UConn proved it deserves the No. 1 ranking after dismantling Louisville 68-51. Led by a punishing inside game, the Huskies have bullied their way to the top of a crowded and talent-rich Big East Conference.
Louisville (17-4, 8-1) came into the game having won two of their last five against No. 1 ranked teams, including Pittsburgh this year at home. The Cardinals came in sporting a 12-1 home record, a No. 7 ranking, and a nine-game win streak, sharing the lead in the Big East Conference with Marquette.
Connecticut (21-1, 10-1) came in with a nine-game win streak of its own and the nation’s No. 1 ranking. Duke and Pittsburgh both lost recently, and UConn is the fourth team in as many weeks to hold the No. 1 ranking.
Thirty NBA scouts were on hand for this contest, including Joe Dumars of the Detroit Pistons.
There was a lot on the line in this game, and something had to give. The Cardinals were battered inside and succumbed to the size and strength of the UConn Huskies. Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien were too much for the Cardinals despite a heroic effort by forward Terrence Williams.
Louisville looked good early, using their trademark pressure defense to harass UConn and getting the crowd into the game. Around the five-minute mark of the first half, the Cardinals led 11-7, with Terrence Williams scoring seven of the 11 points.
UConn began to assert its dominance, however, taking a 17-14 lead at 10:56 and the official TV timeout. Connecticut was keeping Louisville out of the lane and dominating inside the paint.
Louisville would battle back to take a 22-21 lead at the 6:48 mark and would hold it close for the next few minutes before going on a drought and becoming turnover prone.
UConn would close the half on a 16-5 run that would prove insurmountable for the Cardinals. Louisville was plagued by sloppy play and turnovers and could not get a rhythm going, while UConn continued to pound the ball down low.
UConn led 38-26 at the half behind 15 points and five rebounds from Jeff Adrien. Cardinals star Earl Clark went a dismal 2-13 from the floor, and 14 of Louisville’s 25 points were scored by Terrence Williams.
The second half contained more of the same for Louisville as it continued its uncharacteristic sloppiness, and UConn’s monster-like Hasheem Thabeet began to dominate the game with help from mates Jeff Adrien, Jerome Dyson, and A.J. Price. Price chipped in with 14 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 blocks.
The game came down to its star matchups. Jeff Adrien continued to dominate in his match up with Earl Clark. Clark was completely stifled and had a most un-superstar-like game, finishing an amazingly poor 2-13 from the floor with five points while being eclipsed by Adrien, who poured in 18 points with seven rebounds. Perhaps Clark was trying to do too much to impress the NBA scouts on hand.
Louisville’s bright spot was Terrence William’s brilliant performance: 26 points, five rebounds, and three blocks. It was Williams alone who kept Louisville from getting completely blown out and embarrassed. Williams, amazingly enough, was the only Cardinal to score in double digits. Preston Knowles had nine and Clark had just five points.
As good as Williams was, Thabeet was better. The 7'3" center dominated the game in every way, finishing with 14 points, 11 rebounds and 4 blocks. More importantly, he intimidated Louisville and made them appear soft.
It is rare to see one player dominate and intimidate an entire team. That is what makes Thabeet’s performance so memorable. He even showed off a jump shot in this game.
In a crowded Big East Conference, a dominant performance against seventh-ranked Louisville lets UConn holds on to its first No. 1 ranking since March 6, 2006 and establishes them as the big dog in the conference.