No. 1 UConn rides hot start to beat No. 4 Louisville
Storrs — UConn learned from this one in two ways:
“Against a really good team, we have the ability to do what we did,” UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma said Monday following the top-ranked Huskies' nonconference victory over No. 4 Louisville. “But at the same time, I guess, against a really good team, we have the ability to not play as well.
“Obviously, we don't get that enough. We knew we were going to get it tonight.”
UConn (25-0) put the heat on Louisville full blast in the first quarter, going on a 19-0 run and leading by as many as 22 before struggling to shoot 29.4 percent in the third period as the Cardinals crawled back to within 11 by the game's end.
UConn won 69-58 in the first matchup with old Big East Conference rival Louisville since March 10, 2014. The Huskies have won their last 19 in a row against opponents in the top 5.
This one, which came on a night 33rd-year associate coach Chris Dailey was elected to the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, was made easier by the first-quarter dominance.
Katie Lou Samuelson scored 12 of her game-high 26 points in the first quarter for the Huskies and, defended mainly by UConn's Kia Nurse, Louisville leading scorer Asia Durr (19.8 points per game coming in) was held scoreless for the first 10 minutes.
Gabby Williams highlighted the first quarter with a leaping steal at midcourt and a fast break layup all alone on UConn's end of the court and Williams then hit Samuelson with a back door pass in the second quarter that Samuelson turned into a reverse layup to a cascade of “Louuuuuuuuus” from a sold-out crowd of 10,167 at Gampel Pavilion.
Napheesa Collier added 14 points and Williams had 12 points, 15 rebounds and six assists for UConn.
“It was an impressive half,” Auriemma said of the Huskies, who led 42-22.
“We had to get back on defense,” said Durr of Louisville's downfall. “On a team like that you can't jog back. You see Kia Nurse past halfcourt when you turn and look.”
To appreciate how perfectly UConn executed in the first half, all you had to do was see how well Louisville (25-2) played in the second half, with Durr hitting a series of seemingly trick shots, including two 3-pointers. Add that to the fact that among Louisville's wins this season came a 100-67 victory over then-No. 2 Notre Dame.
Azura Stevens scored eight points in the fourth quarter for UConn, however, to stop things from getting too far off script. Durr hit an off-balance jump shot to pull Louisville within 63-49, prompting an Auriemma timeout with 5:06 to play, for instance, before a Stevens layup assisted by Collier answered.
By the time Louisville pulled within 11 on a 3-pointer by Arica Carter, there were only 46 seconds remaining.
“You know what, we had some good shots and we missed. I thought we took some that were too quick that led to transition for them and that's something you can't do,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “You've got to make that extra pass and get them to guard you. After the first quarter, I thought we did a good job of that.
“We competed. I'm happy about that. Losing sucks. Whoever sits there and says that there is such a thing as a good loss is crazy. That's what you say after you get beat to make yourself feel better. I hate it. But I thought we competed, which is what you want to do.”
Williams and Samuelson each played all 40 minutes for UConn, which next plays Temple at home Sunday in an American Athletic Conference game at the XL Center. Auriemma complimented Williams with making a few eye-popping plays for which there are no accurate descriptions.
“Every time I go to take someone out, I say, 'Oh, man, I don't know I want to do that,'” Auriemma said. “So I say I'll give them a breather a little bit later. Then a little bit later comes and you say, 'I don't don't if I want to do that.' And you look up and 40 minutes have gone by.”