Louisville took their fresh No. 1 ranking into Connecticut and took down a game Huskies team, 73-58, Monday night in Hartford.
Russ Smith led the way for the Cardinals with 23 points, but it was their defense that really keyed this easy victory.
Early on, it looked like the Cardinals were going to fall prey to the kind of upset that that led Louisville to the No. 1 ranking in the first place. They were behind almost the entire first half and trailed, 34-28, at the break.
The Cardinals looked out of sorts. Nowhere was this more apparent than at the end of the half. The Huskies missed a shot as the shot clock expired with roughly six seconds left in the half. However, the Cardinals apparently thought the buzzer was for intermission and they quit playing. The Huskies' Omar Calhoun made them pay with a bucket.
It is a safe bet that Rick Pitino brought up this fresh gaffe in the locker room, and whatever he said, it was effective. This game was all Cardinals in the second. Louisville's pressure defense completely overwhelmed the Huskies, and the visitors had this game tied around the 16-minute mark in the second half at 39.
Things did not get much easier for the Huskies from there. Buckets were few and far between and the squad was outscored 45-24 in the second.
Shabazz Napier torched Louisville in the first half, but the Cards wore the guard down and he lost his scoring touch and his confidence. Napier finished with 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting and Omar Calhoun ended up leading the Huskies with 20 points.
As the second half wore on, this once-competitive game turned into little more than a No. 1 celebration party for the Cardinals.
The stats folks at ESPN provided us with this pregame nugget:
Louisville is 3-1 all-time as AP No. 1, faces UConn in 10 minutes on ESPN— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 14, 2013
Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis tweeted about the inexcusable gaffe by the Cardinals at the end of the half.
Wow Louisville thought shot clock horn was for end of half. O.Calhoun smartly dumps it in. UConn up 6 but Siva sat 16 mins in foul trouble— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) January 15, 2013
This game kept the stats department at ESPN busy. They pointed out that the first half of this game was more of a one-on-one battle than a team contest:
Russ Smith and Shabazz Napier have combined to score 20 points. The rest of the players on UConn/Louisville have 16 points total.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 15, 2013
The Hartford Courant's Peter Marteka noticed the peculiar situation as the second half was getting ready to start:
Louisville still in locker room. Maybe too scared to return to floor. Two minutes left til second half.— Peter Marteka (@petermarteka) January 15, 2013
I'm thinking the only fear the Cardinals players had at halftime was of Coach Pitino in the locker room. And judging by their delayed return to the court, he had a lot to say.
While the Louisville defense was amazing in the second, their offense left something to be desired, as they missed some easy buckets. This fan tweeted his frustration:
Could be blowing out UConn right now. Wasting easy buckets.— London Foreman (@lvillefan11) January 15, 2013
The Connecticut Post's Kevin Duffy shed some light on some of UConn's struggles in the second half:
Shabazz Napier has missed his last six shots. Louisville in control, 56-44.— Kevin Duffy (@KevinRDuffy) January 15, 2013
Napier wasn't the only Husky chucking bricks. He just stuck out because he was drilling so many in the first half.
This was a strong showing for the victorious Cardinals, and that defense could lead to them having a lengthy stay atop the rankings.