UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) — Jeff Walz knows it will take a near-perfect effort for anyone to beat Connecticut. For the third time this season, his Louisville Cardinals came up short on Monday night.
Shoni Schimmel scored 20 points, but a lull at the end of the first half sent No. 3 Louisville to a 72-52 loss to the top-ranked Huskies in the inaugural American Athletic Conference championship.
"It's going to take 40 minutes of very, very good basketball in order for anybody to beat them," Walz said. "That's one thing I've been preaching to our players the entire time. You can't play for 20, can't play for 30, it takes 40 minutes of basketball."
The Cardinals (30-4) got off to a slow start. UConn scored the first eight points of the game before the fans barely had settled into their seats.
Louisville trailed 28-20 with 6 minutes left in the first half, but the Huskies stormed to an 18-point lead at the break, basically putting the game away.
It was the 16th straight loss by the Cardinals to the Huskies. Still Walz believes his team can take down UConn if they do meet again in the NCAA tournament.
"We know that we very well could play them again and I believe we can beat them," he said. "What do you play the game for? ... We show up to play the game to win. Nobody thinks they could be beat. If that's the case, save a bunch of money don't have the tournament and give them the trophy now. Everyone thought the same thing about Baylor last year."
Auriemma also knows that the tide can turn between the schools.
"I'm not naive enough to think that we can play Louisville twice a year for the next 10 years and they never beat us," Auriemma said. "They are too good a team and he's too good a coach for that to happen."
Walz hopes that he doesn't have to see UConn again until potentially the Final Four. The Cardinals are hosting a regional in the NCAA tournament and there is a chance that UConn could be sent down there as a one seed.
If they do play again, Walz is going to have to figure out a way to stop Breanna Stewart and get more help for Schimmel. She was 7 for 25 from the field, and no other Cardinals player scored in double figures.
Stewart scored 20 points. The sensational sophomore was the most outstanding player of the tournament.
Stewart's three-point play started a 12-2 run to close the first half. She had seven points during the burst as UConn led 40-22 at the break.
"She's tough to guard. She made a few shots that are big-time shots," Walz said. "I got no problem with that."
With the victory, UConn (34-0) becomes the 14th team to enter the NCAA tournament without a loss. It's the sixth time that the Huskies have accomplished that feat. They've gone on to win the national championship four of those years.
Bria Hartley added 16 points and Stefanie Dolson had 10 points and 16 rebounds for the Huskies, who have won 40 straight games — the third-longest streak in school history. It was the third straight game that UConn put a team away by the end of the first half.
"I think things are definitely clicking," Dolson said. "We went out there and played extremely well as a team and executed on offense and played great defense. The NCAA is coming up and every team is getting better. We can't stay complacent and not better ourselves. I'm extremely excited we won, but we got to keep getting better from here."
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