Down 33-12 in the first half, No. 20 Louisville appeared to be speeding toward a 40-point loss against No. 3 Connecticut. But a second half comeback not only made a game of it, but made UConn coach Geno Auriemma and the Huskies sweat out a 56-46 road win Tuesday night at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville.
Louisville cut the UConn lead to 46-40 with just over five minutes left before the Huskies secured the win in the final two minutes. The Cardinals held UConn to a season low 56 points with 20 turnovers and 20 personal fouls.
"They've had a tough run of it with two of their top scorers going out and losing the two games before this one," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said of Louisville. "Jeff (Walz) did what he had to do to try to win this game. If it was a pretty game running up and down the court, they aren't going to win like that so they made it tough."
The Cardinals battled, treating a strong crowd of 16,483 to a show in the second half.
"Just for us to go out there and compete like we did today with UConn being ranked third is good for us," sophomore star Shoni Schimmel said. "We also know how good we can be so for us to just continue to grow and evaluate after this game is going to be big for us."
It was a brutal game at both ends of the court, with a smaller Louisville squad battling to our-rebound the Huskies 42-38.
"It was definitely physical," freshman post player Sara Hammond said. "I got hit upside the head and have a little bit of a headache, but it's college basketball and it's going to be a physical game. ... They are a very physical team."
Louisville stuck with the No. 3 Huskies for a while in the first half. Despite missing 8 of their first 10 shots, the Cardinals were down 7-6 at the first media timeout because of strong rebounding.
The Cardinals were down just 7-6 with just over 14 minutes to go before a bankshot by Stefanie Dolson put UConn up by three, but Louisville responded with a pair of free throws from Sara Hammond.
After Louisville cut the margin to 9-8, UConn launched an 11-0 run to crack open the game. A three by Kelly Faris put UConn up 12-8 with 11:51 left, and a three by Tiffany Hayes pushed the margin to 15-8 two possessions later. Another Louisville turnover - their sixth in just 10 minutes - gave Kiah Stokes a layup in transition to increase UConn's lead to nine.
Another three, this time by Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis put UConn up 20-8 with 9:42 left. A three by Shoni Schimmel cut the margin back to single digits at 20-11, but a driving layup by Hayes pushed UConn's lead back to 11. Another UConn three, this one by Caroline Doty put the Huskies up by 14 with just under seven minutes left.
A layup by Faris increased UConn's lead to 15 with just over four minutes left before halftime. The Huskies kept up the pressure defense and Louisville continued to wilt. The Cardinals had 13 turnovers and missed 21 of their first 25 shots.
UConn led 33-17 at the half as the Cardinals hit just 5 of 31 shots and committed 13 turnovers. The Cardinals started the second half better than the first, scoring six points in the first 3:25 to cut UConn's lead to 40-23. A pair of free throws from Shawnta Dyer cut the margin to 15 for the first time sicne the six minute mark of the first half.
A jumper by Hammond cut the margin to 40-27 with just under 14 minutes left, and the Cardinals had an opportunity to cut into the lead further but Bria Smith missed the front end of a one-and-one.
A driving layup by UConn's Bria Hartley stopped the Louisville run and increased UConn's lead to 42-27. A jumper by Hammond cut the margin back to 13 with just under 12 minutes to go, but UConn responded with a bucket from Dolson.
A three by Antonita Slaughter cut the Huskies' lead to 44-32 with 10:22 left. UConn got a layup by Stoke to push back ahead by 14, but Louisville responded with an 8-0 run to cut the Huskies' lead to single digits for the first time since early in the first half.
Hammond scored the four points of the run and jumpers by Sheronne Vails and Schimmel cut the Huskies' lead to six.
"They were giving Sara that 15-foot jump shot and challenging her to hit and to her credit she did," Walz said. "I hope this is a boost for her because we need her."
After Louisville cut the UConn lead to 46-40, the Huskies got a three from Hartley to go back ahead by nine. A free throw by Slaughter cut the margin to 49-41, but a pair of free throws by Mosqueda-Lewis increased UConn's lead to 10 with 3:24 left.
A three by Doty with 1:37 left effectively snuffed Louisville's hope of an upset and put UConn ahead 54-41. The Huskies coasted to a 56-46 win.
Schimmel led all scorers with 20 points followed by 10 from Hammond. For UConn, four players scored eight or more, but only Caroline Doty reached double-figures with 15. Hayes finished with nine points and 11 rebounds.