While the Cardinals have won five of their last six games, including a 78-66 win over Rutgers Saturday, the Huskies have dropped four of their last five games, though they ended a four-game losing streak Saturday with a win over Seton Hall.
Since dropping five of seven games in early January, Louisville has climbed back up the Big East standings with four straight wins. While Rick Pitino's team slumped early in Big East play, the Cardinals have won 30 of their last 36 games during the month of February. They'll look to extend their current winning streak against UConn, a team they've beaten four of the past five games.
"Obviously, they have (Shabazz) Napier and (Ryan) Boatright, who are two outstanding ball handlers," Pitino said. "They have (Andre) Drummond, who is the number one, two, or three pick in the draft."UConn will be without head coach Jim Calhoun Monday night. Calhoun is on medical leave because of back issues. Calhoun also missed UConn's game against Seton Hall.
"I think under normal circumstances it would hurt, but Connecticut is so used to him being out," said Pitino. "He was suspended three games earlier, so I think they are used to it a little bit. They played great (vs. Seton Hall), played super defense and held Seton Hall to 19 points in the first half. I think they are used to it."
During their current winning streak, Pitino has received strong play inside from Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan and guards Russ Smith and Chris Smith. In Louisville's last six games, Dieng, who is questionable for tonight's game with an ankle injury, is averaging 11 points, 10.8 rebounds and made 70.6 percent from the field.
Behanan, one of the Big East's top freshmen, has also upped his play in the past five games. The 6'7 power forward has averaged 14.8 points and 9.4 rebounds the last five games and is coming off a career-game with 23 points and 11 rebounds against Rutgers, making 11 of 12 field goals.
"I think he has added new dimensions to his game," Pitino said. "You saw it against Villanova, from that game on. He was always just the strongest guy on the team and relied on his athleticism and now he is doing things fundamentally well like going from the baseline out and timing his jump. He is realizing now that instead of floating around on the perimeter how much he can score by being an offensive rebounder. He is treating every pass like it is a shot to him."
Behanan grabbed five offensive rebounds in the win over Rutgers, helping the Cardinals to an 18-2 advantage in second chance points.
"It's very evident now he's crashing the offensive glass," Kyle Kuric said. "He's finding ways to score without running plays for him and he's providing a huge lift. It's demoralizing for the other team to play good defense and he gets an offensive rebound dunk."
Behanan's prowess on the boards impressed Rutgers' coaching staff.
"I've been in the BIG EAST now as a coach for six years and I've been a BIG EAST fan for 25-30 years. I don't remember seeing a rebounding performance like that," associate coach David Cox sad. "He got every major rebound and was just a man among boys. I tried to warn the guys about him and his physicality, about how he can get deep post position, but he just did what he had to do today."
Russ Smith has led Louisville in scoring the last five games, averaging 15 points and 2.8 steals. He energized the Cardinals off the bench against Rutgers, scoring 11 first half points with Peyton Siva sidelined with foul trouble. Chris Smith has improved his play, too, averaging 13 points and draining 44 percent of his three-point attempts the last seven games. In the eight games prior to that, Smith made just 28 percent from the field.
Though Louisville has won four straight, they've done it by beating four teams in the bottom half of the Big East standings. If Pitino's Cardinals hope to make it five straight against the talented Huskies, they'll have to take better care of the basketball than they did against Seton Hall and Rutgers. Louisville committed 43 turnovers in those two wins, including 19 against the Scarlet Knights.
The Huskies are led by sophomore guard Jeremy Lamb, who averages a team-high 17.6 points. Guard Shabazz Napier adds 13.3 points and 5.7 points, while freshman center Andre Drummond averages 10.2 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks. UConn ranks sixth nationally in blocked shots (6.7 per game), fifth in field goal percentage defense (36.7 percent) and out-rebounds their opponents by 5.2 per game.
Lancaster Gordon (1980-84), the former UofL All-American, will have his jersey No. 4 honored at half- time of Monday's game against the Huskies.