Just one week after losing to Louisville by 33 points, UConn will play them for the inaugural AAC championship only hours after one of the scrappier wins of the year against Cincinnati. There is a lot to talk about regarding last night's game, like UConn's 11 turnovers in the first half and then putting on their bib for only 4 in the 2nd, UConn's collapse after being up 6 with 1:22 to go completed by a huge missed free throw by the American Player of the Year Shabazz Napier giving Cincinnati a chance to tie it with a 2, and the ensuing game-tying layup by the AAC's Sportsmanship award winner Sean Kilpatrick sitting on the rim for eternity before falling out. But in tournament style play, you have to move on and put all your focus and the upcoming opponent as soon as possible.
Though last night made UConn fans feel nearly every emotion possible in a basketball game, tonight should be even more tense and dramatic, not just for the ones standing and screaming in front of their TV, but for the players with UCONN written on the jerseys knowing they will be blitzed by the most hostile press in the country and arguably the hottest team in college basketball. Louisville has beaten their last 3 opponents by an average of 44 points per game. Russ Smith scored 42 points before sitting down with over 6 minutes to play against Houston last night. Center Montrezl Harrell has proved he could be a lottery pick in next year's draft by simply out-muscling the weak front lines of the AAC.
It has been pretty clear over the course of the year that UConn matches up pretty terribly with Louisville. The Cardinals love an up and down game like the Huskies do, but Louisville has proven they just do it better. They can create turnovers at an exceptional rate and have seemed to get every offensive rebound in both match ups with Connecticut this year. I don't know if there has been anything more frustrating than the UConn defense forcing a contested three by Chris Jones or Smith only for Stephan Van Treese to swipe the ball off the glass for a fresh shot clock.
So, the question that my Dad hasn't stopped asking me all morning, how can UConn possibly beat Louisville? My answer is that UConn, right now, is operating with arguably the most valuable intangible in the game of basketball- momentum. We have been shooting the lights out from 3 point range and have been stifling offenses at the most critical times of the game. Memphis didn't make a field goal from 14:23 in the second half till 4:22 left in the game (!) two days ago. Yesterday, Cincinnati made just one basket in a 11 minute period in the 2nd half until just before the final TV timeout. If UConn can continue type of play tonight, Louisville can be beaten.
Shabazz Napier was visibly upset with himself in an interview with Andy Katz directly after the win last night. He is still embarrassed from the beat down at the hands of the Cardinals last weekend, and I don't know if there is any player I would rather have for one game who gets to play with a chip on his shoulder. If UConn can get the type of offensive production from Deandre Daniels, Ryan Boatright, and Niels Giffey and the defensive tenacity from Amida Brimah and Lasan Kromah that it has gotten the last two games, UConn will come away with a monumental victory against a potential 1 seed.
As my friend and co-writer Mark Corey said last night after the Cincinnati game, "After this win it is hard not to think of the similarities between this year's team and 2011s. We're making a run in the conference tourney, have an All-American leading our team, and that player's mom is the face of our fan base. If you have been on the fence, it's time to believe Husky fans."
UConn 68 Louisville 66