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March 3, 2014

WOMEN’S COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Cards still can't get by UConn

Louisville falls short against nation's No. 1 team, 68-48 on Senior Night

LOUISVILLE — Over the past few years, under the leadership of coach Jeff Walz, the Louisville Cardinals womens’ basketball team has become one of the major players in college basketball.

Among the things Walz and the Cardinals have accomplished during his tenure, this being his seventh season:

• Average 24 wins per season.

• Six 20+ win seasons

• Four Sweet 16 appearances.

• Two times National runner-up, including last season.

• 100 percent graduation rate.

There is still one thing that didn’t change on Monday. One quest that Walz and the Cardinals have not been able to conquer during his tenure.

Beating UConn.

On Monday, the No. 3 Cardinals fell to the top-ranked Huskies 68-48         before a womens’ basketball record crowd of 22,163 at the Yum! Center.

Two stats jumped out and meant everything on Monday. One was assist-to-turnover ratio. UConn was 17-to-12, Louisville 5-to-16.

The other was rebounding. Louisville did not have the size to contend with the likes of 6-foot-5 Stefanie Dolson, 6-4 Breanna Stewart and 6-3 Kiah Stokes. That trio combined for 31 rebounds, one more than the entire Cardinal team. Add 10 by 6-0 guard Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and you have a 47-30 advantage on the boards by the Huskies.

“We got some really good looks,” Walz said. “The problem is you have to play pretty much, not a perfect game, but real close on the defensive end of the floor. And that’s what killed us. We did a great job the first ten minutes at the offensive end, but then we just had absolute breakdowns. Even though we kept scoring, they’re hitting 3s by their best 3-point shooters that are wide open. We lost them in transition, and even though we’re up four at times and up six, we could have been up 12. But we just kept trading baskets with them, and you can’t do that. They’re too good of an offensive team and that’s something we talked about this week was that you’ve got to make them make contested shots. And unfortunately, there in the first ten minutes, we gave them a lot of uncontested shots that they make.”

On Senior Night — a night when the Cardinals celebrated Native American Heritage in honor of players Shoni and Jude Schimmel — Louisville got off to a fast start and a 7-0 lead.

The Huskies closed quickly. Louisville led just 11-10 when Tia Gibbs hit a 3-pointer — followed by a Sara Hammond basket — to build the lead to six. After the teams each traded a couple of baskets, Hammond hit 2-of-2 at the line to give the Cardinals a 22-21 lead with 11:57 left in the half.

From there, it was ‘game over’ as Stewart scored back-to-back baskets to start an 11-0 run by the Huskies. Gibbs then converted a 3-point play to cut the lead to 32-25. Louisville kept within striking distance the rest of the half, trailing 43-31 at halftime.

“We talked about that before the game started that’s the way it’s going to go,” said UConn coach Geno Auriemma.  “It’s their Senior Night. There is a lot of emotion in the building, you got to expect that, but I didn’t expect us not to make any shots in the beginning. But I’m not surprised they came out the way they did, we talked about how the emotion was going to take them to a certain point and that was it and then it would turn into a regular basketball game.

“I don’t really talk about how much we’ve been down, up and down or what the score is, I just know if you’re going to run up and down with us and give us open threes like they were going to give us then at some point we are going to make more then you are and that’s what ended up happening in the first half. I knew at some point our defense would get settled down and at some point they were going to stop shooting 70 percent from the floor. You just know you just got to ride it out and wait.”

Again, it was back-to-back baskets by Stewart that started a 7-3 splurge after halftime by the Huskies. From there, it would get no closer than 12.

“We had a great start,” Walz said. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t put together a 40 minute game.”

UConn had won their previous meeting this season with the Cardinals, 81-64 in Storrs, Conn.

Louisville will say goodbye to four seniors in Shoni Schimmel, Gibbs, Asia Taylor and Antonita Slaughter, all who were honored in a pregame ceremony.

Gibbs led Louisville with 16 points. Hammond added 12. Schimmel — the Cardinals’ leading scorer on the season at 17.2 points per game — finished with nine.

“We’ve learned everytime we’ve played them,” Schimmel said. “Maybe one day we can get them. It was a 20-point loss but they have weaknesses, too. We still believe in ourselves.”

There is a good chance that the Cards and Huskies could meet again in the American Conference tournament at Uncasville, Conn., as well as the NCAA.

UConn placed four in double-figures, led by Stewart with 22 points and 14 rebounds. Bria Hartley added 14 points. Mosqueda-Lewis had 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Moriah Jefferson finished with 11 points.

Finishing as the No. 2 seed in the conference, Louisville will see American tournament action starting Mar. 10 when they play either Memphis or Houston.

Does Louisville deserve a No.1 seed in the NCAA tournament? According to Auriemma, they do.

“I think they’re a No. 1 seed,” he said. “They’ve done everything they were supposed to do. They don’t have any bad losses. Usually, that’s what hurts you in the NCAA tournament, if you have a bad loss or two or three, then you’re in trouble. They don’t have any bad losses. It’s not like they just got good this year and they don’t have the respect that someone else would have, for the last four or five years they’ve been in two Final Fours and played in two national championship games, so by any measure, there’s a reason you gave them the bid. You know they’re going to fill up the building and play great, and be a top seed. So now reward them because they’ve earned it. That’s not to say that there isn’t anyone else who deserves a No. 1 seed, but I don’t know anyone who deserves it more than they do.”

“I’m not so concerned about the No. 1 seed,” Walz said. “We are going to have to do our job, and get to the conference championship and hopefully beat them. It’s going to come down to whatever the NCAA decides.”

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