Lou Lopez Sénéchal scored 22 points, including a crucial rainbow jumper late in the fourth quarter, to lead No. 6 UConn to a 60-51 victory over Maddy Siegrist and No. 14 Villanova on Saturday.
“I think she’s been absolutely remarkable,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said of Sénéchal. “If we didn’t have Lou, I hate to think where we would be.”
Dorka Juhász added 14 points and 10 rebounds and Aaliyah Edwards had 13 points and 14 boards for the Huskies (24-4, 16-1 Big East).
Siegrist, the nation’s leading scorer, had 21 points for the Wildcats (23-5, 14-3). Villanova lost just its second contest in the last 16 — both to the Huskies. Lucy Olsen added 13 points for Villanova.
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The game was close throughout the first three quarters; the Huskies entered the final quarter leading 44-39. Sénéchal made a pair of free throws and then swished a 3 from the top of the key to give UConn its largest lead to that point, 49-39, with 8:55 left. UConn pushed its advantage to a game-high 52-40 on Juhász’s fastbreak layup from Sénéchal with 7:44 left.
The Wildcats came roaring back, scoring the next 10 points over 3:49 to make it 52-50 with 3:55 to play on Olsen’s drive. The Huskies committed four of their 22 turnovers during the Villanova spurt, which featured back-to-back 3-pointers by Siegrist and Olsen.
Edwards ended UConn’s 4:39 scoring drought with a layup to make it 54-50. Then Sénéchal nailed her high-arching shot from close range to give the Huskies a five-point advantage that proved enough cushion.
“I just tried to put some arc to it,” Sénéchal said. “Didn’t think too much and just tried to make the shot.”
At least 100 fans were lined up outside 1½ hours before game time, and fans packed into the Pavilion for just the second sellout in Villanova women’s basketball history. The student section was full and rocking at tipoff, and the national TV cameras focused in on the action on and off the court.
“The atmosphere was unbelievable,” Auriemma said.
Most cameras and eyes were on Siegrist, the 6-foot-2 senior from Poughkeepsie, New York, who entered leading the country in scoring (29.4 ppg) and had a hot hand in her last two contests. Siegrist followed a school and conference record 50-point performance last Saturday against Seton Hall with 39 points in a win over St. John’s on Wednesday. Over those two contests, Villanova’s all-time leading scorer made 35 of 52 shots, including 7 of 13 3-pointers, while adding 21 rebounds.
Siegrist displayed her inside and outside scoring skills in a strong first quarter in which she made 5 of 7 shots and scored 10 points. She followed a nifty layup after a back-door cut with a 10-foot baseline fadeaway during one first-quarter sequence. But the Huskies mostly held her in check from that point, and Siegrist finished 8 of 22 from the field, including 1 of 5 from 3-point range. Her point total matched her season low, the third time this season she has scored 21.
Edwards did the bulk of the defensive work against Siegrist.
“I think you have to be physical because she’s a physical player, and Aaliyah is probably the only one on our team that can match that physicality,” Auriemma said. “... As long as (Siegrist) was working hard for everything that she got, I felt like we were doing our part. And then we needed some help from her to miss some shots.”
Siegrist said she felt good, but the shots just weren’t falling..
“Some days it doesn’t go in, and today was one of those days," she said. "Every time I let it go from my hand, I think it’s going in.”
UConn: The Huskies are in prime position for their 29th Big East regular-season title with three games left. UConn will be look for its ninth straight conference tournament title, and 28th overall, followed by a run at their 12th national title.
Villanova: Siegrist and the Wildcats have three games left in the regular season and likely will have to go through UConn again to win the Big East tournament.
UConn: Azzi Fudd (right knee) missed her 11th straight contest. … Juhász played through a sprained ankle suffered in practice Friday, Auriemma said.
UConn: Hosts St. John’s on Tuesday.
Villanova: Hosts DePaul on Tuesday