UConn women send message while defending Big East crown

Geno Auriemma stood up on stage at Mohegan Sun Arena on Monday night, and even stopped to soak in the moment as Sarah Kustok asked him the question:

“What about the UConn Huskies program in March?”

It’s no surprise that Connecticut claimed its conference-record 21st Big East championship on Monday, wearing down Maddy Siegrist and Villanova in a 67-56 victory. But the road to get there: The loss of Paige Bueckers and top freshman prospect Ice Brady to season-ending injuries, the loss of Azzi Fudd for an extended period of time with a knee injury, the loss of ‘Auriemma from his mother, Marciella, has been a path that UConn had never seen. traveled before

So Monday night, after the win in front of a capacity crowd in Uncasville, it was cause for the Hall of Famer to pause and ponder that question that has been asked for the last three decades

“I think the tradition that we’ve built here, the expectations that we’ve built … the kids that come here understand that,” Auriemma said. “Because it was so hard, this one probably feels even more rewarding. Not that the other championships don’t, but this one has something a little bit more special. I’m very proud of it, because it could have been easy. because s “get away from us”.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma on Huskies capturing Big East championship: ‘These kids know when it’s March time’

UConn coach Geno Auriemma on the Huskies capturing the Big East championship:

After eight straight games decided by 10 points or less to close out the regular season, UConn swept past Georgetown, Marquette and Villanova in the Big East Tournament, all by double figures, outscoring all three opponents by a total of 70 points in the process .

Monday night was arguably the biggest challenge, but the Huskies dominated the Wildcats behind the frontcourt duo of Aaliyah Edwards and Dorka Juhasz, who combined for 35 points and 23 rebounds in the win.

Edwards, the 6-foot-3 junior who was named the Big East Most Improved Player and a unanimous first-team all-conference player, added more hardware Monday by wrapping up the conference tournament’s Most Outstanding Player honor.

Combining for 58 points and 40 rebounds over three wins, Edwards continued what has been a huge year, taking on the role Auriemma thought he might have when he first entered the program.

“You look at our top teams, whether it’s Rebecca (Lobo), Kara (Wolters), Breanna (Stewart), Napheesa (Collier) and the list goes on and on, and great post play has been so key to our success. ” Auriemma said.

UConn women’s hoops hoists Big East Championship trophy, Aaliyah Edward wins Most Outstanding Player

UConn women's hoops hoists Big East Championship trophy, Aaliyah Edward wins MVP

There’s no doubt that Connecticut owns this again, but the area of ​​concern with this team entering the Big East Tournament was the state of Fudd and the performance of the perimeter pieces.

Fudd may still be feeling things after missing 14 games before the Big East Tournament, but it can’t be overstated how much of a jolt he provides. Just as Bueckers returned toward the end of the regular season last year and helped lead UConn to a 14th straight Final Four, Fudd’s return carries those vibes, because without her, the Huskies’ streak would never have been in more danger.

The sophomore superstar finished with 11 points on Monday, draining all three 3-pointers in the second half and helping put the game out of Villanova’s reach.

Fudd’s presence helps take some of the pressure off Lou Lopez Senechal, who Auriemma said after the game had been so key to the Huskies’ season that they wouldn’t have won the Big East regular-season title without her. His tenacity kept UConn from going away, and it showed in this tournament, with three straight 14-point performances in wins. The Fairfield transfer may have only been in the program for one season after four years with the Stags, but the way the Frenchman has filled in has been remarkable.

“You see how we’re overcoming the challenges and how we’re building this, and I’m really excited for what’s to come,” Lopez Senechal said. “We are a team that is always ready for March. Even if we have a tough stretch, we know how to overcome it. That’s why we’re here now.”

UConn vs. Villanova Women’s Big East Championship

UConn vs.  Villanova Women's Big East Championship

And where the Huskies stand is 29-5, leading the nation with 11 top-25 NET wins after a win over a Villanova team ranked 10th in the AP Top 25 Monday morning and has a NET ranking. of 12

The Wildcats were ranked No. 14 in the latest NCAA Top-16 reveal last week and have still won 19 of their last 22 games, with the only losses coming to Connecticut in the streak. Denise Dillon’s 28-6 team is still in line to host NCAA Tournament games at Finneran Pavilion next weekend, while Siegrist will look at more history after closing on the all-time scoring records and of a single Big East game and Villanova this year. With 34 straight games of 20 or more points, Siegrist is not close to tying Kelsey Plum’s record of 35 consecutive games of 20 or more points that she set in 2016-17.

Monday night, though, was an all-too-familiar sight after an unprecedented set of circumstances for a Connecticut program that has dealt with anything and everything in terms of hurdles over the past two years. And yet, the Huskies’ championship DNA prevailed because that’s what Auriemma has built despite the changing names and times.

“Every year it gets harder, and it’s supposed to,” Auriemma said. “We’re fortunate to have kids that are willing to pay the price for how hard it is. When you have a group of really good kids that you enjoy and enjoy being around each other, that’s what happens.”

What happened Monday for UConn was an opportunity to pause and appreciate just how wild a ride this has been, as the Huskies held off a top-10 team to win a championship. In the process, they showed the rest of the country that, with Fudd back and March’s experience throughout the roster, that Final Four streak could remain intact and that the No. 1 seed that must share a region with them is being done. has received no favors from the selection committee.

John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers sports in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.

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