By Matt Bradshaw —
A lot has happened since 1993. If you were counting the days, it was the last year Louisville topped Connecticut in a women’s basketball game. This past week, the Cards turned the tables and stopped a 17-game losing streak in its tracks.
U of L defeated UConn 78-69 in a rock ‘em sock ‘em matchup at the KFC Yum! Center. The scoreboard flipped back-and-forth early on, but the Cardinals would not be denied and came out with a win.
“In the real world it’s not that big a deal, the No. 3 team beating the No. 2 team,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “It’s a big deal because it’s a UConn team.”
For obvious historical reasons, Louisville’s victory is significant as their first over Connecticut in 26 years. It’s also the first time since the 2012-13 season that the Huskies have lost more than one regular season contest.
On the other hand, Auriemma speaks truly that, in terms of the present, U of L’s win is “not that big a deal.” It was nearly unthinkable to defeat UConn handily in the past, but the talent gap has shrunk considerably between the Huskies and several growing programs.
This includes the Louisville Cardinals, led by head coach Jeff Walz. At the end of last week, his team was ranked No. 3 in the nation with a 21-1 overall record atop the ACC.
Besides the shrinking gap between U of L and UConn, here are three reasons why the matchup proved important with a big highlight from Louisville’s victory against Clemson on the road.
Rebound from Irish loss
Near the beginning of January, Louisville (then-ranked No. 2) faced conference rival Notre Dame (ranked No. 1). The Fighting Irish avenged their two losses to the Cards from last season and gave the visitors their first defeat of this season.
With the departure of Myisha Hines-Allen to the WNBA, many were concerned that Walz lost an irreplaceable presence in the paint. His team overcame the loss by playing as a cohesive unit.
Since their loss to Notre Dame, U of L has won seven straight games. Beating UConn is more than historically significant: It’s a vital confidence builder to remind the Cardinals they can hang with the best in the nation.
When asked if he thought this was Walz’s best team ever, Huskies coach Auriemma said, “No.” He pointed to talent in the past, like Walz’s earlier Final Four teams, and said that the current group has simply learned how to play well together.
In addition to building up the team, the win against UConn exhibited the continued breakout play of Dana Evans. The sophomore recorded 20 points against Connecticut, including a career-high five three-pointers.
No. 3 Louisville hosting No. 2 Connecticut earned a primetime spot on ESPN, and for good reason. Card Nation provided the largest turnout for a women’s college basketball game this season.
With 17,023 in attendance, the Yum! Center became an important player in the matchup with noise and energy to spare.
“We have the best fans in the country,” Evans said. “This one was special. They kept us going and helped us out a lot.”
Fans showing out in large numbers only continues to demonstrate the level at which Walz has built up his program. It’s only a matter of time that he reaches the pinnacle with a national championship, whether this year or the next.
“It’s great for the game. It helps our fan base,” Walz said about the marquee matchup. “I had a few people that came up to me and said it’s the first women’s basketball game 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.”
Following a rocking atmosphere close behind, potentially, is a batch of interested recruits. Louisville women’s basketball already has a highly-ranked recruiting class for next season, and a highly-covered win over a storied program in Connecticut only makes the program more attractive.
Potential players choose a college for many reasons. They might like the facilities, and it’s hard to say U of L’s aren’t top-notch. They might want to play for the best team, and it’s hard to say that U of L isn’t one of the best at present.
Most of all, they might like the people and an atmosphere that supports them as well as providing a darn good time. Louisville fans and a rocking Yum! Center provided all that and more. So, with the potential Player of the Year candidate thriving at U of L, why shouldn’t potential recruits join her?
Asia Durr scores a lot
Speaking of the potential POTY, senior Asia Durr has been making a strong case for earning the award. She overcame a sluggish first quarter against UConn to lead all scorers with 24 points.
Later in the week, the guard reached a big milestone as Louisville defeated Clemson on the road: With 12 points scored against the Tigers, Durr moves into second on U of L’s all-time scoring list.
Durr (2,179 points) now only trails women’s basketball great Angel McCoughtry (2,779 points) on the list.
Even if Louisville were to make the national championship, thus playing as many games as possible, Durr would still need to average over 37 points per game to take the top spot.
That being unlikely, it makes little matter to Durr’s status as one of the most talented players in program history. You can catch her and the rest of the Cards go for their eighth straight win against Syracuse on Thursday, Feb. 7 at home.
You can follow the Louisville Cardinal on Twitter @thecardsports.
Photo by Taris Smith / The Louisville Cardinal