Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Villanova’s clock was running out.
The shot clock, to be specific, with about four minutes left in a Big 5 game at La Salle. The ball worked its way around a few Wildcats’ hands until it wound up with Siegrist, just a couple ticks left. Siegrist turned and calmly stepped back, one-two, and launched from the left wing, draining a 3-pointer.
“Honestly, I didn’t even realize it was a three,” she said. “It was a turn-and-chuck at the basket.”
Villanova junior Maddy Siegrist (above) missed six games this season due to broken bones in her hand. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
But that’s what Siegrist brings to Villanova: the ability to step up and hit shots, even the un-conventional type, when needed. That triple, which put the Wildcats up 14 on the Explorers and all but sealed the 66-56 win, was the exclamation point on a 24-point outing from Siegrist, whose return from injury has her team rolling as they enter Big East play.
Siegrist entered the season the defending Big 5 Player of the Year after averaging 22.8 ppg and 9.8 rpg as a redshirt sophomore. But she clearly wasn’t herself out of the gate, averaging 10.5 ppg and 7.5 rpg in her first two games, both ‘Nova losses. When the Wildcats came out for their Nov. 20 game at Saint Joseph’s, Siegrist was on the sidelines in sweats, her right hand in a brace.
“Originally, I think it was like October [when I got hurt],” she said. “I didn’t realize it was hurt for the first two games until a freak thing in practice, I fell on it and it got all swollen [...] I broke the bottom of my pointer and middle finger.”
Siegrist was no stranger to broken bones, a broken ankle costing her the 2018-19 season, and she said she’d had other hand and wrist injuries in high school. So she watched from the sidelines as Villanova went 2-1 in Big 5 play, beating St. Joe’s and Penn before losing to Temple, then beating Lehigh and losing a pair of Big East games at Providence and Creighton.
It wasn’t a Wildcats squad that was lost, by any means, but they weren’t whole.
“We were definitely missing her,” said fifth-year forward Brianna Herlihy, who collected her second-straight double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds against La Salle. “We were missing shots, not being able to run our offense, and then not having another presence on the court in Maddy was definitely dragging us down a little bit. But it definitely feels a lot better having her back.”
Siegrist (20) has scored at least 24 points in each of her first three games back from injury. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Siegrist came back on Dec. 9 for a game against James Madison and immediately got to work, dropping 36 points and grabbing 17 boards in a 76-67 win. She then scored 28 with nine rebounds as Villanova upset No. 23 Oregon State back on Dec. 12, making Tuesday her third consecutive game with at least two dozen in the scoring category.
Rust? What rust?
“I didn’t really feel like, even the first few games, there was a game that I needed to get back in it,” Siegrist said. “I just felt like being so active on the sidelines and watching everything, you could just jump back in.”
“Being on the sidelines, I think she took a different role in her leadership qualities,” head coach Denise Dillon said. “She was saying things that a coach would say, so that’s big, and I think when a player understands what we’re trying to do [...] they gain confidence on the floor, so I think you’re seeing a lot of that early in her junior year.”
Tuesday wasn’t a flawless afternoon for Siegrist, who missed a few opportunities around the rim, layups the 6-1 junior forward from Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) typically makes with ease. Villanova as a whole struggled out of the gate, making just 6-of-26 (23.1%) in the first half before shooting 14-of-29 to close it out. The Wildcats led from the last few minutes of the first quarter onwards, though it was only a four-point gap at halftime and seven at the end of the third quarter.
Siegrist finished 8-of-19 from the floor, 2-of-5 from deep and 6-of-6 from the foul line. She’s back to leading the team in scoring (21.8 ppg) and rebounding (9.2 rpg), making 40% of her field goals.
“It’s feeling good, the 10-day break was really nice,” she said of her wrist. “I don’t have to wear a brace when I’m playing anymore, so that’s good. I’m looking forward to the next 10 days, another little break for it, and then I think it’ll be 100 percent.”
Brianna Herlihy (above) had 15 points and 13 rebounds against La Salle. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Villanova (6-5, 0-2 Big East) doesn’t take the court again until Dec. 31, when it resumes Big East play against Seton Hall (4-3), with visits from St. John’s (5-6, 1-1) and UConn (6-3, 1-0) following the one from the Pirates before they hit the road Jan. 9 at Georgetown (6-4, 1-1).
With the frontcourt trio of Siegrist, Lior Garzon (13.8 ppg) and Herlihy (11.2 ppg, 8.1 rpg) leading the way, the Wildcats have high hopes for the remainder of the season, not shaken by the two conference losses suffered without their star forward.
“We have the potential to be very good, I think we have a lot of talent,” Siegrist said, “and I think when we start using the talent, the more we come together, I think the better we’ll be [...] I think as we continue to grow into the Big East, it’ll progress more.”
Crawford impressing for La Salle
The first two games Gabby Crawford has played in a La Salle uniform couldn’t have gone much better. The 6-2 junior wing, who played her freshman year at Ole Miss in 2018-19 and then last year at Morehead State, got her first Explorers minutes in their win over Sacred Heart, scoring 17 points in 15 minutes.
Morehead State transfer Gabby Crawford (2) has scored 34 points in her first 35 minutes in a La Salle uniform. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Against Villanova, she added 17 more in 20 minutes, going 6-of-8 from the floor, 2-3 from downtown and 3-4 from the foul line, with five rebounds. She hit tough turnaround jumpers, her long-range shot was smooth, and she posted up inside against the Wildcats’ strong frontcourt.
“Gabby is very talented, she’s explosive, she plays so hard,” head coach Mountain MacGillivray said. “Just trying to get her as comfortable as possible in doing the things we do.
“It’s her second game, I expected to see better and better things going forward from her, and everybody getting used to how everybody’s role adjusts with her on the floor, but I like what we’re seeing.”
Claire Jacobs (16 points) and Molly Masciantonio (10 points, 7 assists) joined Crawford in double digits for La Salle (7-5), which continues Big 5 play at Temple on Dec. 29.