Villanova Soars Past Cleveland State, 76-59, in First Round of NCAA Tournament


Graydon Paul/Villanovan Photography

Siegrist scored 35 points against CSU.

Brooke Ackerman, Co-Sports Editor

It’s a big responsibility to be in the Big Dance. March is the time of year where bench players can become starters, starters can become stars, and stars can leave a legacy. To make it out of each round, it takes a full team effort.

That is exactly what No. 4 Villanova proved in its dominating, 76-59 team win over No. 13 Cleveland State in the first round of the NCAA Women’s Division I Tournament. 

In a packed Finneran Pavilion, it was a true team effort from Villanova, as junior guard Bella Runyan scored 13 points, sophomore guard Lucy Olsen chipped in nine, and sophomore guard Kaitlyn Orihel added on nine points off of three three-pointers. 

“It was a once in a lifetime experience,” Runyan said. 

Villanova forward Maddy Siegrist agreed with Runyan, noting how “huge” the fan support was. “Last year we were just happy to be there, but to play at home, it’s just something, you know? We cherish that, and now we get to play at home again.” 

While it was a team effort, Siegrist was Villanova’s star. The AP & USBWA All-American dropped a commanding 35 points in the matchup. 

With her efforts tonight, she not only helped lead her team advance to the second round of the tournament, she also became the fifth player in women’s Division I basketball history to score 1000 points in a single season. 

“It’s definitely something that I thought about, that it was an achievable goal,” Siegrist said. “It means a lot [and] I’m really glad we won the game. It’s better to win when you get a milestone.” 

The Wildcats had a slow start to the game, going 8-22 from the field and shooting just 25% from the three point line in the first quarter.

“[We said] let’s not try and do something else on the offensive, and continue just to work the offense until shots are calling for us,” coach Denise Dillon said. 

Despite the slow start, Villanova was able to continue putting up shots, as it picked up the tempo heading into the locker room at halftime up 21 points. 

Siegrist was the key to helping her team out of the shooting slump. 

Siegrist put up eight points in the first quarter, compared to CSU’s seven, and by halftime, she had scored 22 points while CSU only had 21 in the game.

The second half showcased exactly why Villanova earned its top-four bid: consistency. 

“We certainly set the tone from the beginning and did everything necessary to advance to the next round on our home court,” Dillon said.

A 21 point third quarter helped the ‘Cats to maintain their dominating lead, as they headed into the last quarter of play up, 63-34. 

While the Vikings put up a valiant effort in the final quarter, scoring 25 points, Villanova’s lead was too dominating to cut into. 

For the Vikings, junior guard Destiny Leo led the team with 25 points. However, CSU was held to 34% shooting from the field and 21% from three, far below the clip needed for an upset.

After the victory, Villanova advances to another home-court game in the second round of the tournament. It will face No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast.

The Eagles came into the first round of the tournament as an underdog, scheduled to play No. 5 Washington State at Villanova. However, in true tournament fashion, FGCU pulled off a commanding upset, beating the Cougars, 74-63. 

“It’ll be a quick reset game,” Dillon said. “It’s gonna be a lot of that one on one coverage…[we] will always be together, know who we are, what we are capable of, and we’ll work it out together.” 

The ‘Cats will continue dancing into the round of 32 as the stage is set for their matchup against the Eagles on Monday, March 21 at the Finn. Tip off time and TV coverage has not been announced yet.