March 17th, 1993. The last time the Louisville Cardinals beat the UConn Huskies. There was no wifi, no Twitter, no Facebook, no social media. American’s got the news from the evening news broadcast or the newspaper. Gas was $1.19/gallon.
Since that 1993 victory – in which the 11th seeded Louisville Cardinals knocked the 6th seeded UConn Huskies out of the first round of the NCAA Tournament – the Cardinals have lost 17 consecutive matches. From battles in the Big East to battles in the American Athletic and showdowns in the NCAA tournament, Louisville just could not eclipse Connecticut. Until now.
You can call this a big win for the team. But, it’s more than that. This is a program building win. Not that Coach Jeff Walz and the Cardinals need any help in that respect. Since taking the helm in 2007, Coach Walz and Louisville have been building this program up, brick by brick. The first brick, Angel McCoughtry. There have been a slew of incredible athletes to don the Louisville jersey. Players who have laid the foundation. Each player had a hand in Louisville’s 78 – 69 win against UConn.
“In a normal world, why would this be a big story,” Coach Auriemma asked. “Home team ranked third in the country beats the second-ranked team in the country by 11 for their first win in 17 tries, 18 tries. In the real world, that’s not that big a deal, is it? But because it’s UConn, it’s a big deal. I said before the season started, this isn’t a typical UConn team. So people are starting to get used to the idea that I was right.”
From the second both teams took the floor to warm up, the vibe in the KFC Yum! Center was electric. A crowd of 17,023 – the largest crowd in women’s hoops this season – was ready for the premier match up of the season.
For Louisville, this game has been circled since the Cardinals fell at Connecticut just a season ago. Despite the 69 – 58 loss last season, you could feel a win was on the horizon.
“Some coaches just want to have good teams,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “You don’t have the success he’s had without having built a great program.”
Louisville’s leading scorer, Asia Durr, was unable to connect on a shot in the first frame. Despite Durr’s inability to get the ball to fall, the Cardinals finished the first quarter tied with UConn at 21.
“I had great looks,” Durr said of her 0-4 performance in the first. “The ball did not go in. That’s fine. That’s part of the game. You’re not going to make every single shot.”
She continued, “I just laugh when people think that maybe I’m getting frustrated.”
With Durr going 0 – 4 in the first frame, her teammates stepped up. Jazmine Jones went 3 – of – 3 for 6-points. Dana Evans hit a huge three-pointer to put Louisville ahead, 15 – 13, as well as two free throws to tie the match at 21. Bionca Dunham picked up 4-points. The Cardinals had five players record at least 1-point in the first quarter.
But, it was only a matter of time before Durr hit her stride. The senior came alive early in the second quarter, connecting on three consecutive 3-pointers. She single handedly pushed the Cardinals out on a 9 – 0 run, giving Louisville a 32 – 24 advantage.
When asked to describe how she felt knocking down three consecutive 3-pointers, Durr said, “it’s kind of like you’re a small kid, get up Christmas Day, go downstairs and you’ve got a big bike out there and you get so excited.”
Despite Durr coming alive and the crowd erupting, the Huskies did not waiver. Connecticut struck back with a 7 – 0 run to take a 35 – 34 lead. But, that was the last time the Cardinals would trail.
“We’ve played in a lot of big places,” Coach Auriemma told the media.
He continued, “I don’t think the crowd had anything to do with it. You could’ve put 25,000 in there and take out Asia Durr and we would’ve won by 30.”
Louisville entered the half up, 40 – 38.
Louisville shot 38% (14/37) from the field and 44% (7/16) from 3-point range. The Cardinals outlasted the Huskies on the glass, pulling down 25 rebounds (8 offensive, 17 defensive). Louisville had 5-assists on 14-made FGs. The Cardinal’s bench outscored the Huskies bench, 8 – 2. Asia Durr led all scorers with 14-points. Dana Evans and Jazmine Jones added 7-points a piece. Jones dominated the boards, grabbing 7 rebounds.
Connecticut shot 39% (14/36) from the field and 50% (5/10) from beyond the arc. The Huskies pulled down 16 defensive boards, limiting the Cardinals to just 2 second chance points. UConn dished out 8-assists on 14 made field goals. Both Napheesa Collier and Crystal Dangerfield led the Huskies with 9-points a piece. Collier also pulled down 7 rebounds.
As expected, the Huskies came out strong in the third frame. Connecticut countered Louisville’s every move, keeping the score close.
Louisville was able to go ahead as much as 4-points before Connecticut’s Katie Lou Samuelson knocked down a bucket to cut the deficit to 1-point. However, the Cardinal’s defense locked in and held the Huskies scoreless for near 4:00.
Coach Auriemma was not pleased with his team out of the half.
“We were down one at halftime, and we had a five-minute stretch where we were lousy.”
Connecticut could not stop Durr. She went 3-of-4 from the field for 7-points.
Louisville outscored UConn, 18 – 13 in the third frame, taking a 7-point lead into the fourth, 58 – 51.
Crystal Dangerfield and Napheesa Collier tried to keep the Huskies alive in the final frame, scoring 15 or Connecticut’s 18 points. But, the damage had been done in the third frame.
The Huskies would not come with 6-points of the Cardinals the rest of the way.
Louisville picks up its fourth win against a top-25 opponent on the season in a 78 – 69 decision.
Coach Walz was thrilled to get the W over his buddy Geno Auriemma, but noted the season does not end tonight and there’s still plenty of basketball to be played.
“This was a huge, huge win for us,” Coach Walz said. “I’ve told them you can enjoy it tonight, then tomorrow it’s a quick, quick turnaround because we fly down to Clemson tomorrow, they’re playing the best basketball that they’ve played in six years that we’ve been in the league. We can’t go down there and lay an egg, that’s what I’m worried about.”
“The win felt great,” senior guard Asia Durr told the media. “This is something we’ve never done before. I’m super proud of our team.”
Sophomore guard, Dana Evans, added, “It’s something we’ve been working for. We stayed focused and we played together tonight and came out with the win.”
Was this a HUGE win for the Cardinals?? ABSOLUTELY!! But, it’s not the end-game for the Cardinals. Louisville has unfinished business.