Huskies have little time to reflect

Tyler Olander of UConn, right, grabs a rebound away from Desmond Simmons of Washington in a game at Hartford on Dec. 29.
Tyler Olander of UConn, right, grabs a rebound away from Desmond Simmons of Washington in a game at Hartford on Dec. 29. Fred Beckham/AP Photo

UConn had only a short time to savor its significant road victory on Saturday.

The Huskies quickly turned their focus to their next nationally-ranked opponent.

Just over 48 hours after shocking No. 17 Notre Dame, UConn (12-3, 2-1) is hosting Big East power Louisville (15-1, 3-0) tonight at the XL Center in Hartford. Game time is 7 p.m.

With losses by No. 1 Duke and No. 2 Michigan, Louisville will likely climb from No. 3 to No. 1 in today's new Associated Press top 25 poll.

"We want to keep building on this," coach Kevin Ollie said after his team's 65-58 win stopped Notre Dame's winning streak at 12. "We have a little time to celebrate but after that we have to flush it in the toilet and go on to the next one."

The Huskies enter the showdown a confident and determined bunch. They're playing with a huge chip on their shoulder and relying on toughness and team chemistry to carry them during crucial stages of games.

There also are positive signs of improvement in recent games.

They've out-rebounded three of their last four opponents after losing the battle of the boards in 10 of the first 11 games. Other players, outside of leading scorers Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, are making valuable contributions.

Junior forward Tyler Olander appears to be emerging from his funk, recording career-highs for points in each of the last two games. He played his best game as a Husky on Saturday, finishing with 16 points on 8-for-9 shooting and adding seven rebounds.

If Olander can become a reliable frontcourt presence, the Huskies will be even tougher to beat.

"It's definitely very rewarding," Olander said. "Things weren't working out for me at the beginning of the season. I stuck with it and kept working hard and got into the gym. It feels good to finally have hard work paying off."

UConn will need a complete team effort to knock off Louisville, which extended its winning streak to 10 in a row with a 64-38 rout of South Florida on Saturday.

The Cardinals have been an absolute force this season, beating opponents by an average of almost 21 points per game.

They create havoc with their relentless defensive pressure that forces an average of 20 turnovers per game and attack in transition. Junior Russ Smith and senior Peyton Siva, the preseason Big East player-of-the-year, are considered one of the nation's elite backcourt duos.

On top of that, UConn only has a short time to prepare for Louisville. The Huskies have had both close and ugly losses in the series while dropping five of the last six meetings.

"They're great," Ollie said. "(Coach Rick) Pitino is great. We're going to have to challenge them. They pressure the ball. They have inside play. They have guard play. … We have to be determined to win and not get flustered if we turn the ball over a couple of times."

"We have to stay with poise and balance and encouragement and energy."

By putting the ball in the trusty hands of Napier and Boatright, the Huskies have handled pressure fairly well this season.

Pitino, who during his Boston Celtics coaching days once cut Ollie, talked about the Huskies following his team's win over South Florida.

"They're a great ball club, obviously snapped the long winning streak of Notre Dame at home," Pitino said. "They've got arguably one of the best backcourts in the nation. They both score great.

"… They are a terrific team, I'm really happy for them because I love their coach. He is a class young man and I knew he would do a great job. More so than any other person I've encountered in my life, I knew he would be a great coach."

Fog prevented Louisville from traveling to Connecticut on Sunday. The Cardinals will make the trip today.

g.keefe@theday.com

NO. 3 LOUISVILLE at UCONN

Location: XL Center, Hartford

Tip-off time: 7 p.m. (ESPN)

Records: Louisville 15-1, 3-0; UConn 12-3, 2-1

Last game: Louisville beat South Florida, 64-38, Saturday; UConn won at No. 17 Notre Dame, 65-58, Saturday.

Probable starters: UConn, 6-1 jr. guard Shabazz Napier (17.5 pts, 4.5 rebs), 6-0 so. guard Ryan Boatright (16.1 pts, 4.5 assists), 6-5 fr. guard Omar Calhoun (10.1 pts, 3.1 rebs), 6-8 so. forward DeAndre Daniels (11.0 pts, 4.7 rebs), 6-9 jr. forward Tyler Olander (5.3 pts, 4.1 rebs)

Louisville, 6-0 sr. guard Peyton Siva (11.9 pts), 6-1 jr. guard Russ Smith (18.7 pts, 3.6 rebs), 6-5 so. forward Wayne Blackshear (8.9 pts, 4.0 rebs), 6-6 so. forward Chane Behanan (11.1 pts, 7.4 rebs), 6-11 jr. center Gorgui Dieng (9.6 pts, 9.8 rebs)

Noteworthy, Second game in just over 48 hours for both teams. … Huskies 2-1 vs. ranked teams this season. … Cardinals off to best overall start since 2003-04. … Series history: UConn trails, 7-6, losing last meeting, 80-59, last February in Louisville. Huskies 2-3 at home vs. Cards. … Louisville's 77.1 pts per game average its highest in seven years. … Cardinals second nationally in turnover margin (7.8). Rank third in steals (11.5). … Siva preseason Big East player-of-the-year. … Louisville owns most road wins in Big East (33) in last six years. … Hot: Olander scored career high in consecutive games and made 11 of 13 from field. Cold: Calhoun shooting 6-for-22 in last three games. … Boatright scored in double figures a team-high nine straight games.

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