By Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
VILLANOVA — The Villanova women’s basketball team saw a tight game slip out of its grip in a matter of four and a half minutes.
After taking a one-point lead on No. 11 UConn with six minutes, 35 seconds left in the third quarter, the Wildcats went on a cold drought they couldn’t recover from, going with a point until the 2:09 mark.
UConn took advantage of the dry spell and went into the fourth with a double-digit lead and piled on to pull away for a 81-60 win Wednesday at Finneran Pavilion.
UConn’s Aaliyah Edwards scored 22 points and Paige Bueckers added 21 as the Huskies shot 60.7 percent from the floor, while holding the Wildcats to just 37.1 percent shooting, including just 33.3 percent in the second half.
“They (UConn) made the adjustment at halftime to turn up the intensity and be more aggressive and I felt on the flipside we didn’t do a great job of using each other with the screens,” Villanova coach Denise Dillon said.
“We were kind of just running and interchanging a lot. It wasn’t clean by any stretch.”
Villanova junior Lucy Olsen scored 15 points in a loss to No. 11 UConn on Wednesday. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL File)
Even with junior Lucy Olsen picking up two first-quarter fouls, the Wildcats (13-8, 6-4 Big East) kept things tight in the first half, taking a 36-35 lead with 1:09 left in the half on an Olsen jumper. Two Huskies free throws before the break gave UConn (18-4, 10-0) a 37-36 lead at half.
Both squads took turns with the lead before Villanova’s Zanai Jones put the Wildcats back ahead 43-42 on a pull-up jumper at the 6:35 mark.
There were four straight misses with two turnovers mixed in during the Wildcats four minutes and 26 seconds without any points. Even when Kaitlyn Orihel broke the drought with a triple, the Huskies scored four in a row to fortify their lead, leading 59-49 heading into the fourth.
“I thought the whole first half, we were a little bit lax in keeping Lucy out of the lane,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “I think when she gets in the lane, she makes things really difficult not just with her scoring, but with everything else that happens."
“The keys (after halftime) were limit how many times they got paint touches, get in the lane, and no second shots.”
Freshman Maddie Webber had 11 first-half points and Jones had eight to supplement Olsen’s 12 in the first half. Olsen had just three points after the break to finish with a team-high 15 points.
Jones finished with 14, and Webber was the only other Wildcat in double figures despite going scoreless in the second half. Orihel had nine points on three triples.
“They made some nice adjustments,” said Olsen, who went 1-for-7 from the floor in the second half. “I think Maddie Webber and I, we’ll have to learn from it. We got too caught up in the speed instead of changing pace like in the first half. We weren’t using each other like Denise said. They made adjustments, and we didn’t.”
Webber scored 20 points in 33 minutes of the Wildcats’ Jan. 24 loss to Providence. She started the following game Jan. 28 against DePaul, scoring 18 points. She was back in the starting lineup for the second straight game Wednesday night.
The 5-foot-11 guard is second on the team in scoring at 9.4 ppg, emerging as a much needed No. 2 scoring option alongside Olsen, even if things were tough in the second half Wednesday.
“We shook it up in the DePaul game and put her into the starting lineup just to give us that opportunity maybe to get some easier looks for both (her and Lucy) as screeners,” Dillon said. “We’re continuing to look for her to grow. I think she got worn down physically a little bit, which happens to freshmen this time of year.”
The Wildcats took down No. 8 UConn on Feb. 9, 2022 to snap the Huskies’ streak of 169 consecutive conference wins and grab their first victory at UConn since 1993. The Wildcats haven’t won a home game against the Huskies since Feb. 28, 2004.
Villanova played the Huskies tough all three times last season, but the Wildcats have now dropped five in a row to UConn since the 2022 upset.
They’ll have to wait until Feb. 28 in Storrs, Conn. for another shot .
“They’re a tough team, all the Big East is pretty tough though, so every night I get a nice challenge, which is fun,” Olsen said. “It was fun to play them, they’re ranked 11th right now. It’s always fun to play against a ranked team.”