LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — No. 3 Louisville’s defense has been stingy since the Cardinals allowed a season high to Notre Dame in their lone loss.
After an 82-68 defeat to the then-top ranked Notre Dame women’s team nearly three weeks ago, the Cardinals (19-1) have held five opponents under 50 points and a combined 32 percent shooting. Louisville is giving up just 59.6 points per contest heading into their Thursday night matchup with No. 2 UConn.
Louisville coach Jeff Walz said the turnaround is the result of better execution.
“We really haven’t changed anything,” Walz said Wednesday. “We’re just continuing to get better, which is something I said at the beginning of the year. … I always believe you can get better defensively, but it’s hard to get better offensively as you go throughout the year.
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“As you get game film, you’re able to prepare and come up with a game plan to try and stop people. Our kids have done a fantastic job and hopefully we’ll be able to keep things going.”
Louisville will definitely be challenged by UConn (18-1).
Huskies senior guard Katie Lou Samuelson (18.8 points per game) leads five starters averaging in double figures. UConn is ranked 10th nationally in scoring, putting up 81.9 points per outing.
As good as Louisville has been lately, Walz acknowledges his team will be hard pressed containing the Huskies.
“I don’t expect to hold UConn under 50 points unless most of them don’t make the trip,” he joked.
Louisville’s wants to slow down UConn and would like to create turnovers.
The Cardinals have forced an average of 19 turnovers during this latest five-game stretch, including 21 in Sunday’s 70-42 rout of Pittsburgh. Louisville won despite leading scorer Asia Durr (21.1 points, 29 steals) sitting out to rest a sore knee. Walz said the senior guard would be ready on Thursday.
Louisville’s perimeter defense has also thrived, holding teams to 21 percent from behind the arc over that span. The Cardinals have gone from 182nd nationally in scoring defense to being tied for 73rd.
“We’ve got to communicate and box out definitely, keep people in front of us,” junior forward Kylee Shook said afterward. “I think it’s going to be a good game to see where we’re at and a good look for March because Connecticut is such a good team.”
If nothing else, Walz wants Louisville to avoid repeating the first-quarter run that UConn rode to a 24-6 lead in last year’s 69-58 victory, its 17th in a row against the Cardinals. The Huskies meanwhile have won seven in a row since falling to Baylor —now No. 1 — and UConn coach Geno Auriemma seeks more of what he saw in Sunday’s 93-57 drubbing of UCF.
The Huskies outshot the Knights 52 percent to 38 percent in that contest, but Auriemma suggested his team has had little margin for error this season. Especially against a Louisville team that’s clamping down on opponents.
“If we were to find this state that we were in (against UCF) and able to get to it on a regular basis,” he said, “I think we have a chance to be really, really, really good.
“Whatever state that is, on Thursday night we better be in it or we’re going to be in a bad state because those guys are good, really good. And they are really good at home.”
AP Sports Writer Pat Eaton-Robb in Storrs, Connecticut, contributed to this report.
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