No.11 Villanova Upsets No.6 BYU, 61-57, in NCAA Tournament First Round


Courtesy of Villanova Athletics

Maddy Siegrist led the Wildcats to their first NCAA Tournament win since 2018.

Meghann Morhardt, Co-Sports Editor

Trailing 13-2 and shooting 1-of-7 from the field midway through the first quarter, Maddy Siegrist and the Wildcats looked like they were on their way to a one-and-done NCAA Tournament showing. With 4:55 on the clock, Villanova came out of the first media timeout with a different look, that of a team with confidence and belief. 

“We thought it would take us a little bit to recognize how they were guarding us, to get a feel for the game on the offensive end and what we would be able to execute,” Villanova head coach Denise Dillon said. “So just delivering that message back to the team that the defense will ground us if we commit to that, and then the offense will come as we get more comfortable throughout the contest

Freshman duo Kaitlyn Orihel and Lucy Olsen combined for 17 first half points, willing the ‘Cats back into the game and continuing to carry them until Siegrist was able to find a rhythm in the second. The redshirt junior forward scored 19 points in the second half, leading her No.11 ranked Wildcats past No.6 BYU in a 61-57 victory. 

“To our group, just a tremendous effort from start to finish,” Dillon said of the win. “Didn’t come out executing great, but found a way. Talked to the team about making it a possession game, and they did just that and found a way to come up with a huge win here in the tournament.” 

Entering Saturday’s matchup, all eyes were on two of the top players in the country, Siegrist from Villanova and Shaylee Gonzales from BYU. However, for the first twenty minutes, the pair combined for just eight points. 

Siegrist eventually settled in and led all scorers with 25 points to go along with seven rebounds and two blocks, while Gonzales never found her feet, finishing with just eight points. 

“Just knowing like it’s a long game,” Siegrist said of her mindset early in the contest. “Keep shooting the shots you normally take and eventually they’ll start to fall.” 

When the offense was struggling, defense kept the ‘Cats in the game, forcing 16 BYU turnovers, 10 in the first half when they needed it the most. Led by Olsen with six steals, the Wildcats were able to take the Cougars out of their offensive rhythm and convert their mistakes into 14 points. 

“We talk a lot about how defense wins games,” Olsen said. “I just want to do as much as I can to help our team win, and I guess steals was one of the ways today.”

Olsen was just one of the many Wildcats tasked with guarding the veteran BYU backcourt of Gonzales and graduate Paisley Harding. Harding is the Cougars’ second leading scorer and provided the spark when Gonzales was struggling. She scored 14 first half points, but with some adjustments at halftime, Villanova held Harding scoreless in the third and limited her to just seven points in the final ten minutes. 

“Yeah, well, obviously we thought she (Harding) was a player who would get the ball off early in their possessions, and she can create on her own as well,” Dillon said. “We were thankful we had a number of players trying to go in there to deny her the possession. […] It was just a team effort recognizing, trying not to bail out as much, making them work for the contested shot.”

After a hot start from BYU, the Wildcats took their first lead of the game with a layup from Orihel off of an Olsen steal with 8:06 to play in the first half, but that was just the first of 11 lead changes throughout the game. 

The two teams traded baskets for the remainder of the first half, with neither leading by more than three at any point and Villanova trailing 30-29 at the halftime break. 

The Wildcats scored the first five points of the second half, but BYU responded with an 11-3 run to hold a 41-37 advantage with just over four minutes left in the third quarter. Sophomore forward Lior Garzon, the second leading scorer for the ‘Cats this season, played only 20 minutes and finished with three points, but her one basket came when the ‘Cats needed it most. With the momentum in the Cougars’ favor, Garzon drilled a deep three on a kick-out from Siegrist to bring the ‘Cats back within one. 

With a mid range jumper from Siegrist, the Wildcats took the lead on the ensuing possession, a lead they never relinquished. The Cougars would tie the game at 46 in the fourth, but Siegrist and the ‘Cats kept them at bay with clutch free throws and key defensive stops to secure their Second Round berth. 

The win marks the team’s first NCAA Tournament win since 2018, where the Wildcats defeated South Dakota State, 81-74. Villanova advances to the Round of 32 where they will face No.3 Michigan on Monday. 

The inexperience of the Wildcat roster brings the team a unique energy and excitement that has allowed them to play freely and confidently all season, something that helped them on Saturday and will be crucial in their matchup on Monday. 

“It’s very exciting,” Olsen said of her first NCAA Tournament. “I mean, I just like to play basketball. It’s fun. So the fact that we can keep playing in the NCAA Tournament, like I always watched it growing up. That I’m here playing with my team, it’s really cool.”