Smith helps No. 1 Louisville cruise past UConn
Hartford, CT – Russ Smith scored 23 points and Louisville validated its new No. 1 national ranking with a 73-58 victory over Connecticut in a Big East matchup from the XL Center.
The Cardinals (16-1, 4-0 Big East), who vaulted into the top spot in the latest Associated Press poll following losses by Duke and Michigan over the weekend, trailed the Huskies by as many as 10 points in the first half before dominating the second en route to an 11th straight win.
Louisville outscored Connecticut 45-24 while shooting 60.7 percent from the field after the break, and forced 17 total turnovers to remain unbeaten in conference play.
Chane Behanan netted 14 of his 16 points in the second half and pulled down nine rebounds to aid in the triumph, with Gorgui Dieng tying a career-best with 16 boards for the Cardinals. Peyton Siva contributed 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting despite sitting out the majority of the opening period in foul trouble.
"We are real excited to get a road victory, because Connecticut has certainly been playing great basketball," Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino remarked. "We did a good job of weathering a Peyton Siva storm with him out. Once he came back and we weathered that storm, we played much better defense and much better offense."
Omar Calhoun finished with 20 points for Connecticut (12-4, 2-2), which was coming off a road win over then-No. 17 Notre Dame on Saturday. Shabazz Napier added 12 points and six assists in the loss, with Ryan Boatwright compiling 11 points and six assists.
UConn shot an impressive 53.8 percent and made good on 5-of-9 attempts from 3- point range in building a 34-28 halftime lead, but faltered against Louisville's high-pressure defense in the second session.
The Cardinals induced three turnovers in the initial three minutes of the frame, leading to an 8-0 run that knotted the contest at 36-36. A three-point play from Behanan put Louisville up 42-41 with 15:30 left, and the Cardinals held Connecticut without a field goal for nearly nine minutes afterward to break the game open.
"Our press helped us a bit, but our half-court defense is what stepped us up," said Siva. "We got a lot of deflections. We got a lot of steals. In the second half we felt a lot better than the first half."
That layup and free throw from Behanan ignited a 21-3 tear for Louisville. Luke Hancock recorded the final six points of the flurry, and his jumper from beyond the arc staked the Cardinals to a commanding 60-44 lead with seven minutes to go.
A Boatwright 3-pointer on the ensuing possession finally ended UConn's drought, but Louisville would own a differential of at least 13 points the rest of the way.
The Huskies made good on a mere 7-of-27 field goal tries in the second half, while committing 10 turnovers over that span.
"I don't know what Pitino said to them, but he must have said something," said Connecticut head coach Kevin Ollie. "They played very, very hard in the second half. They took it to us."
Connecticut had far less trouble putting the ball in the hoop early on, mostly because of the efforts of Napier. The junior guard poured in 10 points in the game's first eight minutes as Connecticut built a 15-10 lead, though the Cardinals would counter with a 5-0 run to draw even nearing the midway mark of the opening period.
Calhoun would catch fire later in the half, with the freshman accounting for eight points to spark a 10-2 surge that gave UConn a 29-19 advantage with 4 1/2 minutes remaining before intermission. He knocked down a pair of triples during the burst, which DeAndre Daniels capped with a fastbreak dunk that followed a third straight Louisville possession that ended in a turnover.
The Cardinals regrouped, however, and pulled within 32-28 on a Behanan basket with 42 seconds left in the half. Calhoun then put back a Daniels miss at the buzzer to send the Huskies into the locker room up by six.
Siva finished with four assists to give him 545 for his career, tying him with Terrence Williams for second place on Louisville's all-time list ... Dieng also had 16 rebounds in the Cardinals' 64-38 win over South Florida on Saturday ... Louisville's only other previous No. 1 ranking occurred in the final poll prior to the 2009 NCAA tournament ... The Cardinals posted their 34th road win in Big East play since the 2007-08, the most in the conference over that stretch ... Connecticut had won its last two matchups against the nation's top-ranked team, mostly recently downing Texas on Jan. 23, 2010.