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Huskies get right back at it tonight

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: The Day

Published January 18. 2014 4:00AM
Lance Murphey/AP photo
UConn's DeAndre Daniels (2) and Omar Calhoun fight for a rebound with David Pellom of Memphis, left, in the second half of Thursday night's game at Memphis, Tenn. UConn won 83-73.

There's no debate about the American Athletic Conference's marquee matchup.

It's UConn vs. Louisville ... by a landslide.

Lousville is the reigning national basketball champion, UConn last won in 2011, and each program has captured three national titles.

The Cardinals were also the preseason favorite to capture the inaugural AAC title with UConn second, while a pair of guards - UConn's Shabazz Napier and Louisville's Russ Smith - are AAC and national player of the year candidates.

ESPN'S College GameDay will turn its spotlight on tonight at 9 for the first of two regular-season meetings between UConn (14-3, 2-2) and No. 18 Louisville (15-3, 4-1) at a sold out Gampel Pavilion.

The Huskies checked off the first item on this week's To Do List by winning at No. 17 Memphis (83-73) on Thursday night. Now they're shooting to win two straight games against a ranked team for the first time since 2011.

"We got our first road kill in the American," coach Kevin Ollie said Thursday. "I know our fans will be jacked up (Saturday) but we can't get lost in this moment. We have to move on to the next moment."

The Cardinals have made a habit of spoiling the party at UConn, winning their last two trips to Storrs. They have captured six of the last seven meetings, including 73-58 last January in Hartford.

Both teams gained some valuable momentum on Thursday. Louisville dismantled Houston, 91-52. The high-powered Cardinals did what they do best - shoot 3-pointers (15-for-28) and turn turnovers (16) and into points (21).

Pressure defense is always a prominent part of coach Rick Pitino's game plan. The Cardinals also lead the conference in scoring (83.4 points per game).

"We can't let their pressure affect us," Ollie said. "We have to run good, solid offense. … Louisville has some different players that can do damage from the 3-point line if we're not keeping Russ Smith in front of us."

Ollie has his Huskies heading in a positive direction. After losing consecutive games at Houston and SMU, UConn held a team meeting to stop the slide.

They responded with three straight wins. Their defensive focus and overall intensity improved. They're attacking the basket on the offensive end while putting together their best rebounding stretch this season. They've won the battle of the boards in three straight games for the first time in Ollie's two years at the helm.

"When we rebound the ball we're tough to beat because we can get out in transition," Ollie said.

They also are tough to beat when junior DeAndre Daniels plays aggressive basketball. Daniels has come to life, averaging 15.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.7 blocks during the winning streak. He had Memphis singing the blues, finishing with 23 points and a season-high 11 rebounds.

"That's what we want," Ollie said. "We told him not to worry about scoring, just get touches. If you get the touches, the scoring will take over. He gets those touches and just feels like he's more involved.

"The point guards realize that. Ball finds energy. It was a great game by DeAndre,"

UConn executed down the stretch against Memphis about as well as it has all season, converting its last seven field goals and last six free throws.

"We know it's going to be a great game," Pitino said after the Houston win. "They've got one of the premier backcourts. I wish Chris (Jones) was playing - he's not going to play."

Jones, a starting guard averaging 11.3 points per game, is sidelined with an oblique injury. UConn guard Ryan Boatright, who played on Thursday despite the Monday shooting death of his cousin, Arin Williams, is expected to play tonight.

g.keefe@theday.com

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No. 18 LOUISVILLE AT UCONN

Location: Storrs, Gampel Pavilion

Tip-off time: 9 p.m. (ESPN)

Records: Louisville 15-3, 4-1; UConn 14-3, 2-2

Last game: Louisville beat Houston, 91-52, Thursday; UConn won at No. 17 Memphis, 83-73, Thursday

Probable starters: UConn, 6-0 jr. guard Ryan Boatright (12.4 pts, 3.6 assists), 6-1 sr. guard Shabazz Napier (16.1 pts, 6.2 assists, 6.2 rebs), 6-8 jr. forward DeAndre Daniels (13.4 pts, 5.3 rebs), 6-6 grad. forward Lasan Kromah (6.9 pts, 2.5 rebs), 7-foot fr. center Amida Brimah (3.7 pts, 2.6 rebs)

Louisville, 6-0 sr. guard Russ Smith (18.1 pts, 4.9 assists), 6-1 fr. guard Terry Rozier (6.9 pts), 6-6 sr. forward Luke Hancock (10.5 pts, 2.3 rebs), 6-8 so. forward Montrezl Harrell (11.7 pts, 8.2 rebs), 6-10 fr. center Mangok Mathiang (4.2 pts, 4.1 rebs)

Noteworthy: UConn 2-3 in previous ESPN College GameDays. …Series: Louisville leads 8-6, winning six of last seven including last two trips to Storrs. … Cardinals averaging an AAC best 83.4 pts… Top reserve: 6-5 jr. Wayne Blackshear (9.9 pts), a career-high 23 pts vs. Houston. … Smith ranks 2nd in AAC in scoring. … Hot: Daniels 13-for-22 (59 percent) from 3-pt land in last five games. Cold: Napier shooting 35 percent in last five games. … Cardinals 1st in nation in turnover margin (+7), scoring an average of 21.4 points off turnovers. … Stat to watch: UConn 1st in AAC in 3-pt FG percentage (41.4) and Louisville 1st in 3-pt FG defense (30). … Smith and UConn's Phil Nolan were teammates on East Coast All-Stars, a summer touring team. … Huskies 8-0 when with rebounding edge. ... Up next: UConn hosts Temple Tuesday in Hartford.

- Gavin Keefe

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