2022 Villanova vs Connecticut

Historic Stakes Await UConn In Villanova Matchup

Historic Stakes Await UConn In Villanova Matchup

At 15-5 in the BIG EAST, Villanova sits just two games back in the loss column of the 18-3 Huskies.

May 6, 2022 by Kyle Kensing
Historic Stakes Await UConn In Villanova Matchup

A team wants to play its best ball of the season in May. That’s especially true for Connecticut, which takes its BIG EAST Conference lead into the final regular-season weekend for the biggest series of the Huskies’ breakout campaign. 

UConn hosts preseason league favorite and current second-placed Villanova for a three-game series that carries championship stakes. 

At 15-5 in the BIG EAST, Villanova sits just two games back in the loss column of the 18-3 Huskies. A Wildcats sweep gives coach Bridget Orchard’s team the regular-season title and top seed in next week’s BIG EAST Championship. 

Sweeping UConn has proven impossible through conference play all season, however. In fact, the Huskies have yet to drop a BIG EAST series. In its last league set two weeks ago against Seton Hall, UConn outpaced the Pirates by a combined 25 runs to eight over the three games, all Huskies’ wins. 

It was the fourth BIG EAST sweep of the season for the NCAA Tournament hopefuls from Storrs. 

That dominance has UConn on the cusp of its first regular-season title since Hall of Famer Karen Mullins’ Huskies dominated the BIG EAST in the 1990s, winning six straight from 1992 through 1997. 

In just her third season as a head coach–not only at UConn, but anywhere–Laura Valentino is on the cusp of leading the Huskies to heights the program has not reached since Mullins’ heyday. 

In addition to the 25-year conference title drought, a spell exacerbated with UConn’s struggles upon moving to the American Athletic Conference last decade, the Huskies are also on the precipice of their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 21 years.

In 2001, UConn reached the last of nine NCAA Tournaments over a stretch beginning in 1989 and peaking with the 1993 Women’s College World Series. The 2022 squad has already matched one of the accomplishments eluding the program in the two decades since, picking up its 30th win for the first time since that '01 campaign.  

The 2021 Huskies nearly snapped the postseason skid in a run that further heightens the stakes for the finale against Villanova. UConn finished third in last season’s BIG EAST regular-season race, but advanced to the championship round with wins over VU and surprise Butler, which stunned DePaul in the 1st Round. 

A rematch with Villanova in the title round produced two separate yet similar heartbreaks. 

UConn jumped ahead in both title-round contests–each time in the first inning, and each time plating Briana Marcelino. And, in both games, those were the only runs the Huskies mustered. 

Villanova took the first game thanks in part to an Angela Giampolo grand slam. Giampolo is back with the Wildcats in 2022, as is Paige Rauch, whose three-run shot in the seventh inning of the second title game delivered the championship exclamation mark for the Wildcats. 

Rauch is batting .301 on the '22 season with a team-high 10 home runs, just one more than UConn’s pace-setter Marcelino. 

Marcelino is also coming into the pivotal VU series fresh off becoming UConn’s all-time career leader in RBI. 

A series win to sew up the regular-season championship doesn’t undo missing the 2021 NCAA Tournament field–nor does it guarantee UConn a spot in this year’s postseason. However, it might offer some insurance if the Huskies do not win next week’s tournament. 

Connecticut heads into the VU series with an RPI of No. 63. Villanova is the only other BIG EAST team currently in the top 100 (DePaul checks in at No. 102). While it leaves the Huskies with some work to do, they sit not far behind No. 52 Cal–the last at-large team in, according to Hayden King’s bracketology.