The emotions of Senior Night worked in Louisville's favor immediately, as the Cardinals connected on 9 of their first 12 shots of the game and raced to a quick 7-0 lead. U of L held a 16-13 advantage at the first media timeout and were knotted at 21 apiece at the second break in the game. Then the Huskies exploded for an 11-0 run and never surrendered their lead for the remaining of the contest.
"We did a great job the first ten minutes at the offensive end, but then we just had absolute breakdowns," U of L head coach Jeff Walz said following the 68-48 loss. "Even though we kept scoring, they're hitting threes by their best three-point shooter 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."
Senior Tia Gibbs led the Cardinals with 16 points and junior Sara Hammond added 12 points in the loss. The difficult Huskie defense kept Naismith National Player of the Year candidate Shoni Schimmel in check throughout, allowing her to score only 9 points on 4 of 14 shooting.
"It's been hard to guard her each and every year it's been harder and harder I think we've done a pretty good job on her, but I don't know how long you can keep doing it but she's a pretty unique kid, I kind of like her," UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said afterwards.
Three Huskies join Schimmel on the Naismith semi-finalist list and the trio – Breanna Stewart, Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley – combined for 42 points, 26 rebounds and 10 assists in the win.
UConn, which leads the nation in winning margin (37.3) and scoring defense (46.6), dominated the Cardinals on the backboard, out-rebounding the hosts by 17. Louisville also struggled to get each other involved in the offensive sets and managed just 5 assists.
Despite the loss, Louisville (28-3) completed it's most successful regular season in school history and are positioned to earn one of the top seeds in the upcoming NCAA tournament.
"I think they're a number one seed," Auriemma 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."
Next up for the Cardinals is the American Athletic Conference tournament at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., where a rematch between the league's top two teams is likely.
"They have weaknesses to," said a still confident Shoni Schimmel. "I think we're going to get them. Just like Baylor last year, nobody thought we were going to beat them and hey, we did that. Doubt us or not, we still believe. We don't need anybody to believe in us if we believe. For us to do that, that is all that matters. Our whole team believes we are going to win one time and I promise you that we will."