Another of the Connecticut women’s basketball program’s lengthy winning streaks has ended.
Not since the previous iteration of the Big East Conference had the eighth-ranked Huskies lost to an intraleague opponent until Villanova escaped with a 72-69 win on the road on Wednesday.
UConn (15-5, 9-1) hadn’t lost a regular-season conference game or a conference tournament game since the 2012-13 season, a stretch of 169 games including the postseason. Its last conference loss was to Notre Dame in March 2013.
The Huskies carried that run over the next seven seasons in the American Athletic Conference and continued it upon joining the current Big East for the 2020-21 season.
Villanova (16-6, 10-3) led by as many as 19 points in the third quarter and never trailed in the game, but UConn drew to within 6 points with 56 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter after a 14-4 run. A basket by Azzi Fudd made it a 2-point game with nine seconds left before Villanova claimed its eighth straight win.
“You’re so aware that UConn can score quickly and get the stops, too, and we felt that in the fourth quarter,” Wildcats Coach Denise Dillon said.
She added: “We held on for dear life down the stretch and found a way to get a huge win.”
Earlier this season, Georgia Tech ended the Huskies’ 239-game unbeaten stretch against unranked opponents. On Wednesday, as in that December loss to the Yellowjackets in Atlanta, UConn played without Paige Bueckers, who won the Naismith Player of the Year Award last season as a freshman.
Bueckers sustained a tibial plateau fracture in her left knee in a Dec. 5 win over Notre Dame and has not played since.
Olivia Nelson-Ododa, the senior forward who was the conference’s co-defensive player of the year in 2021, also did not play for UConn, which used just six players. Villanova had a sizable rebounding advantage, 37-21 overall and 12-4 on the offensive end.
Lior Garzon led Villanova’s four double-figure scorers with 19 points. Maddy Siegrist and Brianna Herlihy had double-doubles, helping Villanova beat the Huskies for the first time since 2004. A team that ended shooting 29.7 percent from 3-point range shot 10 for 22 on Wednesday.
Fudd, the UConn freshman making just her second start, led all scorers with 29 points on 11-of-20 shooting. She started the fourth-quarter run with one of her four 3-pointers.
“You have to be happy with the effort to get back and maybe we just ran out of time,” Chris Dailey, the Huskies’ associate head coach, told the local ESPN radio station after the game. “But it was a situation in my opinion that it would have been a sin for Villanova to have lost the game only because they outplayed us.”
UConn’s defeat added to a streak-busting week in college basketball. On the men’s side, No. 1 Auburn’s 19-game winning stretch ended against Arkansas, and Santa Clara beat a ranked opponent for the first time since 2004, upsetting No. 22 St. Mary’s at home.
It all ramps up the intrigue as the season heads toward the conference and national tournaments, where UConn will try to end a drought — no titles since 2015-16 — and, perhaps, start another streak.