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Women's Basketball: Saint Joseph's Turns Game Around in Second Half, Beating Villanova for The First Time Since 2015

By Luca Pascucci, 12/17/23, 9:15PM EST


PHILADELPHIA - For the first time since 2015, the Saint Joseph’s Hawks defeated the Villanova Wildcats in women’s basketball. This win snapped their 7-game losing streak to Villanova and helped them reach 9-1 on the season and dropping Villanova to 6-3.

On December 9th, St. Joe’s hosted the Wildcats at Hagan Arena, and the Hawks defeated them 73-67 and helped clinch their share in the Big 5 Classic.

The Hawks was led by senior Mackenzie Smith, who had 21 points in 32 minutes, shooting 60% from the field. Along with Smith, forwards Laura Ziegler and Talya Brugler each had 16 points while playing all 40 minutes. Ziegler recorded 11 rebounds as well.

“We harp on being prepared every day and challenging each other every day,” Smith said. “We said in our huddle before the game, this is our chance to secure a spot for our first championship that we’re going to win.”

The Wildcats were attacking the Hawks offensively the whole game, with senior guard Lucy Olsen leading the way. The Collegeville native had 32 of the team’s 67 points and is averaging 25.3 points per game on the season. St. Joe’s had a hard time guarding Olsen from the three, with her knocking down 4 of 9 attempts from the arc, making them season highs for both three-pointers made, and three-pointers attempted on the season.

Saint Joseph's in 73-67 win over Villanova. (Video/ Geanine Jamison)

Villanova started the game off strong, with big defensive stops and Olsen scoring 7 of their first 11 points 3 minutes into the game. Both teams struggled offensively throughout the middle of the quarter, both going scoreless for 3 minutes straight. The Wildcats held the lead for the whole 1st quarter, ending in 18-13.

Much of the same happened in the second quarter, and Villanova held their lead for the whole 1st half. Villanova controlled the tempo of the first half entirely. Villanova freshman Maddie Webber hit a three 2 minutes left in the quarter to push the lead to 10. Villanova struggled offensively in the second, shooting 27.78% from the field and 20% from the three, but still finished the half with a 5-point lead making it 33-28 Wildcats.

Coming out of the half, the Hawks came out with a goal to gain momentum and mentally get back into the game, and that they did.

They had a plan to attack the paint offensively by getting physical and getting to the line.

“We just saw when we move the ball, and we get it inside, outside, we get better looks,” Brugler stated. “We get more open looks, and more makeable shots for our teammates. I know that we have a really selfless group, so we’re willing to make the extra pass to get the greatest shot. So, we did that more in the second half.”

Post Press Conference with St. Joe's Head Coach Cindy Griffin. (video/ SJU Athletics)

The Hawks kept fighting throughout the third, with  Brugler,  Ziegler, and Smith all recording 10 points nearing the end of the third. The momentum swung in favor of the Hawks, and they paced to go on an 8-1 run to cut the lead to 1 nearing the conclusion of the third and then tying it at 49 in the last minute of the quarter. St. Joe’s finally gained the lead to end the 3rd at 51-49 with a layup from Ziegler, and after that there was no turning back as the Hawks maintained the lead for the rest of the game.

In the third quarter, the Hawks shot 61.54% from the field, and 60% from the three, while also holding the Wildcats to 1-7 from the arc.

“They’re mentally tough, they’re physically tough," Hawks head coach Cindy Griffin said. “We had people with 0 fouls, to me that’s not playing aggressive. You’re going to get at least 1. So, I think the mentality changed, and we turned it up a notch defensively, and we’re capable of doing it.

When asked what happened to change your mind set in the third quarter, Smith stated “Coach actually, she looked at me at the timeout and said to stop being emotional and to start playing basketball, and that’s exactly what I tried to do.”

The fourth quarter stayed close, with both teams getting big defensive stops and playing physical by drawing fouls and drawing turnovers. But every time one team would go down and score, the other would answer, which made St, Joe’s keep their lead throughout the fourth. The Hawks would push the lead to 8 with under a minute left and end the game winning 73-67.

The Hawks would score 22 points in the fourth quarter, showing their offensive switch in the game plan worked for them against Villanova’s defensive scheme. St. Joe’s 42 points in the paint along with 38 rebounds as a team allowed them to take the game over and gain control of what felt like in the first half, was out of their reach.

“We scored some points tonight, which is something we didn’t do the other night against a really good team [Utah], and tonight we did,” Griffin said. “We’re capable of doing that going forward.”

The Hawks improved to 9-1 with this win. They will have a chance to win the Title outright when they play La Salle on Jan. 15th.

Up next, St. Joe's will face the New Hampshire Wildcats at home on December 20 for the Hawk Classic.