UConn makes quick work of No. 4 Louisville

STORRS, Conn. -- In "we've seen this movie before ... a lot" fashion, No. 1 UConn took the air out of No. 4 Louisville's balloon in the first quarter Monday. What was hoped to be a highly competitive game was more a standard UConn display of pouncing with full force from tipoff. The Huskies built a big lead that you knew they'd never give away, even if their play couldn't stay at quite the same level for 40 minutes.
UConn won 69-58, but the game-within-the game was the first quarter, which the Huskies dominated 24-6. And although Louisville was able to keep the scores of the other three quarters close -- even winning the third 18-15 -- the end result was the same.
It's like trailing the leader by 10 shots after the first round of a golf tournament, then coming closer to matching strokes the rest of the way -- but still finishing five shots back. It might give you a little confidence, but no trophy.
Admittedly, this nonconference game in mid-February wasn't for a trophy anyway. But there was a sense of something important on the line: Could Louisville beat UConn for the first time since 1993, and just the second time ever? Could the Cardinals show they are one of the teams capable of derailing the Huskies' pursuit of a 12th NCAA title?
Louisville didn't do that Monday, but there's still time for the Cardinals to improve. Coach Jeff Walz and his team now return to trying to win the ACC; they are 11-1 and tied with Notre Dame for first in the league.
Meanwhile, UConn has yet to lose to an American Athletic foe since the league started in 2013-14, and there's nothing to suggest it will happen this season. They wrap up the regular season versus No. 22 South Florida on Feb. 26 (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET), but Monday's game was one of the last big national showcases for the Huskies until the NCAA tournament.
And as much as they take pride in trying to play every game as well as possible, the Huskies knew this meeting with the Cardinals was a spotlight. They responded accordingly, especially junior Katie Lou Samuelson.
For the first half, it seemed like Louisville was facing "Lou-ville," as the chorus of cheers for Samuelson from the sellout crowd of 10,167 at Gampel Pavilion echoed every time she made a shot.
"She's got it going right now," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "She's been like that at practice. She was like that this morning. She just had this look when I talked to her that today was going to be a really good day for her. She knew it."
Samuelson scored 19 of her game-high 26 points in the first half, and maybe the only thing that slowed her down by the fourth quarter was a little fatigue, as she and senior Gabby Williams played all 40 minutes. Samuelson has been battling left ankle issues this season, too, but on Monday, nothing was going to stop her.
"I was really excited to play this game," Samuelson said. "I made sure I was rested."