Coming off an intense victory against UCLA in the Never Forget Tribute Classic, the No. 7 UConn women’s basketball team took on the No. 6 Louisville Cardinals in the Basketball Hall of Fame Women’s Showcase, their first matchup since the Elite Eight in 2019.
Starting almost a half hour later due to No. 5 Baylor and No. 13 Michigan going to overtime, the Huskies and Cardinals went back and forth like two Top 10 teams normally would. Both teams got a bucket within the first two minutes of the game before the Huskies went on 10-0 run behind Dorka Juhasz and Olivia Nelson-Ododa.
Louisville would wrap up the quarter on a 7-4 stretch, but Christyn Williams, off her own rebound, and Juhasz made sure the Huskies had the lead after 10 minutes of play.
Losuiville started inching back in the second quarter, using their defense to hold the Huskies scoreless over four minutes as they tried to take the lead back. However, Louisville never took the lead in that stretch and Aaliyah Edwards laid home a beautiful shot to end the Huskies’ cold stretch.
Not long after a three-point shot by Louisville’s Ahlana Smith, Caroline Ducharme would get on the board with a bucket of her own with a layup in the paint. Evina Westbrook came up with the steal, but her shot at the buzzer did not find the net and the Huskies would go into the half up by three.
UConn had been in control for most of the first half thanks to some incredible stretches and timely defense, but the tide of the game started to turn almost as soon as the second half started.
UConn would go 0-5 from the field to start the second half as the Cardinals took their first lead of the evening on a ferocious 7-0 run. Westbrook would end that stretch with a layup following a timeout by head coach Geno Auriemma.
With 4:21 left in the quarter, the Huskies finally buried a three-point shot as Ducharme had an open look and brought it home to cut the Cardinal lead in half. Ducharme would have another spurt of greatness as she went on a 7-0 run by herself to give the Huskies the lead back.
Louisville responded right away with two quick buckets to regain momentum; however, those would be their last buckets of the quarter as the Huskies added six points in the paint from Juhasz, Edwards and Nelson-Ododa to enter the fourth quarter up by three points.
Ducharme buried her second three-pointer of the game to start the frame before Louisville went on a 9-0 run with timely buckets from Emily Engstler and Liz Dixon and untimely turnovers from the Huskies. UConn did not take a timeout during that stretch, but the Huskies were going to fight until the very end.
Ducharme added four more points to her career night to snap that run and give the Huskies the lead back. She would score the team’s first 10 points of the quarter as she answered buckets by both Engstler and Hailey Van Lith.
Louisville casually felt like they were in control as they limited the Husky offense to Ducharme, Williams and Juhasz for most of the frame. Being down by four with 30 seconds left, UConn had to foul to pick up another gritty win.
Ducharme’s third three-pointer of the day would be timely as it helped make the contest a one-possession game with 14 seconds to go. UConn would still need to foul, but they were a defensive stop and one big shot away from tying the contest.
The Huskies had one more chance to do something with five seconds left as Westbrook made a layup to cut the lead down to three once again. However, two free throws by Van Lith would seal the deal as the Cardinals won by a score of 69-64 in an incredible showcase by both teams. This was UConn’s first ever loss at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
“We should have won the game tonight,” Auriemma commented following another close loss. “We did enough things to win the game tonight.”
Ducharme had a career night with 24 points and eight rebounds while playing every single minute. With every game, Ducharme continues to showcase her talents and mental toughness that made her a top five recruit in the country last year. Auriemma finds that toughness to be “very rare” in today’s game.
Louisville head coach Jeff Walz applauded Ducharme’s incredible performance, mentioning how “Ducharme played a great game today … I mean, she willed herself to some baskets.”
Juhasz continued to show her dominance with 15 points and eight rebounds, two rebounds shy of picking up her second straight double double. They accounted for 60% of the team’s points.
“Dorka will go through stretches where she will look like the best player on the floor,” Auriemma said when describing Juhasz’s hot stretch as of late.
Louisville was led by Kianna Smith and Van Lith, who each had 16 points, four rebounds and three assists.
In all three of their losses, the Huskies have been limited in the fourth quarter. They may have scored 19 points, 11 more than their other two losses combined, but it was not enough as the Cardinals scored a whopping 27. Auriemma mentioned how “we are our own worst enemy a lot of times.”
Despite losing two out of their last three games, being down four players to injury and losing two players to the transfer portal, Auriemma said that “It’s basketball. It’s not life or death.”
The Huskies (6-3, 1-0 Big East), sitting at their worst record since the 2004-05 season, return to Big East play after Christmas when they host the Marquette Golden Eagles at the XL Center. That game will occur at 7 p.m. EST on SNY.