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UConn doesn’t let off the gas in ninth straight conference tournament championship victory

In the last nine years, only one team has shared a conference with the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team and beaten the Huskies. UConn was stunned by rival Villanova University 72-69 back on Feb. 9 at home in Hartford.

“When they beat us, that one hurt,” senior Christyn Williams said. “We didn’t want to lose again to them. We just had our foot on the gas the entire game, and we didn’t take it off.”

With the Big East Tournament championship on the line Monday night in Uncasville, UConn avenged its February loss in a 70-40 romp against the Wildcats.

Williams was named the tournament’s most outstanding player. She said after the game that this was her favorite of her four conference tournament championships in four years at UConn.

“This team has gone through so much over the course of this season,” Williams said. “We had to work so hard to get to where we are right now, so this one just feels really good.”

UConn’s mastery of conference tournament play goes back further than Williams’ time in blue and white. The Huskies nabbed their ninth straight conference tournament championship Monday night.

In this year’s conference tournament, UConn’s average margin of victory in each game was 32. But, this school year has been anything but easy for the Huskies.

“We went through a stretch where we were so used to being hit with something,” senior Evina Westbrook said. “When we weren’t, it felt weird.”

Injuries depleted the roster. Over a seven-game stretch in December and January, the Huskies lost three games and two key players — sophomore Paige Bueckers and freshman Azzi Fudd. The Huskies even fell out of the first 10 spots in the national Top 25 for the first time in 16 years.
But now, the team is healthy. Westbrook says it feels good to have everyone back.

“You can tell in the way that we play,” Westbrook, who had a team-high 13 points, said after the Huskies won the Big East tournament.

Since the team’s last loss against Villanova, the Huskies have won 10 straight games. UConn’s defense has stifled opponents of late. The Wildcats shot 32% from the field in the game, and UConn grabbed 17 more defensive rebounds than Villanova.

Even head coach Geno Auriemma felt this one — out of his 27 conference championship victories — was remarkable.

“When you have this many young players and you have all of the stuff that’s going on — the COVID and the injuries, everybody missing games — to have everybody there at one time to be able to participate and to celebrate, this one was a lot of fun,” Auriemma said.

Auriemma said that the recent stretch proved to his players that they could win without Bueckers, the Associated Press College Player of the Year from last season. She’s working her way back from a fractured leg. Bueckers has played in the last five games, but Auriemma says she’s got a lot of work to do.

“She has her good days mentally, she has her bad days mentally,” Auriemma said. “We’ve got to get her physically feeling better, but I think she has to get her mind right now because she hasn’t been in that mode in three months.”

He calls that “job number one.”

There’s that job and the task of completing the team’s first national championship season in six years.

The NCAA tournament begins March 18. UConn finds out this Sunday who its next opponent will be.