BOZICH | Louisville Packs Arena, UConn Packs The Scoreboard
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – There is a reason the unbeaten University of Connecticut women's basketball team had won its first 30 games by an average of more than 37 points – and that only five opponents came within less than 20 of the Huskies.
Their talent and pursuit of perfection is dazzling.
They're nine games away from plunging into the debate about whether they're the best team in the history of the game.
On a Monday night when Louisville packed the KFC Yum! Center with 22,163 fans, UConn packed the scoreboard -- again.
UConn filed more evidence about the strength of its team, rolling over Louisville, 68-48. The Cards are legitimately ranked third in the nation, beaten only three times this season, twice by the Huskies. Connecticut is legitimately 20 points better.
Taller. Strong. Faster. More talented.
What's it going to take to beat the Huskies?
"Me and Stewie (forward Breanna Stewart) and Bria (Hartley) going up to the Bourbon Bar and staying there for the next three or four months," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said.
He was kidding. A little. Auriemma later said any team can be upset in the NCAA Tournament.
How well does UConn defend? Louisville star Shoni Schimmel scored five of the Cards' first 11 points as they moved to an 11-7 lead. Schimmel, who averages 17.2 points, did not score again for 33 minutes.
Schimmel finished with nine points, missing 10 of 14 shots. She managed one assist. The Cards were led by another senior, Tia Gibbs, who scored 16. U of L forward Sara Hammond had a solid game, delivering 12 points and six rebounds.
"I think there are a lot of positives we can take out of this," Hammond said. "We started out really hot, 9 for 12. We've just got to work on the defensive end."
Stewart, UConn's all-American forward, dominated the game with 22 points and 14 rebounds.
Despite the loss, there was plenty for Louisville (28-3) to celebrate. Nearly every seat in the KFC Yum! Center was full, packed to say farewell to the Cards' four-player senior class and to celebrate Native American Appreciation Night.
U of L said that Native Americans from more than 40 states attended the game. They came to show their appreciation for Shoni and Jude Schimmel, the Cardinal guards who are Native Americans from Oregon. Hundreds of fans waited in a line that stretched from the North end of the main concourse to the South lobby as the players signed autographs. Arena officials said they expected the players to sign until at least midnight, three hours after the game ended.
"Absolutely great," U of L coach Jeff Walz said. "I can't say enough good things about our fans."
Louisville surged to a 7-0 lead, but it did not last long. The Huskies made six of their first 10 three-point shots. They worked the Cards over on the boards as if they were six inches taller at every position. They built a rebounding advantage of 27-14 by halftime and specialized in getting more second shots the rest of the night. UConn won the rebounding battle, 47-30. They outscored the Cards on second-chance points, 15-2.
You could pick a million plays that were a snapshot of UConn's superiority. This one was a good example:
About three minutes into the second half, with Louisville trailing, 45-33, Antonita Slaughter flashed past her defender on the right side of the court. It appeared that she had a clear opening to the rim. She did. For a millisecond.
Then UConn forward Breanna Stewart slid over. Stewart is 6 feet 4. Slaughter is 6-1. Her shot never got close to the rim. Stewart blocked it. Stewart caught it. Slaughter fouled her.
And so it went.
Louisville could get a third shot at the Huskies in the American Athletic Conference Tournament, which begins Friday in Connecticut at Mohegan Sun Casino.
Despite what Auriemma said, the Louisville players would like another shot.
"We learn every time, something different from them," Shoni Schimmel said. "For us to take that and take it back to our lab, Coach walz is the master of the chemistry …
"We're going to get them one time, I promise you that whether it's the conference championship game or the national championship game, whatever it may be. We're going to get them."
Said Hammond, "We came to fight to win tonight because we know that we're capable of beating them. If there's any team in the country, I think that we're the most capable."
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