By Matt Bradshaw —
Last year, Louisville began its bout against Connecticut with a 19-0 scoreboard disadvantage. Before tonight, the Huskies won 17-straight games over the Cardinals.
Tonight, the Cards flipped the script and stopped the losing streak in its tracks.
No. 3 U of L (20-1, 7-1) defeated No. 2 UConn (18-2, 7-0) in a rock ’em sock’em matchup at the Yum! Center. The scoreboard flipped back-and-forth multiple times early on, but Louisville came out on top 78-69.
Earlier in the week, head coach Jeff Walz requested 18,000 fans to fill the stands. Card Nation came close with 17,023 in attendance, finishing as the largest turnout for a women’s college basketball game in America this season.
“We lost our composure a little bit and the offense fell apart. We made a lot of mistakes tonight defensively, and they took advantage of every one of them,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “In the real world, it’s not that big a deal, the No. 3 team beating the No. 2 team. It’s a big deal because it’s a UConn team. We aren’t the normal UConn. We kind of suck this year.”
Shooting, especially three-pointers, proved essential for the U of L win as UConn held the advantage in size and points in the paint.
Senior Asia Durr, scoreless in the first quarter, simply went off to get the fans rocking and finished with 24 points (5-for-10 from three-point range).
“It’s only January,” Durr said, underscoring there’s still a lot of season to play. “It’s not the national championship. Enjoy this for the night, then go home and get ready for practice tomorrow.”
Junior Jazmine Jones notched a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
With Arica Carter in foul trouble for some of the match, though the senior still played solid throughout, Dana Evans stepped up with superb play from the point. The sophomore recorded 20 points, including five three-pointers, with four assists.
“We have the best fans in the country,” Evans said. “This one was special. They kept us going and helped us out a lot.”
Senior Sam Fuehring had a tough shooting night, finishing 3-of-9 from the field, but she recorded a much-needed 12 rebounds against UConn’s big’s. Junior Bionca Dunham added to the success down-low with eight points and seven rebounds.
“I appreciate every game as we go,” Walz said. “I mean it’s a huge win for our program. There’s no question about it. Unbelievable turnout we had tonight. The fans were fantastic. It’s kudos to (UConn) too, for being willing to play these games. It’s great for our game. UConn is what pushes us over the top to get to 17,000 fans…It helps our fan base. I had a few people that came up to me and said it’s the first women’s basketball they’ve been to. They were like ‘Wow this is really impressive. I’m shocked at how athletic they are.’ I asked whether they lived under a rock. And they were both like ‘We are coming back for sure’.”
The Huskies started the game with a clear advantage, imposing their size for offensive rebounds and second-chance points. They utilized the three-pointer for a 19-15 lead with clock winding down in the first quarter.
Durr failed to notch a field goal in the first period, but her team made up for it. Dunham opened up with four quick points, while Jones and Evans ran the point and brought the score to 21-21 moving into the second quarter.
Initially scoreless, Durr soon racked up three consecutive three-pointers to drive the home crowd wild. Jones blocked a Huskies shot to hype it up even more, and U of L had its largest lead (at the time) 32-24 in the second quarter.
UConn quickly made a string of shots and began to dominate the paint once again. They took a 35-34 lead, but Evans gave Louisville a 37-35 edge with a big three-pointer.
The Cardinals led 40-38 at halftime.
The Huskies kept it close after the break but, before long, the Cardinals had another comfortable lead at 56-47. The visitors continued to have the edge down low, while U of L’s passing and shooting kept them out in front.
Before the game, Walz said his team needed to stick to the basics of making shots. The Cards did just that, while holding UConn to 38 percent shooting from the field with strong defense.
Louisville led 58-51 moving into the final quarter.
U of L next shot out to a 10-point lead at 63-53, but Connecticut was not finished. They continued with their success in the paint, along with clutch shots, and brought the deficit back down to six points.
Evans followed with more of her break-out play exhibited all season with a string of great plays. She assisted to Fuehring for a bucket and nailed her fifth-three pointer of the game for a 70-59 lead.
From that point on, the Cards made free throws and enough defensive stops to seal the deal. They won 78-69
Up next, Louisville women’s basketball looks to advance its six-game win streak with a matchup at Clemson on Saturday, Feb. 2 at 2 p.m.
You can follow the Louisville Cardinal on Twitter @thecardsports.
Photos by Taris Smith / The Louisville Cardinal