Jan. 15, 2013
By Scott Waggoner
When the University Connecticut men's basketball can take care of the basketball and handle the pressure of opposing defenses they can play with just about anyone, including No. 1 Louisville, who visited Monday night at the XL Center.
The Huskies played inspired basketball to start the game, knocking down their three-pointers and getting points in transition through turnovers, and they took the lead into halftime.
Their quick start wasn't enough though, and in the second half Louisville's defense clamped down and proved to be too much, as the Cardinals pulled away for a 73-58 victory, stifling the Connecticut offense down the stretch.
"They do a great job in trying to get the ball in the wrong guy's hands," Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie said. "They took it out of our guards' hands and we didn't do a good job of responding."
Louisville's defensive pressure overwhelmed UConn throughout the second half, resulting in 10 turnovers for the Huskies. Connecticut had 17 total turnovers, and a week having little trouble breaking the full-court pressure of DePaul, the Huskies saw a different level of defensive intensity Monday.
"This year we haven't played a team like that yet," Connecticut guard Omar Calhoun said. "That was a test for us. We're probably not going to play another team that presses like they do."
Louisville looked every bit the part of the number one team in the country after halftime. Down six points at the break, the Cardinals didn't panic and made the Huskies pay for their mistakes in the second half.
"We had some careless turnovers that led to fast-break points for them and they converted," Ollie said. "When you turn it over 17 times on them they're going to convert those."
When the Huskies did break the press of Louisville, they ran into the Cardinals' zone defense, which did a great job of not allowing UConn to get into any kind of offensive rhythm. Connecticut shot just 25.9 percent from the field in the second half, and when they did miss Louisville got the ball in the hands of their guards, who pushed it the other way.
Junior guard Russ Smith led the way for the Cardinals, scoring 23 points, many of which came in transition.
"When you're not making shots and he gets if off the backboard he's pushing it," Ollie said of Smith. "I don't care what defense you have you're not going to get back. He's quick and explosive and a great finisher around the rim."
Connecticut junior guard Shabazz Napier, who was recognized before the game for scoring his 1,000th career point in the game against DePaul, said UConn will have to communicate better in the future when they face the kind of defensive pressure they saw last night.
"We didn't do a great job of coming to the ball," Napier said. "When guys are getting trapped a lot of guys are backing up and I think we have to do a better job of helping that guy out and get close to the ball."
A bright spot for the Huskies was the play of Calhoun. The freshman scored 20 points and seems to be getting more comfortable every week in the offense. "I've just been in the gym a lot," Calhoun said.
"I had a talk with coach (Jim) Calhoun. He spoke to me and told me how to play my game and not really think too much."
UConn will look to bounce back this Saturday afternoon when they travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Panthers. Tipoff is set for 12 p.m. and the game can be seen on SNY and heard on the UConn IMG Sports Radio Network.