NEW ORLEANS (CBSNewYork/AP) — Connecticut beat Louisville comfortably back in January and didn’t even have star Breanna Stewart on the floor at the time.
That doesn’t mean the Huskies are going to be brimming with confidence about their chances of winning an eighth NCAA national title on Tuesday night against the Cardinals.
After all, Louisville (29-8) has become the master of the upset.
The Cardinals beat Cal 64-57 in the semifinals in the latest game they weren’t supposed to win, rallying from 10 down to do it. Louisville stunned defending national champion Baylor and knocked off perennial power Tennessee just to get to New Orleans.
Next up are the Huskies, who know how little one should read into previous meetings. UConn (34-4) lost to Notre Dame three times this season, only to beat the Irish handily, 83-65, in Sunday night’s other semifinal.
“We’ve got a problem Tuesday night, I think, because I think Louisville really thinks they’re the best team in the country right now,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “After the way they’ve played and what they’ve done in these last couple weeks, they probably think there’s nobody that can beat them.”
If the Louisville women pull off a fourth-straight upset and the men’s team beats Michigan on Monday night in Atlanta, then Louisville would become the first school to win men’s and women’s NCAA titles in the same year since UConn did it in 2004.
“If it were easy, it would have been done a lot of times, but the fact it’s only been done once shows you how difficult it is to do,” Auriemma said. “At the same time, this has been a magical year for Louisville. … It’s just amazing what they’ve been able to do, so I think we’re playing against Louisville and we’re playing against a certain karma maybe.”
Incidentally, that 2004 women’s title for Connecticut came in New Orleans.
The last time Louisville made it to a title game was in 2009, losing to — that’s right — Connecticut, 76-54.
Louisville coach Jeff Walz has a simple answer when asked what changed between the end of the regular season and the NCAA tournament to make his team so tough to beat.
“We’re playing our best basketball at the end of the year and that’s all that matters,” Walz said. “We’re figuring out a way to pull them out and win and play well at the right time.”
Still, there are reasons to wonder how Louisville will manage to do it against UConn. They will need to deal with Stewart, who poured in 29 points against Notre Dame on Sunday night. She did not play when the Huskies beat Louisville by 14 points nearly three months ago.
UConn is a complete team, strong on defense (allowing about 50 points per game) with an array of scoring options.
“She’s gotten stronger mentally, she’s gotten stronger emotionally,” Auriemma said of Stewart. “Stewie really takes things to heart and puts a lot of pressure on herself. When she wasn’t playing well, she wasn’t strong enough mentally and emotionally to put it aside.”
Four of their starters average double-figures in points, including 6-foot forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis at about 17 per game (she had 16 against the Irish) and 6-5 center Stefanie Dolson, who’s averaged nearly 14 points.
The Cardinals aren’t all that concerned with history, unless they’re the ones making it. By beating Cal, the Cardinals, who were seeded fifth in the Oklahoma City Region, became the first team seeded worse than fourth to win a game in the women’s Final Four.
Louisville has been carried mostly by its offense in the tournament, with Antonita Slaughter hitting a lot of 3s — six against Cal — and Shoni Schimmel hitting from all over the court. Schimmel’s younger sister, Jude, has also been a clutch play-maker in a reserve role.
“Right now anything can happen,” Walz said. “Why not us?”
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