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Amna Subham and Wayne Staats | February 17, 2023

Why upsetting UConn puts Villanova on track to party like it’s 1987

South Carolina, DI college basketball's last unbeaten team, leads the Power 10 rankings

Thirty-six years. That's how long it's been since Villanova women’s basketball last won the Big East conference regular-season title in 1987. 

A lot has changed since then. The first Top Gun movie was a year old and a young coach named Geno Auriemma was in the midst of his second season at UConn. The Huskies had a losing record his first year — nothing unusual at the time for UConn. The history since then, however, is well-known. Geno and UConn have won 11 national titles, haven't missed the Final Four since 2007 and last failed to win a conference regular season crown in 2013.

But now Villanova gets its chance. Ending that title drought and NCAA tournament seeding implications are two of the big things riding on Saturday’s No. 6 UConn vs. No. 14 Villanova game, which tips off at 2:30 p.m. ET at Villanova. 

UConn (23-4, 15-1 Big East) currently holds the top spot in the conference. Villanova (23-4, 14-2 Big East) trails by a game. If UConn wins, it would put the Huskies on the inside track to their 11th straight conference title with games left against St. John's (16-11, 6-10), DePaul (14-13, 7-9) and Xavier (7-18, 0-11). If Villanova wins, they would be tied for first. The Wildcats close with DePaul, Providence (13-14, 4-12) and Seton Hall (16-11, 9-8).

The game could also have an impact on seeding for the NCAA tournament. A Villanova win would be a huge boost, potentially, up the seed line as the program looks for its best seed since getting a No. 2 in 2003; Villanova hasn't finished as a top-four seed since but were No. 15 overall last week in the first NCAA DI Women’s Basketball Committee top-16 reveal, effectively putting Villanova at a No. 4 seed. 

The Huskies ranked fourth overall in the top-16 reveal, placing them as a No. 1 seed. The announcement came a day after UConn lost to Marquette, which didn’t ding the Huskies much. A second conference loss might. 

TOP-16 ANNOUNCEMENT: Reveal schedule | Breakdown 

UConn’s resume is stacked with non-conference games, including four wins over currently ranked teams. 

Villanova, however, has yet to win a game over a currently ranked opponent. A win over top-10 UConn, a potential tournament No. 1 seed, would prove huge for the Wildcats in the next rankings reveal on Feb. 23. 

So would ending the conference drought. 

Wildcat legend Shelly Pennefather led that 1987 squad to the Big East regular season and tournament title. Pennefather was the program's all-time leading scorer until Maddy Siegrist broke the 36-year-old record on Jan. 20. Pennefather later took her vows as a nun and is now Sister Rose Marie.

Siegrist can make it feel like 1987 again, at least when it comes to winning a regular season title. She leads the nation in scoring at 29.4 points a game while shooting better than 53 percent from the field. She's scored 50 and 39 the last two times out — that 50-point game was the most scored this season by any DI player. She's also the Big East's all-time scoring leader.

Though UConn won the first meeting between the two this season 63-58, Villanova has had some instances of being the rare thorn in UConn's side. Last season in Hartford, Villanova handed the Huskies their first conference loss in 169 games with a 72-69 stunner. In 2003, Villanova upset then-undefeated No. 1 UConn in the Big East tournament, giving the Huskies first first conference tournament loss since 1993. And only Providence (21 wins) has more victories against UConn than Villanova's 18. Granted, UConn has still gone 39-18 in the series.

This UConn team may not seem as invulnerable as others have, though. The Huskies have dealt with injuries this season, notably losing star Paige Bueckers to a season-ending knee injury and losing Azzi Fudd for most of the season.

🔮 BRACKETOLOGY: Bracket predictions after the top-16 reveal

But UConn is still UConn — the giant hurdle blocking Villanova's path to being a regular-season champion again for the first time in 36 years.


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