On Monday, UConn women’s basketball won its 19th Big East Tournament championship with a 73-39 drubbing of Marquette, capping off the Huskies’ best three-game stretch of the season.
As expected, none of the tournament games were particularly close, though that doesn’t mean they were useless. In fact, even Geno Auriemma, who vocally opposed holding conference tournaments this season just a month ago, was glad the Big East Tournament continued on.
“In retrospect, it ended up being great for us because we’re going into the next tournament with a better sense of who we are as a team, a better identity of who we are as a team,” he said. “We found out a lot about some of our players these last three days. So the Big East Tournament definitely benefited us.”
This is what we learned about UConn women’s basketball during the Big East Tournament:
Christyn Williams is now a shutdown defender
Daniel Connolly: Across three games, Christyn Williams held the Big East’s first, fifth and 11th leading scorers to a combined 12 points on 5-32 shooting. She’s transformed into a legitimate defensive stopper in just the last few weeks, something I’m not sure anyone could have predicted. If you told me at the start of the year that UConn would have a lockdown defender in March, Williams would’ve been either near or at the bottom of my list of likely candidates. If she can keep up her current level of play on both ends of the court, I’m not sure anyone can stop the Huskies.
Williams should’ve been the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, too.
Megan Gauer: It’s hard to oversell how impressive Williams’ defensive performance was in this tournament. She completely shut down her assignments in each game, not only limiting their scoring, but on most possessions their involvement in the offense altogether. Villanova’s Maddy Siegrist is not only one of the best players in the Big East but one of the best in the country and a finalist for the Katrina McClain Award (formerly won by Napheesa Collier), which goes to the nation’s top power forward. Williams held her to a career low two points on Sunday and then followed it up by holding WNBA draft prospect Selena Lott to just two points on Monday.
I’m seconding that she should have won Most Outstanding Player, on her defensive play alone — though her offensive performance was solid too.
UConn’s team defense was outstanding, too
Connolly: Williams set the tone for an impressive overall defensive effort from the Huskies in the tournament. UConn held its three opponents to 41, 39 and 39 total points and under 30 percent shooting overall in each game. With the way this team is defending, the Arkansas game feels like a lifetime ago.
Gauer: Not only were the 39 points that UConn held Villanova and Marquette season lows for both teams, they completely obliterated their prior season lows. Neither team had previously scored fewer than 48 points in a game this season and both averaged over 70 points per game on the year.
The offense has more balance
Gauer: It was only a month ago that UConn relied on the Paige Bueckers Show to take down South Carolina with her third straight 30-point game. But in the Big East Tournament, the offense found more balance. Adding to her spectacular defense, Williams looked the best offensively we’ve seen all season long and averaged over 18 points a game, including a team-high 26 against Villanova.
The Huskies also got double-figure contributions from Olivia Nelson-Ododa in the first two games when they pounded the ball in the paint and from Nika Muhl against Marquette en route to one of the team’s best performances from beyond the arc this season.
Nika Muhl is built different
Connolly: On Saturday, Nika Muhl rolled her ankle on a fast break and needed to be helped off the court and into the locker room before returning to the bench with crutches. She then played 49 minutes the next two days and didn’t even have a discernible limp, either — not to mention her mysterious black eye.
“Nika is a pretty tough kid, as tough as they come,” Auriemma said after Saturday’s game.
He wasn’t lying. I don’t know what exactly what Muhl is made out of but after seeing what she did this weekend, it’s clear she’s on a different plane than the rest of us mortals.
UConn is peaking at the right time
Connolly: Exactly one week prior to the championship game, UConn needed all 40 minutes to beat Marquette by 10 at Gampel Pavilion. Last night, the Huskies’ lead never dipped below 10 after the opening 6:41. Since the loss to Arkansas, this UConn team has been on an upward trajectory and the Big East Tournament was the latest step in its progression. Everything finally seems to be clicking — from the defense to the balanced scoring to the ability to score inside and out.
While nobody in the Big East posed a legitimate threat, the Huskies still embarrassed two potential NCAA Tournament teams with ease, something that UConn’s best teams would do on a regular basis. The Huskies are beginning to peak at the exact right time.
“I feel like we’re making great momentum strides right now, playing our best basketball, really focusing on the scouting reports and what our game plan is and trying to stick to it each and every game,” Bueckers said after the Villanova win.
Gauer: The last three games were clearly the best basketball UConn has played all season, which is exactly where you want to be heading into the NCAA tournament.
Both Bueckers and Williams highlighted a sense of urgency with this mean now that they’ve moved into postseason play. That urgency was on full display against both Villanova and Marquette, especially in the first half. After struggling with slow starts nearly all season long, the Huskies played near-perfect first quarters in both matchups.