildcats will be the 11-seed in the Wichita Region and will face No. 6 BYU in the Round of 64. With a win over BYU, they would face the winner of No. 3 Michigan and No. 14 American. 

“I felt like we were in a good place,” head coach Denise Dillon said after the announcement. “Just proud of this group and what they did for us to be in this position and excited to go to Ann Arbor and play BYU.” 

The last time Villanova was in the NCAA Tournament was 2017-18, when it was a nine-seed and advanced in the first round with an 81-74 overtime win over No.8 South Dakota St. However, the Wildcats fell to top-seeded Notre Dame, 98-72, in the Round of 32. 

Graduate forward Brianna Herlihy was on the 2017-18 roster and is the only member of the current team with any NCAA Tournament experience. In her sixth, and final, season as a Wildcat, earning another tournament berth was atop Herlihy’s list of goals.

“When you see players who just put in everything they have to their teammates and their program that they’re a part of, you want to see them rewarded. Brianna is a great example of that,” Dillon said. “Her teammates wanted this so badly for her. You could even see this week, them being worked up, like ‘What’s gonna happen? We want Brianna to experience the NCAA Tournament’ and here it is. They made it real.” 

Entering the season, the ‘Cats were picked to finish fifth in the Big East and were absent in most conversations surrounding the NCAA Tournament.

“I mean, I felt pretty confident in our team, that we were going to get in,” Herlihy said of the doubts the team faced. “People are going to say what they’re going to say. Everyone’s going to have a different opinion, you can’t really focus on that. We kind of just, within our team, decided we’re going to make the NCAA Tournament this year. So we played every game for that goal.” 

Herlihy is one of just four upperclassmen on the roster, but the lack of experience has been overshadowed by veteran leadership all season long. Herlihy and junior forward Maddy Siegrist have taken the younger players under their wing and led the team to a 16-4 conference record, tying a record for most conference wins in program history, and earning a berth in the Big East Tournament championship game.

At the conclusion of the regular season, Siegrist sits in third on the Villanova all-time scoring list and was named the Big East Player of the Year. She broke the Big East scoring record, averaging 27.9 points per game in conference play, and finished second in the nation in scoring, averaging 25.9 points per game overall. 

“What Maddy did was remarkable,” Dillon said. “I think she impacted the game, even when she was out. When she was injured, she found a way to impact each practice and each game.” 

The Wildcats finished with a 23-8 overall record, including 11-2 at home. After a slow start, they finished the season winning 13 of their last 14 games. to secure the No.2 seed in the Big East Tournament. 

“I was pretty confident in our ability all year,” Siegrist said. “I mean, there was a time, I think we were 3-6, just had to remain patient and confident that we were going to take it one game at a time and we were going to put ourselves in the best position. At the beginning of January, it almost was like, we’re going to have to win every game, and I think we only lost two.” 

The strong finish secured the No.2 seed in the Big East Tournament where the ‘Cats rolled through St. John’s in the quarter finals, defeating the Red Storm, 76-52, behind a dominant double-double from Herlihy. Villanova then faced off against Seton Hall in the semifinals, beating the Pirates, 64-55, behind 17 points from Herlihy and 24 points from Siegrist. 

This victory set up a highly anticipated matchup against No.1 UConn, who the ‘Cats had beaten in an earlier season matchup at the XL Center in Hartford, CT. The 72-69 upset was UConn’s only conference loss this season and was the second win over a ranked team for the Wildcats, who beat No.23 Oregon State, 56-52, at home in December. 

In a season filled with never-ending obstacles from Siegrist missing six early games with a wrist injury, to multiple players, including Herlihy, missing games with Covid, the Wildcats persisted, exceeding expectations and giving themselves a chance to compete for a National Championship. 

“I mean, as a little kid, this is what you watch,” Siegrist said. “I remember watching the Selection Show and always wanted to be in it. You want to be able to compete for a National Championship, and now we’re going to be able to. I mean, WNIT was great, I’m glad we got to play there last year, but now once you go to the NCAA Tournament, you don’t want to go back.”