Another No.1 (UConn) coming to the Hall

Louisville (17-3, 8-0) has already knocked off one No. 1-ranked team this season, a 69-63 decision over Pittsburgh on Jan. 17. Monday night, the Cardinals will get a chance to do it again against No. 1 UConn (20-1, 9-1) at Freedom Hall.

"The rankings are meaningless," UofL assistant Steve Masiello said. "It's about going out and doing what you do well and not letting your opponent do what they do well. That's what we concentrate and focus on not about what someone's ranked."

The Cardinals will focus on slowing a deep and balanced Huskies squad that is loaded with talent. Both teams are riding nine-game winning streaks and are battling for supremacy in the nation's best conference.

"They're playing really good," Masiello said. "They win in a lot of different ways and that's the sign of a great team. They don't turn the ball over a lot and they don't beat themselves. They go inside, they pound the backboard and they get out on the break. They know what they're good at and they do it."

Louisville is coming off a 69-63 win over West Virginia on Saturday, while UConn blew past Providence 94-61 the same day. Both teams have a quick turnaround for tonight's game and Masiello said the Cardinals will be ready to go for tonight's 7 pm tip against the Huskies.

"It's a lot of mental stuff – film, talking, going over different schemes versuses having two or three days where you can go over things on the court," Masiello said. "It's something we've dealt with all year in this conference and we're used to it."

One possible concern for theCardinals doesn't appear to be much of one at all. In Saturday's win over the Mountaineers, senior forward Terrence Williams sprained an ankle. He left the game momentarily but returned to finish the contest. He should be ready to go against UConn, according to Masiello.

"He's (had) no swelling so everything is good from all indications," Masiello said.

Louisville will need a big game from its best player tonight. 7-2 center Hasheem Thabeet had 15 points, 11 rebounds and 10 blocks against Providence and might be the most dominating presence in the Big East. The Huskies are third in the nation in blocked shots, swatting 7.4 shots per contest.

"They're the best shot blocking team for a reason," Masiello said. "It's not just one guy. They have three or four guys that all challenge the basketball and make it very difficult to get in the lane and score. You're not going to beat them by taking it to their shot blockers. They're too good and too long."

Louisville struggled early this season, particularly in a loss to Western Kentucky, by taking quick, challenged shots. That's exactly what UConn tries to get its opponents to do. That's because UConn's opponents often settle for outside shots instead of challenging the Huskies shot blockers in the lane.

"They do a great job forcing you to settle for quick jump shots," Masiello said. "They make it very hard to get easy looks and easy baskets. That's why they're one of the top defensive teams in the country. You can't go one on five against them. You have to run your offense and be smart not just aggressive."


Louisville will likely get a crack at another
No. 1 ranked team - UConn - tonight.

Louisville was sensational on offense against West Virginia in the first half Saturday but bogged down after halftime because of turnovers and poor ball and player movement. Scoring against a tough UConn defense will be a primary focus for the Cardinals.

"We talk about how we're going to score in preparation," Masiello said. "West Virginia was a switching team that denies and tries to disrupt your offense and UConn is more of a shot blocking team that doesn't give you the paint and makes everything hard.

"There is a major emphasis put on offense. We didn't do the things we wanted from an offensive standpoint (against West Virginia). They did a good job of pushing (us) way out. They put great pressure on the basketball, they denied and didn't let us run our offensive sets. We had to make plays off the bounce and create and we got caught watching and standing around. That's when our offense was a little stagnant in the second half."

Louisville got a big performance Saturday from freshman center Terrence Jennings. Jennings scored a career-high 13 points and also had two blocks off the bench. He and Samardo Samuels will receive their biggest test of the season against Thabeet tonight.

"That was a great sign for him," Masiello said of Jennings. "He's practicing well and working hard to have the fruits of his labor pay off. The great thing about it is he has so much room for improvement. Now he's got to build on that performance and continue to grow and develop into the player we want him to be."

The Huskies are third nationally in rebound margin and shoot more free throws – by a wide 28-12 margin – than their opponents. Keeping Thabeet, 6-9 forward Stanley Robinson and 6-7 forward Jeff Adrien off the boards will be a major chore for Louisville. The Huskies out-rebounded the Cardinals 40-29 in last year's contest, a game UConn won 69-67 in Hartford, CT.

"When you go against them five guys have to rebound the basketball and (our) one's and two's have to come back and get on the backboard," Masiello said. "(We) can't just rely on Earl and T-Will to dominate the backboard against UConn. It's going to take a total team effort to get the rebounds and come up with the loose balls."

You know it's a big game when Dick Vitale is in the house and he'll be calling one of the top matchups of the college basketball season tonight in Freedom Hall. Both Louisville and UConn have multiple NBA prospects. Both teams also have lofty Big East and NCAA Tournament goals. That should create an electric atmosphere in the Hall tonight.

"There's going to be a very high quality of basketball being played tomorrow night with a lot of good individual players," Masiello said. "You're looking at a lot of guys that are very talented who will hopefully go on to play professionally. But it's going to be high caliber basketball and it's going to be exciting."

Tip-off is at 7 pm on ESPN.


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