Jeff Walz has had some really good teams at Louisville since taking over the Cardinals program in 2007.
They’ve made three trips to the Final Four and appeared in the title game twice. Yet in his 12 years at the school, Walz and his Cardinals never could find a way to beat UConn.
That changed Thursday night.
Louisville ended a 17-game losing streak to the Huskies with a 78-69 victory in front of 17,023 fans — the most to see a women’s basketball game this season. All-American Asia Durr put on a show, leading the way with 24 points after going scoreless in the first quarter.
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“It’s a huge win for our program,” Walz said. “No question about it. What an unbelievable turnout we had tonight. The fans were fantastic.”
Walz praised UConn coach Geno Auriemma for traveling to Louisville in the middle of the conference season with the Huskies playing again on Saturday against Cincinnati.
“Kudos to them for being willing to play these games,” Walz said. “It’s great for our game, win or lose.”
The third-ranked Cardinals (20-1) should have confidence now for the remainder of the season that they can beat anyone in the country.
For the first time in a long time, there is no clear-cut favorite to win the national championship. There are a handful of teams, including Louisville and UConn, that have a chance to cut down the nets in Tampa.
“The interesting thing is this is one of those years that, how big is the gap, really?” Auriemma said. “It seems to me 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 — wherever they put Notre Dame recently — there’s not like there’s a big gap. But there are some things we’ve got to fix within our own team.”
Auriemma said after his team beat then-No. 1 Notre Dame in December that there would be bumps ahead, specifically pointing to the games at Baylor and Louisville. He was correct as the Huskies lost both those games. The defeats exposed problems that UConn will need to correct in the next month if they hope to win another national championship.
“It might just be a matter of getting the right team at the right time in the right environment. But we got a lot of things missing if you’re talking about a national championship,” he said. “There’s a lot of things missing that maybe we can fix. Some years you can’t. We got about a month to fix them.”
UConn (18-2) has lost more than one game for the first time in six years. In 2012-13 the Huskies had four losses and ended up winning their eighth national championship, routing Louisville in the title game. UConn most likely only has one real test left on its schedule before the NCAA Tournament — a home game against South Carolina on Feb. 11.
The Huskies haven’t lost a game in the American Athletic Conference since it was formed and haven’t really been challenged this season in conference play.
“I said before the season starts this isn’t a typical UConn team,” Auriemma said. “So people are starting to get used to the idea that I was right. We’re human. We kind of suck this year, to be honest with you. We need to get better.”
Despite the big win, Louisville will need to keep improving itself to win the first national championship in school history. The Cardinals will have chances as they still have two games left against ranked opponents with No. 18 Syracuse and No. 7 N.C. State coming to town. The Cardinals then could face Notre Dame again in the ACC Tournament.
But before that, the Cardinals travel to Clemson on Saturday, and Walz wasn’t about to take that much time to celebrate the monumental win.
“No one is going to care about Thursday night if you don’t take care of business and come out and compete,” he said.
Follow Doug Feinberg on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/dougfeinberg