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UConn wins Big East title: Huskies ‘have a different edge’ in March

UConn's Aaliyah Edwards holds the Big East Tournament trophy as the Huskies celebrate their title run. (M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

UConn women’s basketball limped to the end of the regular season, beset by injuries and inconsistent play. Even coach Geno Auriemma doubted his team’s postseason chances.

Then the calendar flipped to March.

The No. 7 Huskies (29-5) found their footing in the Big East Tournament, building to a 67-56 win against Villanova in Monday’s championship game. With the victory, they claimed their 10th straight conference tournament title (third in the Big East) and 28th overall.

“We definitely have a different edge to us when March comes, when the games really, really, really matter,” junior guard Nika Mühl said. “… We’re just going to continue to keep that up because now every game matters.”

UConn ended the regular season with three losses in its last eight games. And the five wins it eked out were all decided by 10 points or fewer. The team had dealt with a number injuries, and particularly the absence of star sophomore Azzi Fudd, but Auriemma also called out the “selfishness” he had seen down the stretch.

Rather than become mired in their struggles, though, the Huskies saw in March and in the Big East Tournament a chance to turn the page.

“It almost felt like a chapter had been closed,” Auriemma said after the title win. “I can sit back now and really let everything, like, wash over you that you’ve been holding in. So many things have happened on and off the court this past season — personally, team-wise, everything — that to get to this point, you want to just close that book and now start a brand-new one starting next Sunday.

“That book ended the right way. It had a lot of acts and a lot of tragedies and a lot of ups and downs, a lot of stuff, but the book ended the right way. And now it’s time for a new one.”

The return of Azzi Fudd right in time for the postseason helped. She scored 11 points off the bench against Villanova. So did the dominance of junior forward Aaliyah Edwards, who was named the Most Outstanding Player in the tournament after posting her third-straight double-double (19 points, 15 rebounds).

“I think the whole season she’s been carrying us,” senior forward Dorka Juhász said of Edwards. “And I just remember, even last year, when the tournament came, a different Aaliyah came out to play.”

With the Big East title, the Huskies gathered momentum ahead of the NCAA Tournament, which tips off next week.