UNCASVILLE, Conn. – UConn coach Geno Auriemma believes his team is just now rounding into form.
That’s a scary thought for every other program in the nation.
Christyn Williams scored 26 points and the top-ranked Huskies used a stifling defense to overwhelm Villanova 84-39 on Sunday in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament.
Paige Bueckers had 18 points and eight assists and Olivia Nelson-Ododa added 13 points and seven rebounds for Connecticut (23-1).
The Huskies will play Monday for their 19th Big East title in their first year back in the league after spending seven seasons dominating the American Athletic Conference.
Connecticut put the game away in the first half, holding Villanova to just five baskets on 33 shots over the first 20 minutes (15%) and outscoring the Wildcats 20-3 in the second quarter.
The Wildcats had just 15 baskets on 61 shots for the game, shooting 18% from the floor.
“When you watch a team play late in the season and all the things that you’ve been trying to work on come to life, it makes the kids feel like all the work and all the effort they put into it are worth it,” Auriemma said.
A layup by Aaliyah Edwards gave the Huskies their first 20-point lead at 31-10 and a putback by Nelson-Ododa made it 30-point game a few minutes later. A three-point play by Bueckers at the end of the first half sent the Huskies into the locker room up 45-13.
They led 64-26 after three quarters.
“I feel like we’re just making great momentum strides right now, playing our best basketball, really focusing in on the scouting report and what are game plan is and trying to stick to it each and every game,” Bueckers said.
Sarah Mortensen had 15 points to lead Villanova (15-6). Maddy Siegrist, the Big East’s leading scorer, put up her team’s first points on a three-point play, but was held scoreless the rest of the game.
Coach Denise Dillon said it was hard for the Wildcats to find any open shooter.
“They’re able to switch one through five, and that’s exactly what they did,” she said. They were extremely disruptive of taking us off our mark with any of our offenses.”
Villanova: Siegrist, who came in averaging a league-best 23.6, had not scored fewer than nine points this season. The 39 points were the Wildcat’s fewest in any game this season. Their previous low was 48 in a two-point win over Drexel in December.
UConn: The Huskies advance to their 17th consecutive conference final, looking for an eighth straight conference tournament title. They will be looking for their first Big East championship since 2012 after losing the 2013 title game to Notre Dame. The Huskies are 159-0 in conference games since that loss.
PLAYING THROUGH PAIN
UConn freshman guard Nika Muhl was on crutches Saturday after rolling an ankle against St. John’s. She was in the starting lineup on Sunday and finished with three points in 18 minutes.
“Overnight she did everything she was asked to do,” Auriemma said. “She is a tough kid, and I’m sure it hurt, and she played through it anyway.”
UConn outrebounded Villanova 47-24. They outscored the Wildcats 44-10 in the paint and 14-0 on the fast break,
Villanova awaits a tournament bid
UConn faces No. 2 seed Marquette for the Big East championship on Monday night. The Golden Eagles beat Creighton 64-59 in Sunday’s other semifinal.