UConn women’s basketball runs past Villanova 67-46 as Paige Bueckers logs another 31 points

STORRS — The UConn women’s basketball team is just one win away from its first undefeated finish in the Big East since 2020-21 after beating Villanova 67-46 at Gampel Pavilion on Wednesday night.

Senior stars Paige Bueckers and Aaliyah Edwards once again fueled UConn’s dominant performance. Edwards nearly had a double-double at halftime with 10 points and nine rebounds, and she finished with 14 points, 11 rebounds and two assists.

Bueckers logged 31 points, five rebounds and two blocks in 33 minutes after foul trouble forced her to spend the last several minutes in the third quarter on the bench. It was her second consecutive game with 30-plus points and fourth of the season. Bueckers also didn’t log a single assist for the first time all season, a positive sign to coach Geno Auriemma that she’s learning when to play selfishly.

“I love it,” Auriemma said with a grin. “We know Paige, on every ball screen, is going to get trapped or some kind of double team. When that happens and people get open, she’s going to find them one way or another. But she can only find them if they really think Paige is trying to score every time she touches the ball and she’s putting that kind of mental and actual physical pressure on the other team … So we’ve still go a long way to go.”

Villanova star Lucy Olsen entered the matchup averaging nearly 24 points per game, but the Huskies defense held her without a single field goal on seven attempts in the first half. With Olsen limited, Villanova’s whole offense stalled. Thought UConn shot well below its season averages at 44.4% from the field and 26.7% from 3-point range, the Huskies held the Wildcats to four made 3-pointers on 23 attempts and 31% shooting on field goals.

“When you do a pretty good job (defending) on somebody, you need a little bit of help from them — and I thought we we worked really, really hard,” Auriemma said. “Obviously it’s not easy because she’s a terrific player and hard to guard … It’s not that the strategy was any different this time that it was last time. We just worked really, really hard to try to make it hard for her to get the ball and make it hard for her to get where she’s going.”

A hush fell over Gampel Pavilion late in the first quarter when Nika Muhl went down with an apparent injury to her upper right leg, a scene UConn fans have seen all too often in the last three seasons. Freshman Qadence Samuels got early minutes to start the second in Muhl’s place and finished with five points, four rebounds and two steals in 14 total minutes. Muhl quickly returned though, earning a massive cheer from the home crowd when she checked back in, and the senior finished the game with four points, six assists and two rebounds.

“It was a big emphasis when Nika went out of keeping the energy up, because that was mostly what was keeping our energy going was the defensive intensity,” freshman KK Arnold said. “When Nika went down, it was my goal not to let Lucy score or anybody else score, and communication is a big key when Nika is in there. Her presence, her communication … calms the team down, so that was one of the biggest things I was trying to take on when she went out.”

UConn was immediately dominant on defense, holding Villanova without a field goal for the final three minutes of the first quarter to lead 15-10 after one. Edwards logged two steals in the first quarter alone and finished tying her career high of four, marking her fourth game in the last five with at least two forced turnovers. The Huskies had difficulty protecting possessions themselves with 16 turnovers to Villanova’s 17 and a combined eight by Edwards and Bueckers, and they struggled at times to capitalize with 16 points off turnovers while the Wildcats scored 12.

The Huskies’ offense stalled in the third quarter, and they were outscored 13-12 by Villanova after leading by 11 points at halftime. Olsen scored her first two field goals of the game with Bueckers off the floor, and Samuels was the only UConn player to record points in the third besides Bueckers and Edwards.

However, Arnold was impactful outside of the score, coming one short of her season-best with six rebounds plus four steals and three assists. Freshman Ashlynn Shade also hit a clutch fourth-quarter jump shot that opened up UConn’s lead to greater than 10 points. The Huskies sealed the victory with a 6-0 run over the final two minutes in the fourth.

“I think anybody on any given night can be a scoring threat with 20-plus points. It’s just about us getting good movement and flowing offensively, and I feel like we haven’t shot the ball as well lately compared to the midseason,” Bueckers said. “But we’re extremely confident, and every single on of us that steps on the floor can be scoring.”