No. 1 UConn, No. 3 Louisville meet again
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Louisville’s challenge against top-ranked Connecticut in Monday night’s American Athletic Conference matchup is no different from last month.
The No. 3 Cardinals (28-2, 16-1) must overcome a Huskies team that is tough to beat.
Senior forward Asia Taylor believes disciplined play can help Louisville end its 13-game losing streak against them, including last year’s NCAA championship game and last month’s 81-64 loss, and claim a share of first place in the regular season finale.
Discipline is a must considering how UConn (30-0, 17-0) takes advantage of opponents’ mistakes.
Said Taylor: ”the thing about UConn is they make you pay anytime you’re undisciplined, anytime you reach, anytime you’re out of position.”
The Cardinals have won five straight since that loss and are 17-0 at home.
They’re additionally motivated to send No. 2 career scorer Shoni Schimmel, Taylor and fellow seniors Antonita Slaughter and Tia Gibbs out with a win in the home finale.
Louisville’s success depends on containing UConn forward Breanna Stewart, who had 23 points in last spring’s NCAA title game and keyed pivotal momentum swings en route to 24 points in last month’s victory in Storrs, Conn.
The Cardinals got within 29-24 before Stewart responded with two baskets from beyond the arc. After Louisville made it 47-40, Stewart replied again with five straight points and the Cardinals never got closer.
”We can’t have breakdowns on defense,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. ”We keep our hands down twice on Stewart and she gets back-to-back 3s. That’s the kind of player she is. Mentally, we have to be focused for 40 minutes on defense, or it just puts that much more pressure on you on the offensive end.”
That sense of urgency enhances what already figures to be an emotional night for Louisville’s four seniors, who have aided the program’s rise into a national contender in different ways.
Schimmel, one of the Cardinals’ most prolific shooters, recently joined all-time leader Angel McCoughtry as the only players with 2,000-plus points.
While memorable moments of her career will be recognized and reflected upon, she said the goal remains staying focused against the Huskies.
”I’m trying not to get emotional about it, because I’m going to think about it after the game,” Schimmel said. ”I’m going to focus on the basketball game because I’m excited and I want to beat UConn. That’s my first priority. I’ll cry after the game.”
Among the near-capacity crowd expected at the KFC Yum! Center are several thousand fans from Native American tribes in 38 states coming to cheer Schimmel and younger sister Jude, a Louisville junior guard.
Both players are members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla in Oregon, and Shoni Schimmel said she has received messages via social media from fans traveling from as far as Alaska.
Taylor and Gibbs meanwhile have both overcome multiple injuries to play pivotal roles in the Cardinals’ success.
Gibbs, a fifth-year senior, came off the bench to deliver a team-high 17 points in Saturday’s 75-51 win at Cincinnati. Taylor, who missed last season with a hip injury, is playing her best at this time of the season: she scored a career-high 25 points in a Feb. 23 win over Rutgers and had 12 points and two steals against the Bearcats.
”To make it through this program for as long as I have, the ups and downs that I’ve been through, that night’s going to be special,” Taylor said. ”I don’t want to look past it, I don’t want to act like it’s not there. Putting those emotions aside, after they call my name, then it’s business time.”
Slaughter’s career was thought to be over in December when she was diagnosed with a blood clot in her lung after collapsing on the bench during a game against Missouri State. She was cleared to return in January and feels ”blessed” to have rejoined a starting lineup determined to clear a huge hurdle in the Huskies.
Said Slaughter: ”we all have one goal – to make it to the national championship (game) and compete for that.”