STORRS, Conn. (AP)No. 9 UConn has won a conference regular season, conference tournament or national title in each of the last 30 years. This one was more difficult than most.
Aaliyah Edwards scored 19 points and Connecticut secured the Big East regular-season title with a 60-51 win over Xavier on Monday night.
Caroline Ducharme added 14 points and Lou Lopez Senechal scored 12 for the Huskies (26-5, 18-2 Big East), who have won a regular-season league title 29 times, including in each of the past 10 seasons, the last three back in the Big East.
It was the 10th consecutive single-digit game for a program that had become accustomed to blowing teams out. Coach Geno Auriemma said that’s going to have to change if the Huskies hope to win a 10th straight conference tournament title, or a 12th national championship.
”Who we are right now? It ain’t happening,” Auriemma said, before adding, ”They could fool me.”
Nika Muhl had five points and seven assists, helping her set the school’s single-season assist record. The junior from Croatia, who became Connecticut’s starting point guard after star Paige Bueckers suffered a season-ending knee injury over the summer, now has 236, five more than Sue Bird (2001-02).
Fernanda Ovalle had nine points to lead Xavier (7-22, 0-20), which lost its 19th consecutive game.
UConn scored eight of the game’s first 10 points, but saw Xavier take a 22-20 lead after an 11-0 run into the second quarter.
The Huskies gathered themselves from there, going on a 16-2 run to close the half. Ayanna Patterson’s driving layup just before the buzzer gave UConn a 36-24 lead at the break.
The Huskies led by as many as 18 points in the second half, but just 50-38 after three quarters and had a hard time separating themselves from the pesky Musketeers.
A championship ”is always the goal, so it feels good to accomplish that,” Ducharme said. ”But there’s a standard and the way we’ve been playing is not up to the standard of how we know we can play and how good we know we can be.”
The Huskies played without starting forward Dorka Juhasz, who sprained her right ankle on Saturday against DePaul. The injury is just the latest in a long line of ailments for the Huskies, who are without star Bueckers and Azzi Fudd (knee injury) as well as freshman Ice Brady (season-ending knee injury). Fudd warmed up with the team before the game and could return for the conference tournament. Auriemma said he expects Juhasz to be available this weekend.
Xavier: The Musketeers have not won a game since beating Cincinnati on Dec. 9. They will be the bottom seed in the upcoming conference tournament, but coach Melanie Moore likes the way her team has been competing lately.
”We are young, but I thought today our kids didn’t play young,” Moore said. ”They played together and they believed they could win, and they competed.”
UConn: The win came just hours after the Huskies dropped five spots in the AP Poll after a loss last week to St. John’s and a close win on the road at DePaul. UConn has played in 10 straight games decided by 10 points or fewer points, going 7-3 over that span.
”There’s a reason why the last 10 games have been the way they’ve been,” Auriemma said. ”It has nothing to do with fatigue. We’ve used that long enough. That story has sailed. Now, it’s just being held accountable for doing what you’re being coached to do, not what you feel like doing.”
Muhl came into the game needing three assists to pass Bird. It didn’t take her long to do that. Her pass setting up a 3-pointer by Ducharme was her third assist in the game’s first five minutes.
Xavier: The Musketeers will play Friday in the Big East Tournament against No. 6 seed Seton Hall.
UConn: The Huskies get a bye into the quarterfinals of the tournament, and will open play at noon on Saturday against either No. 8 seed Butler or No. 9 Georgetown.
AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25