LOUISVILLE- If this were a movie, you’d probably say that the sequel was not up to the original.
But this isn’t any movie. It’s Big East conference college basketball. And if you’re a fan of the Louisville Cardinals, it don’t get much better than this as No.16 Louisville defeated No.13 Connecticut on Friday, 71-58 at the Yum Center.
It was the second victory over the Huskies by the Cardinals this season. Louisville won a 79-78 double overtime thriller in Storrs on Jan.29. Louisville also remains as only one of two Big East teams that hasn’t lost a conference game at home. Both the Cardinals and Notre Dame sport 7-0 home Big East records.
It was also a complete turnaround for Louisville (20-7, 9-5) from there last outing, a 63-54 defeat at Cincinnati this past Wednesday.
“We played a great game tonight,” said Louisville coach Rick Pitino. “We did a lot of smart things on offense tonight, but our defense was tremendous.” he added. “I can’t see anyone that didn’t play well.
“This one was a gem- as were St. John’s , Butler. UNLV and Connecticut. Cincinnati, they were just better than us that night. Give them credit.”
Louisville put the clamps on Huskies stars Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier in building a 31-23 halftime lead. That trio that combined for 64 points in the first contest was held to eight. Walker, averaging 24.4 points per game had only five at halftime, not scoring until hitting an NBA range 3-pointer around the four minute mark.
But the Louisville lead didn’t last as UConn (20-6, 8-6) opened the second half with a 9-0 run to take a 32-31 lead.
It would be their only lead of the game Louisville answered with back to back 3-pointers by Kyle Kuric, both off assists from Peyton Siva. Kuric had one rim out on the Cards next possession, but Siva then followed with a trey and the lead was back to eight.
“Yeah, I made the shots but I can’t take credit for them,” Kuric said. “They were great passes.”
The Huskies pulled to within 47-42 as Cardinals’ center Terrence Jennings picked up his fourth foul and later at 50-44, but Jennings going to the bench just opened things up for Gorgui Dieng who finished the game with his first career double-double as he had 13 points and 12 rebounds.
“Gorgui just played a great game in all phases,” Pitino said.
Siva led the Cardinals in scoring with 15 points. Chris Smith finished with 11 points, playing in front of his brother, J.R.Smith of the Denver Nuggets. Also in attendance was former Cardinal Earl Clark, now of the Orlando Magic.
Walker and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel each scored 16 points to lead UConn. Alex Ariakhi finished with 13 points.
“Kemba is a great player and we knew that we were going to have to make him alter his shot and hope that it wouldn’t go in,” Siva said. “We’re a good team because we play as a team, When we play defense and rebound, I like our chances.”
“We knew going in that we were going to have two people on Walker at all times, but we also needed to pay attention to Lamb and Napier,” Pitino said. “Everyone did a great job all the way around.”
“First of all I want to congratulate Louisville,” said UConn coach Jim Calhoun. “This is typical of how we’ve played them over the years. The pressure got to us tonight and I don’t know why.”
Preston Knowles only had six points for the Cardinals, but had seven assists and joined Kuric in picking up one of the more unusual technical fouls.
Kuric picked one up against Notre Dame for staring at an opponent after dunking on him.
Knowles picked one up Friday after supposedly encouraging the pep band in the bull–it cheer after picking up a foul.
“He was doing something with the band,” Pitino said. “Had we lost this game, he would’ve been in the band.”
Louisville now must do what UConn failed to do- get a Big East win on the road in a late
night game as they travel to Rutgers on tuesday.
“I’ve told the guys that it’s not about getting a No.1 seed,” Pitino said. “It’s about making the tournament and playing your best basketball.”