The UConn women’s basketball team was evenly matched for three quarters in a nonconference matchup against No. 4 Louisville Monday night at Gampel Pavilion. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the game consists of four quarters.
UConn (25-0, 12-0 the American) outscored its former Big East rivals 24-6 in the first quarter, temporarily quieting any thoughts that Louisville could compete with the top-ranked Huskies. UConn rattled off a 24-1 run led by 12 points from Katie Lou Samuelson.
Only Samuelson, Gabby Williams and Napheesa Collier scored during the long UConn run as the trio shot a combined 10-13 from the field. The three Huskies also dished out five assists to each other.
Louisville (25-2, 11-1 ACC) scored the first points of the game with a 3-pointer from Arica Carter on the Cardinals’ first possession. For the rest of the quarter, UConn held Louisville to just 1-12 shooting and turned defense into offense with nine fast break points and 13 points off turnovers.
“Our defense (was the key to the 24-1 run),” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “We defended them as well as we wanted to. That was the plan going in and we executed and it led to a couple easy things. And then at the other end, on offense, we just were really sharp.”
The Cardinals settled down in the second quarter, committing just two turnovers as UConn outscored Louisville 18-16 to extend its lead to 20 points at halftime. After a blowout in the first quarter, the matchup fans expected was coming to the surface as Samuelson added seven more points and Louisville star Asia Durr got on the scoreboard with six points.
“It was a pretty impressive first half, it really, really was,” Auriemma said. “Because that’s not an easy team to play defense against.”
Durr averages 19.8 points per game for Louisville, but the junior guard was quiet in the first half. With UConn senior Kia Nurse defending the Cardinals’ star for most of the half, Durr shot just 1-6 from the field.
“In games like these, in tough challenges, (defending the best opposing player) is usually my role,” Nurse said. “For me, it’s kind of a matter of what are their strengths? What are their weaknesses? How can I play to those tendencies or how can I just keep the ball out of their hands? As a team, we did a great job today on Durr.”
In the second half, the two teams continued to battle. Louisville outscored the Huskies in the third and fourth quarters, winning the second half 36-27. Durr scored 14 points in the half and the Cardinals shot 51.7 percent while holding UConn to 34.4 percent shooting. It was too little, too late for No. 4 Louisville, as the Huskies maintained a double-digit lead throughout the half.
The second half of the game did provide UConn with some competition that it might not normally see during conference play this late in the season. Collier played the entire half while Samuelson and Williams stayed on the floor for the duration of the game, something the Huskies’ stars haven’t seen much this season.
“When you schedule teams like this… it’s always about what’s coming in March,” Auriemma said. “For us to know that against a really, really good team, we have the ability to do what we did, but at the same time… we have the ability to not play as well. I think you need both of those things more than we get normally.”
The Huskies put the finishing touch on a brutal nonconference slate, remaining undefeated as they head into the regular season’s final four games. UConn will have the rest of the week off before hosting Temple Sunday afternoon at the XL Center.
Josh Buser is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.