Cards, Huskies clash in battle between national powerhouses

UofL coach Jeff Walz likes the way his defense is playing

Jeff Walz's pre-UConn news conference

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - A pair of college basketball heavyweights, both in desperate need of a challenge, collide at the KFC Yum! Center on Thursday night.

Connecticut, 18-1 and ranked No. 2 in both polls, visits Louisville, 19-1 and ranked No. 3 in both polls.

UConn’s lone blemish came against then-No. 8 and now-No. 1 Baylor. Since that loss, the Huskies have won their last seven games by an average of 31 points.

Wednesday afternoon, UofL coach Jeff Walz said at least 15,000 tickets had been sold for the game.

“I think that speaks volumes not only for our program, but for their program obviously, and the fans of women’s basketball that we have in this city,” Walz said.

Louisville won the first-ever meeting between the teams in the 1993 NCAA Tournament, but Connecticut has claimed the last 17 games in the series. The Huskies have won 11 national championships since then under coach Geno Auriemma.

"It’s going to be a challenge,” Walz said. “It’s another great UConn team. Geno’s done a fantastic job. They’ve got scorers at all five spots.”

Walz singled out UConn’s top players -- seniors Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson. Collier, a former guard who became a forward, averages 18.6 points and 10 rebounds per game. Samuelson leads the team with 18.8 points per game; she’s made a team-high 49 three-pointers this year.

All five starters average in double figures for the Huskies.

“They score 82 a game,” Walz said. “I’m expecting it to be up and down. We have to limit their transition baskets. If you let them run, it can be a long night for you.”

Louisville has won five straight, by an average of 27 points, since losing to then-No. 1 and current-No. 5 Notre Dame. Walz said he thinks his defense might be up to the challenge of slowing down Connecticut’s offense.

“I think we’re doing a really nice job of contesting shots,” he said. “We’re there on the pass, instead of being a step or two late. We’re rotating extremely well. We’re playing in layers, and then we’re following the scouting report.”

Walz said that while this year’s team might lack loads of individual talent compared to recent UofL teams, he likes that they’re better as a team.

“When we can be dialed in and we’re all on the same page, we have a chance to be really good,” he said. “I say it all the time -- we’re a good team. When everybody does their job, we’re pretty darned good.”

Connecticut, of the American Conference, heads up the road for a game at Cincinnati on Saturday. UofL visits Clemson that day as well.

Copyright 2019 WAVE 3 News. All rights reserved.