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Column: Louisville still believes

By Tim Fontenault
On March 10, 2014

UNCASVILLE - UConn had a 6-0 lead after 50 seconds in Monday night's American Athletic Conference Championship Game. Twenty-seven seconds later it was 8-0 after a steal turned into a fast-break layup for Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis.
Louisville, ranked No. 3 in the nation, made adjustments. They contested the Huskies on both ends of the floor. But there is a reason why UConn, now the inaugural champion of the AAC after a 72-52 win in the final, is No. 1 in the nation and six wins away from a record ninth national championship and a fifth perfect season.
Louisville tried to stay in the game, but after a couple minutes of a single-digit deficit, the Huskies took control, never letting the Cardinals within 10 for the last 26 minutes of the game.
Sunday was not much different.
UConn got the knockout punch early in its 83-57 semifinal win against Rutgers. Moriah Jefferson scored 13 seconds in, and the Huskies were up 13-0 in the blink of an eye.
"It's like being in a boxing ring and they try to knock you out in the first 10 minutes," Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said.
Boxing matches are usually close. Sunday was more like when the Careers from District 1 take control of the Cornucopia during the Hunger Games. Monday was just sustained excellence, like what the 74th Hunger Games would have looked like if Jennifer Lawrence were not the frightened girl that ran into the woods at the start.
"It's going to take 40 minutes of very, very good basketball in order for anyone to beat them," Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. "And that's one thing I've been preaching about our players for the entire time. You can't play for 20. You can't play for 30. It takes 40 minutes of basketball."
In simple terms, UConn has beaten the crap out of everyone it has played this season. At times, people have questioned why there is even a tournament at the end of the season. Why even play when you know UConn is going to win?
"We show up to play the game to win," Walz said. "If nobody thinks that (UConn) can be beat, let's save a bunch of money, not have the tournament and give them the trophy now. But I believe everybody thought the same thing about Baylor last year."
Baylor was far and away the favorite to win the championship again in 2013, but it was Walz and the Cardinals that put those hopes to rest, beating the Lady Bears in the Sweet Sixteen and ultimately progressing to the National Championship Game, where they were on the wrong side of the widest scoring margin in title game history.
Some will say Notre Dame is the team with the best chance to beat UConn. As the 34-0 team no one is talking about, the Irish had about as much difficulty as UConn in securing the ACC regular season and tournament titles.
I say it would be stupid to overlook Louisville when the NCAA Tournament begins.
Notre Dame is not the same team that beat UConn three times last season. This is not the same UConn team that lost to Notre Dame three times last season. This is a UConn team that is more like the one that obliterated the Irish around the corner from Bourbon Street last April.
Louisville, who is just as good as Notre Dame is this year, has seen that UConn team three times now.
If anyone is going to beat UConn, it is Louisville, and that chance may come in three week's time. If Tennessee gets the last No. 1 seed, UConn, a lock for the No. 1 overall seed, will likely be going to Louisville for its regional. The Cardinals, who would be a No. 2 seed, would - presumably - get another crack at UConn on their home floor in the Elite Eight.

The only knock against the Cardinals from critics is that they are a four-loss team. They have seen UConn three times this season. The only other loss was a five-point defeat down the road from Louisville in Lexington, where they lost to a very good Kentucky team.

So because of those four losses, Louisville stands no chance against UConn or Notre Dame? That sounds ridiculous, right Jeff?

"I tell people all the time that I'd hate to coach a football team in college," Walz said, "because if you lose a game in September, it screws you for the rest of the year. Here, we have a true tournament that you get a chance to play.

"And it's not necessarily the best team that always wins. It's who's playing the best basketball at the right time. Notre Dame beat (UConn) three times last year, and then they lose in the Final Four. You've got to find a way to get your kids to believe in what you're doing and to play your best basketball at the right time, and I think we've proven that here."

Follow Tim on Twitter @Tim_Fontenault


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