On his first tour of Villanova’s new home court, Geno Auriemma paused when he saw a sign that said, “Moments of Greatness.” When he noticed that many of those highlights were for Wildcats wins over UConn, it didn’t comfort him heading into Tuesday night’s game.
Turns out, Auriemma had nothing to worry about.
Paige Bueckers and Olivia Nelson-Ododa had 19 points apiece to lead UConn to a 90-52 victory over Villanova.
Christyn Williams added 18 points, eight rebounds and seven assists for the Huskies (5-0, 4-0 Big East), who are returning to the Big East this season after playing in the American Athletic Conference for the last seven seasons. The Huskies are the lone remaining undefeated team in the conference.
“Coming down here is always difficult to win,” Auriemma said. “I never felt comfortable coming down here that it was going to be easy.”
Although he didn’t think it was going to be a cinch, the UConn coach was thrilled to be back at Villanova. It’s just a short ride from his hometown of Norristown, and he has so many great memories of games and people from the Philadelphia area. He spent part of Tuesday conversing with Villanova men’s coach Jay Wright and former women’s coach Harry Perretta, a longtime rival who retired following last season.
“It was really, really, really great to get caught up,” Auriemma said.
It was also great to get some comfort food, Auriemma said. He brought some Philly cheesesteaks on the bus for a snack on the ride home.
“I wish we played here twice a month,” he said.
Sarah Mortensen scored 17 points and Maddy Siegrist added 15 for Villanova (7-1, 2-1).
The Huskies, who last played Villanova on Jan. 29, 2013, had gotten little resistance in their first four games, winning by an average of 40.8 points.
The Wildcats, though, played UConn tight through much of the first half before the Huskies separated themselves late in the period. Mortensen’s 3-pointer trimmed UConn’s lead to 32-29 with 3 ½ minutes left, but the Huskies scored the final 10 points before the break to enter halftime ahead 42-29. The Huskies had switched to a zone defense late in the half which stymied Villanova.
Bueckers, UConn’s leading scorer and the reigning Big East freshman of the week, scored the final seven points of the half.
“They were getting easier buckets than us,” Bueckers said. “It was important to get that strong run at the end of the second quarter. It was really big for us going into halftime.”
UConn pulled away early in the second half, and the lead was 54-43 when Williams finished a drive from close range after a pretty spin move set up the easy bucket.
And the Huskies kept going from there.
The loss was the first for Denise Dillon, who replaced Perretta this season. Dillon matched Perretta’s school record for wins to start a season at seven; Perretta, who retired after last season, lost to Scranton in his eighth game during the 1978-79 season.
“It was a good first 15 minutes of basketball,” Dillon said. “Plenty of work to be done. We really have to feel this one and see how far we need to go. So far on both ends of team basketball.”
UConn: The Huskies are right where they are used to being -- and were expected to be upon their return -- in the Big East. UConn won 19 regular-season league titles and 18 tournament championships while competing in the Big East from 1982-2013. And the Huskies, the preseason favorite to win the league, are right on track to add to that list.
Villanova: The Wildcats will look to bounce back and continue the good feeling from the strong start under Dillon with four scheduled Big East games, against Georgetown, Seton Hall, Marquette and Providence, before a rematch at UConn on Jan. 16.
Villanova sophomore guard Kenzie Gardler is the granddaughter of the late Bud Gardler, who was Auriemma’s high school coach at Bishop Kenrick in nearby Norristown. Her aunt, Meghan, played at UConn for Auriemma.
The victory improved Auriemma to 1,096-142 in 36 seasons. The 11-time national champion coach is two victories from tying legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer, with 1,101 career wins, is the all-time winningest Division I women’s basketball coach.
UConn: The Huskies have a week off before their next scheduled game, Dec. 30 at Marquette.
Villanova: After 10 days off, the Wildcats are scheduled to host Georgetown on Jan. 2.