Women's Basketball: No. 1 UConn tops No. 4 Louisville in title rematch
UConn guard Bria Hartley dribbles down the floor against No. 4 Louisville Sunday afternoon at Gampel Pavilion. The No. 1 Huskies defeated the Cardinals 81-64 in the first meeting between the two teams since UConn beat Louisville for the 2013 national championship in New Orleans. JESS CONDON/The Daily Campus
Tensions were high and Gampel was packed Sunday afternoon as the No. 1 UConn women's basketball team proved to be too much for No. 4 Louisville, defeating the Cardinals 81-64 in a rematch of the 2013 National Championship Game.
"It's tough. I mean you have to play a perfect game [against UConn]," Louisville's head coach Jeff Walz said. "It is an absolute battle. You have to have 40 minutes of mentally tough basketball. Not just physically, but you have to be in every play."
Going into this game, both teams had an undefeated conference record with 11 wins. However, with this victory over Louisville, UConn clinches the top seed in the American Athletic Conference still sporting their perfect conference record.
With such anticipation for this rematch, the Huskies knew it wouldn't be an easy task to contain the Cardinals. Both teams have the highest scoring offenses along with the two highest three point field goal percentages in the conference. Although Louisville's offense gave UConn a run for their money a few times throughout the game, they could not hold off the Huskies in the long run.
"What you have to do when you are playing [UConn] is that you have to get it to about ten minutes to go in the second half where shots still matter. Because when you are up 15 everybody can make a shot," Walz said. "But all of a sudden when it's a five or six point game, now all of a sudden that basket becomes a little bit smaller and the pressure starts to build. That's something that they have not had to face yet."
Despite such hype with the two powerhouse teams, UConn has only lost one game against Louisville. The Huskies fell to the Cardinals 74-71 in 1993, which was the teams' first meeting. In the last five matchups UConn has won by an average of 25 points. The closest margin UConn won by was ten points in 2010.
"You can't have mental breakdowns [if you want to beat UConn] and that's what it takes," Louisville's Shoni Schimmel said. "That's where we got abused on because we had those mental breakdowns...For us to not have those, we have to let up on that."
By the end of the first half, Louisville started to get scrappy out of frustration. Stefanie Dolson went to the floor bringing Breanna Stewart to the ground as well, as Dolson tried to get her arm untangled from the Cardinal's Asia Taylor.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis also went down within seconds of the half ending landing on her elbow. Gampel went silent bringing back memories of the Stanford game where she was writhing in pain on the court. Although Mosqueda- Lewis was escorted to the locker room holding her left arm, she was able to come back and play with a compression sleeve on her arm.
"From what I was able to see, I don't think it is as bad as last time. The doctors are looking at her right now; it's in a similar spot but just a different elbow," said head coach Geno Auriemma. "We have a week off before we play again and we will know more in a day or so. But right now there was not that same sense of urgency I saw that first time."
Despite some of the setbacks UConn faced throughout the game, Stewart was a constant threat offensively. Asia Taylor said Louisville' game plan for Stewart was to "just frustrate her" and try to limit her with what she can do best on the court.
"She is a special player," Walz said. "I told our players there's no question she is the best player in the country in my opinion. What she does and when you have breakdowns she makes you pay for them."
Throughout the game Stewart showed her star power and dominance on the court. Although five UConn players had double digit points, Stewart led the way for the team in points and rebounds, racking up 24 points and 10 total rebounds, as she was central player in both the backcourt and frontcourt.
"Every one of [Stewart's] points seems to mean something," Auriemma said. "It's like a guy who gets two home runs in the eighth inning when you are up 12-3. You know who cares? She hits three run homers when we are down by two and that's what separates her from everybody else."
Louisville was the last major opponent this regular season, proving the Huskies to be a dominant force that cannot be stopped. Although they meet again in the last regular season game in Louisville, UConn will take each game as a lesson.
"You need games like this I think to just kind of get that mindset again of what is going to happen again in February and early March," Auriemma said.
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