The biggest women's basketball game in the young history of the American Athletic Conference is here. Top-ranked Connecticut faces No. 4 Louisville in a rematch of last season's NCAA National Championship game on Sunday afternoon at 1pm at a sold out Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn. The national televised game on ESPN is for first place in the American.
We all know the story about the upstart Cardinals playing the role of David by defeating Britney Griner and mighty Goliath, I mean Baylor, in the regional semifinal last year. They continued their Cinderella run by upsetting Tennessee in the regional final and then California in the Final Four. However, the clock finally struck midnight during the early part of the first half in last year's final. The UConn women dominated Louisville, defeating the team of destiny by 33 points.
This season is a bit different, but the story remains the same.
Louisville comes into Sunday's match-up ranked in the top 10 all season and looking for a monumental upset. They are undefeated in the American (11-0, 23-1 overall) and have won 16 in a row. Their lone loss was on the road to instate rival Kentucky, 69-64, in early December.
The Cardinals are lead by two All-American candidates in senior Shoni Schimmel and junior Sara Hammond.
Schimmel, the fearless 5-10 guard, leads her team in scoring at 17.9 points per game. She is a threat from three-point range, hitting nearly 40 percent of her shots. The most impressive stat is that she has only fouled out in one game in her entire career.
Hammond, the 6-2 forward, is the second leading scorer at 11.7 points and top rebounder at 6.5 per game.
The Hartford Courant is reporting that Cardinals coach Jeff Walz will be missing Bria Smith. Smith is out with an ankle injury. The 5-10 junior guard is averaging 9.3 points per game. Expect red-shirt senior Tia Gibbs, who missed last season with an injury, to start in place of Smith.
Louisville is coming off a physical contest at Central Florida on Tuesday night. The Cardinals committed a season-high 29 fouls in a 74-59 victory. Asia Taylor led them with 19 points and 12 rebounds.
This will be Louisville's final road trip to Gampel Pavilion as a conference rival to the Huskies. UConn (24-0, 11-0) has won the last 13 games in the series. The two teams will meet again in the regular season finale on March 3 in downtown Louisville and most likely a week later at the AAC Tournament at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn.
Last season, these teams met in the regular season at the XL Center in Hartford in January. The game was fairly close, however, the Huskies played without Breanna Stewart. UConn won 72-58. In the National Championship game in April, Stewart scored 23 points for the Huskies in the 93-60 win. Stewart was clearly the difference maker in both meetings.
The Huskies are coming off a dominating performance in Gampel Pavilion on Tuesday night. They welcomed SMU to Storrs and played extremely well in their final tune-up to Sunday's showdown, winning 102-41. All five starters scored in double figures as the Huskies shot 59.7 percent from the floor. The defense held the Mustangs to 20 percent shooting for the game.
Bria Hartley led the team with 21 points, while Stewart scored 20. Stefanie Dolson had 16 points, 11 rebounds and five block shots. Moriah Jefferson had 14 points and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis added 16 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists in the 61 point rout.
On the injury front, Geno Auriemma's crew will again be without Brianna Banks. Banks is still recovering from a reoccurring ankle injury. The Huskies will only have seven scholarship players available.
It is going to be interesting how these teams match-up.
The Huskies want to run and impose their will. They average 84.5 points per game and lead the nation in scoring margin at 34.4 points and scoring defense at 47.7. Last season, UConn had Kelly Faris and she was able to contain Schimmel in the two meetings. Sunday it will be a combination of Hartley, Jefferson, and freshman Saniya Chong. Foul trouble can be an issue with a short bench, particularly with the lack of depth with the guards.
The Cardinals will want to slow the game down. Walz has played some junked defense on UConn in the past. Expect to see some sort of zone defense such as a box and one on Stewart or a triangle and two on Hartley and Mosqueda-Lewis. Jefferson may see a lot of open looks throughout the game. If she is able to knock down shots, it will be a long afternoon for the Cards.
In addition, Sunday's game is the annual Play4Kay game benefitting the Kay Yow Cancer Fund. It will be Pink-Out. Yow - the former long-time NC State coach - lost her battle to breast cancer in 2009. The fund has raised over $8 million for cancer research.
After this game, the Huskies will not play again until Feb. 16 when they travel to Tampa to take on the South Florida Bulls.