No. 1 UConn cools off Cardinals

LOUISVILLE — After rolling through the first half of its Big East schedule, Louisville finally met its match.

Connecticut, which took over the No. 1 spot in both polls earlier Monday, solidified that ranking with a 68-51 beatdown of the fifth-ranked Cardinals in front of 20,069 fans at Freedom Hall.

U of L came into the game as one of the nation's hottest teams, having already knocked off another No. 1 team, Pittsburgh, in Freedom Hall on Feb. 17.

But the Huskies would have none of that, as they closed the first half on a 15-2 run to take a 12-point lead and then cruised the final 20 minutes, never letting the Cards to within single digits.

"They're truly the No.1 team in the country," Louisville Coach Rick Pitino said. "We've played decent all season, but we ran into a team that was much better than us tonight. They were totally out of our league. You've got to give them credit."

The Huskies (21-1, 10-1 Big East) didn't make a three-pointer, but they didn't need one as their bigger, more physical frontline got whatever it wanted in the paint. Senior forward Jeff Adrien had 18 points and seven rebounds while 7-foot-3 center Hasheem Thabeet delivered 14 points and 11 rebounds.

While Thabeet's official tally of four blocked shots seemed a little low, he also altered several other shots and seemed to psychologically affect the U of L post players.

"He's a great defensive player," winning coach Jim Calhoun said. "He causes people to look for him, and that was his biggest impact tonight. His presence was overwhelming. He owned the paint."

Louisville senior Terrence Williams did his best to try to keep his team in the game with a career-high 26 points. But he got virtually no help from frontcourt mates Earl Clark and freshman Samardo Samuels.

Clark finished 2-for-16 from the field for five points after scoring just four in a 69-63 victory over West Virginia on Saturday.

Samuels was one of many Cards who seemed hesitant to take it up against Thabeet around the basket. He missed his only two field-goal attempts and went scoreless.

"I don't think he enjoyed the evening because of Hasheem," Calhoun said.

The Cards suffered an early blow when Williams picked up his second foul less than three minutes into the game.

Pitino decided against benching Williams the rest of the half, and the senior kept Louisville close with 14 first-half points.

"I didn't want to take him totally out of the game because we would have gotten blown out," Pitino said.

With Louisville trailing 28-26, Pitino decided to sit Williams the final five minutes of the first half, and that's when Connecticut established separation with a 10-0 run.

A Thabeet block led to a Jerome Dyson transition layup, and Adrien scored the final six points of the half to send the Huskies into the locker room up 38-26.

The second half was more of the same. UConn's guards penetrated the lane, while Thabeet and Adrien controlled the paint. Louisville, meanwhile, settled for contested jump shots.

"It's imperative that we take good shots," Pitino said. "We're not a great offensive basketball team, and we're not a great passing team. We're a cutting, slashing team, and we played like guys from South Dakota who were just pure shooters."

The Huskies were mostly unfazed by Louisville's full-court pressure. They committed 16 turnovers, but their three-guard tandem of Dyson, A.J. Price and Kemba Walker were able to create easy scoring chances off the dribble.

"We got the three guards in early, and the pressure never really bothered us," Calhoun said. "It actually helped us because those three kids can really run."

It was a humbling loss for Louisville, which won its first eight league games and had started to look like a potential No. 1 seed in the Big East Tournament. But Pitino doesn't expect the loss to have any long-term effects.

"We didn't get too encouraged about the 8-0 start, so we're not going to get too discouraged about a much better team beating us," he said. "It's a long season."