When Denise Dillon brought in Maddie Burke this offseason, she hoped the Penn State transfer and Central Bucks West product would re-discover her scoring touch. The Wildcats needed some pop alongside All-American candidate Maddy Siegrist, someone else who could hit shots and give the offense a lift, something Burke did plenty in her high school years, when she racked up more than 1,300 points.
Burke had averaged 8.9 ppg as a freshman with the Nittany Lions, hitting 58 3-pointers, but only 2.8 ppg as a sophomore, her minutes cut in half and her production moreso. Dillion dismissed that in the offseason, confident she was going to get the version of Burke who scored 24 points against Maryland as a freshman, or at least something along those lines.
Maddie Burke (above) was 4-of-5 from 3-point range in Villanova's Big 5 win Thursday. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
While Burke hasn’t yet gone off for 20-plus points just yet, her scoring touch looks like it’s coming back, as she knocked down four 3-pointers to help Villanova pull away from and then stomp all over Big 5 rival Penn, 67-41 on Thursday night at the Palestra.
It was her first time playing at the Cathedral of College Basketball, and Burke looked right at home.
“It’s incredible, I’ve been here many times for PCL championships and that kind of thing, so really cool to be able to play on the court and play at the Palestra, which is a historical place for basketball in Philadelphia, so it was awesome, it was very cool.”
Siegrist did her thing with 22 points and 11 rebounds, but that’s old hat for the reigning Big East Player of the Year. Burke going 4-of-5 from downtown, helping spur the Wildcats to their biggest win of the season, was a possible turning point for the junior.
Afterwards, the 6-foot-tall wing was totally unwilling to take any credit for her hot-shooting performance.
“I would say it was a lot of my teammates and my coaches as well, just giving me that confidence,” Burke said to one question about her evening, then to another about finding her scoring touch again, it was “my teammates and coaches, again, helping me get to that mindset.”
It was Burke’s first double-digit scoring performance since Jan. 16, a span of 16 games; there was a stretch of seven straight games last January into February where she didn’t score a single point. She had six in her ‘Nova debut, a win over Marist last Monday, and then three against Princeton, all on 3-pointers.
She was 3-of-11 from the floor coming into Thursday night, all from deep. She didn’t take her first shot until midway through the second quarter, putting Villanova up 10; another one less than a minute later made it 13, and her third just before the half made it 42-25 right ahead of the break.
Dillon was happy to see the shots go in but slightly upset that Burke only got five shots on a night where she was feeling it, as Villanova was just 25-of-64 (39.1%) from the floor.
“You look at your top three in Maddy Siegrist, you have Lucy Olsen [...] and you have Maddie Burke,” she said. “They have to get 10-to-12 looks a game, and we’ve got to do a better job of that, and that comes with the movement and everybody getting comfortable.”
Villanova’s matchup with Penn was their third of seven straight road games. The Wildcats opened their season in Poughkeepsie, NY with a 60-38 win over Marist College (0-3). Then they traveled up Interstate 95 and beat a ranked Princeton (3-1) 69-59 at Jadwin Gymnasium. Dillon’s squad won’t debut at Finneran Pavilion until Creighton visits on December 2.
“I think it’s a good thing, especially when we have some new players and some young ones trying to get comfortable.” Dillon said about Nova’s stretch of games away from home.
But Thursday night was not a typical road game. There was no plane and hotel stay. Rather, more hugs and pictures with parents after the game and a quick bus ride back to campus.
The Quakers’ home-court advantage was non-existent, as the Villanova faithful made the short drive south to University City. They represented nearly three-quarters of the fans in attendance and they let their presence be known at the Palestra.
“The fan base comes through, always,” Burke said. “All of our family, friends are there, so that helps make it [feel] like the home experience.”
Villanova will visit the Temple Owls this Sunday, November 20 at the Liacouras Center.
“They’re going to be a battle,” Dillon said.
After Temple, the Wildcats will head down south to Naples, FL for the Gulf Coast Showcase. There they will face Belmont on Friday November 25 and then play Baylor or St. Louis the following Saturday.
“When you’re on the road,” Dillon continued. “All you’re focusing on is what we need to do and our opponent, and dismissing all those other things.”
Siegrist’s scorching start continues
Maddy Siegrist (above) had 22 points and 11 rebounds in her Palestra debut. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The Quakers did not have to face the 2021-2022 Big East player of the year last season due to an injured hand. Maybe that’s why Villanova barely squeaked by Penn 66-63 in last year’s meeting, though the visitors were also without their star, Kayla Padilla.
Regardless, Siegrist did not disappoint in her debut at college basketball’s cathedral. Siegrist continued her scorching hot start to 2022-2023 recording a double-double for the third straight game, putting her career total at 40.
She followed up her career high 32-point, 13-rebound night against Princeton last Friday with another dominant performance versus the Quakers.
Last season’s Big 5 player of the year scored 22 points, corralled 11 rebounds, and totaled three steals.
She found her rhythm at the end of the first and maintained her hot hand till halftime. Siegrist scored 16 of her 18 first-half points in the final 11:36 of the first half.
Penn’s defense had no answers for the 6-1 forward as she found ways to score at all three levels and in transition.
Siegrist earned her rest once Villanova comfortably led by 30 points with six minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Penn’s offense struggles mightily
Penn head coach Mike McLaughlin felt good about his team’s performance in the first quarter. But that was it, everything came crashing down afterward.
Villanova’s Brooke Mullin, and the rest of the defense shut down Penn’s offense from the second quarter until the final buzzer.
“We’ve been playing them [Villanova] a long time since I’ve been at Penn,” McLaughlin said. “And this is one of the better teams defensively that I saw.”
The Quaker’s lost control of the game in the second quarter when they were down 27-19. Their defense stopped the Wildcats for a few possessions, but Penn’s shooters could not find the bottom of the net.
Penn’s stalwart guard, Kayla Padilla, struggled to find good looks all night because of Mullin’s unabating defense. Padilla finished 3-of-14 from the floor for eight points; no Penn player finished in double figures.
“She guarded her hard, but did not deny her.” McLaughlin said about the Mullins-Padilla matchup. “Like she’s really good. I thought Kayla struggled a lot because of her.”
“Once we didn't make them I did see our body language change on our part,” McLaughlin continued. “We do have a couple young kids out there, but that’s unacceptable if you want to win.”
“I just think the wheels fell off because our ladies were trying really hard to get back in the game, but it just wasn't going our way.”
Villanova’s relentless offensive and defensive pressure eventually broke Penn down.
The thought that Penn could chip away at their deficit and make the game competitive got dismissed as early as the third quarter. The Quakers went one-for-17 and only scored four points. The Quaker’s shot an abysmal 18% from the field after the first quarter.
“I just wished we played better basketball,” McLaughlin said. “Regardless of what the end result was.”