UConn-Louisville preview: Huskies, Cardinals gearing up for first showdown in three years
When top-ranked UConn takes the Gampel Pavilion court Monday night for a nationally-televised game against No. 4 Louisville, Geno Auriemma will be curious about how his team reacts to the environment and an opponent that, like his own, harbors serious national championship aspirations.
He's a coach, of course, so there are all kinds of motivational and strategic buttons he'll push to get the most out of a needed test and valuable opportunity.
But Auriemma is also a fan, and on that front there's one thing he is looking forward to: seeing his animated counterpart, Louisville coach Jeff Walz, in action.
"What do I enjoy? Watching him lose his mind at the officials with every call," Auriemma said. "That's, like, my favorite. He gets so animated."
Who created this monster?
"I've spent a lot of years watching him and I've tried to perfect it," Walz said, laughing. "I figure if you're going to be a good coach, you want to do everything that he does. So I learned from the best."
Everyone is having fun in advance of this game. The national championship won't be decided and the loser won't wipe any goals off the dry-erase board. It's just good for both teams, and it's taking place four weeks before Selection Monday. Gampel Pavilion will be electric. About 100 tickets remained, as of Sunday afternoon.
"It will give us a little taste of a tournament," UConn forward Gabby Williams said.
That's exactly why Auriemma schedules games like this. The Huskies (24-0) have already defeated two top-five teams this season and the next challenge of this magnitude will likely come in a win-or-go-home situation, as the four remaining regular-season conference games and the AAC Tournament figure to be a relative breeze.
With just one day off following Sunday's 81-point blowout victory over Wichita State, there's very much an NCAA regional feel to Louisville's visit.
Husky fans, check out the Top 5 Plays from yesterdays win vs Wichita State! pic.twitter.com/Fy9Sd9W53V— UConn Women's Hoops (@UConnWBB) February 11, 2018
"You don't have a lot of time to prepare for what's coming, and I like it," Auriemma said. "It puts a lot of pressure on your players to change gears right away, go from what happened today to a different mode and be ready to go. We've done a lot of these during my career and I think it pays off big time in the NCAA Tournament."
The Cardinals (25-1) have also defeated two top-five teams, and at 11-1 in conference play they're still battling Notre Dame (10-1) for the ACC regular season title. The Cardinals, whose only loss was to Florida State by one at home, won the only matchup with the Irish by 33.
Louisville will remain in the Northeast just about all week, with a game Thursday at Boston College, and remain on the road through Sunday's game at North Carolina.
UConn and Louisville have met 17 times, with the Cardinals winning the first matchup in 1993 and the Huskies winning the past 16. The teams haven't played each other since the inaugural AAC championship game in 2014. UConn has won three national championships since and Walz has kept Louisville among the nation's elite programs.
"It's always good, always fun, to compete against him," Walz said of Auriemma. "You have to respect what they've done, what he's done, the consistency they've been able to maintain. It's going to be a great opportunity. I hope it's a great game for women's basketball, not just for UConn or Louisville."
This year's team might be Louisville's best under Walz, who came up short against Auriemma and the Huskies in the 2009 and 2013 national championship games. It's probably the best team UConn has faced this season, Auriemma said, with the best one-two punch the Huskies have seen in guard Asia Durr and forward Myisha Hines-Allen.
Durr, a junior, is particularly impressive, averaging 19.8 points. She has reached her potential, Walz said, because she's far enough removed from groin surgery before her freshman season. She is shooting 46.4 percent on 3-pointers but scores in a number of ways.
NEXT : UConn— Louisville WBB (@UofLWBB) February 10, 2018
Of course, UConn has players who bring more to the court, offensively and defensively, than any team Louisville has seen. If the Huskies hold down Louisville's field goal percentage and/or force a lot of turnovers, the Huskies' fastbreak will be difficult to stop.
"They run it as well as anybody in the country," Walz said. "They shoot at a very high percentage. They pass the ball well. They've got great size at all the guard spots. It's not that they've got 6-7, 6-8, but they've got 6-2, 6-3 all the way across. They're able to switch and do a lot of different things. We have to do a really good job defensively of making it a 5-on-5 game and not allow them to get out and run as much as they want."
That, really, is what the game will be about.
What is the night all about?
"When Gampel is loud, it's hard to hear anything in there and it's probably one of the best places to play in the country when that many fans are engaged," UConn forward Katie Lou Samuelson said. "I know a lot of women's basketball teams don't get that opportunity, so I'm really excited."
This article is written by Mike Anthony from The Hartford Courant and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.