Jerome Taylor (@ThatGuy_Rome)
In three of the last four matchups against St. John’s, the Villanova women’s basketball team has needed overtime to finish off the Red Storm. And Sunday’s matchup added to the trend of tight finishes between the teams.
With 16 seconds remaining in regulation, the Wildcats found their hot-hand, Maddy Siegrist, who fired her 22nd field goal of the afternoon to give the ‘Cats a last-second lead.
Maddy Siegrist (above) has helped guide the Wildcats to five straight wins since returning from injury. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
But it rimmed out.
Brianna Herlihy was there and pulled down the offensive rebound, and the Cats’ second chance at five straight wins came from sophomore Lior Garzon, who fired a mid-range jumper for the lead.
Her shot missed as well.
This time, Siegrist was in the right place for the offensive board.
“I’m thinking, 'Do I call a timeout while all of this is happening?'” Villanova head coach Denise Dillon said.
Good thing Dillon didn’t. Because after Siegrist grabbed the board, she went right back up and finished the putback layup through contact and drew a foul in the process. The junior completed the and-one, giving the Wildcats a 70-68 win for their fifth straight victory.
“To be honest, I thought the ‘3’ was in,” Siegrist said about her first attempt at a game-winner, “But, you know, we had to rebound the ball… It was just instinct to put the ball back up.”
“[The game-winning possession] sums it up, the three of them (Siegrist, Herlihy and Garzon) staying involved, accepting that responsibility of knowing we got to make something happen right now,” Dillon said.
The Wildcats’ offense has been predicated by the pass this season. ‘Nova came into Sunday’s contest with the eighth-highest assist rate (68.6%), according to HerHoopsStats. And the Villanova frontcourt of Siegrist, Garzon and Herlihy has been on the receiving end of a lot of those assists as the three are first, second and third on the team in scoring, respectively.
But the ‘Cats top option this year has been Siegrist.
She’s been the engine behind the team’s streak. Since returning from a hand injury that sidelined her for six games, the Poughkeepsie, N.Y., native is averaging 27.8 ppg, including three games with 25 or more, and she’s scored at least twenty in every win during the streak. On Sunday, the forward finished with 28 points (10-23 FG, 1-8 3PT, 7-8 FT) and 11 rebounds (three offensive).
“Obviously, Maddy has proven to be one of the best in this league, and I think one of the best in the nation and she just gives that confidence to her teammates as well,” Dillon said.
In Sunday afternoon’s victory over St. John’s, Siegrist came alive in the second quarter, scoring 15 points in the second frame. From that point on, she led the Wildcats (8-5, 2-2 Big East) offensively.
Siegrist gave ‘Nova a scare after diving for a loose ball with 9:39 remaining in regulation. She came up limping, so the ‘Cats relied on the other members of their frontcourt in her absence.
One of those players that stepped up was Garzon, who finished an and-one to give the ‘Cats a nine-point lead with 7:53 remaining. Garzon was also essential in the game from the start, scoring eight of her 13 points in the first quarter.
Brianna Herlihy (14) recorded her fourth straight double-double on Sunday. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Herlihy was dominant on the boards throughout, and her consistency is something that the ‘Cats are used to.
During Nova’s win streak, the graduate student has recorded four straight double-doubles, including a 12-point, 11-rebound (four offensive) performance on Sunday.
“I mean, Brianna’s been a beast on the boards all year,” Siegrist said. “And in games like this, you need to rebound every shot.”
“I think Brianna just sets that tone with her work ethic, her willingness to throw her body on the floor,” Dillon said. “When you talk about rebounding, that's all effort.”
Herlihy credits playing with her older (and taller) sister and Vilanova alumna Bridget Herlihy for her rebounding acumen.
“I just really like having the ball in my hands, and whenever I see it I just want to go for it,” Brianna Herlihy said. “Playing with my sister all the years growing up, I had to box her out all the time playing in the yard, so I learned through that.”
Herlihy did not play mistake-free basketball, though. In the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, the grad student turned it over twice, which led St. John’s (5-8, 1-2 Big East) to take the lead on a Leilani Correa lay up with 1:22 remaining in regulation.
“I was dribbling and [Dillon] told me to slow down, and I didn’t, and then I was like, ‘I should’ve slowed down,’” Herlihy said of her first turnover. “I just need to focus on slowing down, especially when we have an advantage and we don’t need a quick bucket.”
The ‘Cats eventually got the chance to redeem themselves. After Siegrist returned to the floor, they found her for what most of the team thought would be a game-winner. But when the first attempt didn’t go down, the ‘Cats frontcourt effort on the boards put Siegrist in position for the game-winner.
“Maddy said she thought the [first 3-point] shot was going in, and I did, too, but I was like, ‘We need this ball if it doesn’t go in. This is our last chance,’” Herlihy said. “So I just went in there and it bounced right to where I was going, so it was perfect.”
“That effort alone, of course we want it in more possessions, but when the sense of urgency is there I'm glad it came out in our favor,” Dillon said.
The Wildcats continue Big East play as the perennial national powerhouse, No. 11 University of Connecticut, comes to town on Jan. 7. Even though the Huskies will be without freshman Paige Bueckers, they still will pose a stiff test for the Wildcats.
“I think each game gets a little more interesting than the last, so you’re certainly going to see that," Dillon said. "Big East basketball is a constant battle, and we saw that this weekend.”