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Siegrist powers Villanova past Cleveland State in March Madness

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament Championship-UConn vs Villanova

Mar 7, 2022; Uncasville, CT, USA; Villanova Wildcats forward Maddy Siegrist (20) returns the ball against UConn Huskies guard Evina Westbrook (22) in the first half of the Big East Conference Tournament Championship at Mohegan Sun Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

VILLANOVA, Pa. - Maddy Siegrist had a packed Villanova house rocking, another fallen foe reeling, and a simple reason why perhaps - and really, there is no doubt - the greatest player in program history seemingly keeps racking up milestones in the most clutch moments with ease.

“It’s hard to guard a moving target as Coach always says,” she said.

Now, Siegrist has Villanova moving on as March Madness contenders.

Siegrist became the fifth women’s player in NCAA history to score 1,000 points in a season and the first-team AP All-American had 35 points to lead fourth-seeded Villanova into the NCAA Tournament’s second round with a 76-59 win Saturday over Cleveland State.

The Wildcats (29-6) will play No. 12-seed Florida Gulf Coast (33-3) on Monday for the right to advance to the Sweet 16. The Eagles topped Washington State 74-63 in Saturday’s first game.

Villanova’s 29 wins this season tie the 1981-82 team for most in program history.

The two-time Big East Player of the Year, Siegrist got hot early and reached her milestone 1,000th-point bucket in style. Siegrist followed her shot after she missed a jumper from the elbow, crashed the boards and stripped the ball from a Cleveland State defender that had grabbed the rebound. She tossed up a fadeaway and banked in the bucket .

She pounded her fist in the air looking for the and-1 and got it. Siegrist sank the free throw for point No. 1,001 in the 2022-2023 season and gave Villanova a 34-16 lead.

Villanova fell just shy of a sellout at the Pavilion but more than 6,000 fans roared for Siegrist - whose No. 20 jerseys sold in the team store for $120 a pop - on the bucket. When the 1,000-point milestone was announced to the crowd later in the game, she received a standing ovation. She finished 15 of 28 from the field.

“You can’t stop her,” Kielsmeier said. “Anyone who thinks they can is wasting too much time trying to throw too much at her because she’s that good.”

Siegrist has more records, firsts and memorable milestones that most players can ever dream of reaching. Hitting 1,000 points, though, was never on her to-do list.

“I never thought it was an achievable goal,” Siegrist said. “I’m really glad we won the game. It’s better when you win and get the milestone.

Yes, Siegrist at one point had 31 points while the Vikings (30-5) scored just 32. But this was no one-scorer’s show for the Wildcats. In fact, the Pavilion was never at its loudest than when Bella Runyan buried a 3 for a 37-15 lead and she went into a timeout with her signature braided ponytail bouncing behind her. She hit three 3s overall and scored 13 points.

“Bella’s like an X-factor for us,” coach Denise Dillon said. “Today, it was finding open spots and taking the shots.”

The Wildcats were 16-of-38 from the field and 6-of-15 on 3-pointers in the first half for a 42-21 lead. No wonder President Joe Biden picked the Wildcats i n his bracket to win the national championship.

Destiny Leo scored 25 points for the Horizon League Tournament champion Vikings.

The two home games will serve as a raucous farewell for Siegrist after the Poughkeepsie, New York native absolutely sliced up the Villanova and NCAA record books. She entered the game leading the nation in scoring (28.9 points), has scored 20-plus points in all 35 games, and scored a career-best 50 points against Seton Hall. She’s also the career leading scorer in Philadelphia women’s Division I history, as well.

She’s already the career leading scorer for men and women in Big East regular-season games and she’s Villanova’s career leading scorer counting the men’s and women’s teams.

Siegrist also set Villanova’s tournament single-game scoring record on Saturday and led the Wildcats to their first March Madness win at the Pavilion (1-2).

She has one more in sight.

BIG PICTURE

Cleveland State: The Vikings played in their first NCAA Tournament since 2010 and fell to 0-3 overall in the tourney. They also lost in 2009. But Cleveland State had never played higher than a 15 seed in March Madness.

“We didn’t handle the moment quite as well as I had hoped,” Kielsmeier said.

Villanova: Dillon improved to 2-2 in the NCAA Tournament and led the Wildcats to their 23rd home win in their last 25 games. The Wildcats are 32-7 at home in three seasons under Dillon.

CAN I HAVE THAT?

Kielsmeier didn’t leave the dais before he snagged his March Madness placard - and asked for the rest for his team.

“These kids with their mementos,” Kielsmeier cracked.

UP NEXT

Runyan is the daughter of former Philadelphia Eagles great Jon Runyan. FGCU’s Twitter account had some fun with their proximity to the NFL team, writing Fly Eagles Fly before the Eagles’ - basketball, not football - win against Washington State.