Last week was an eventful one for college basketball. The three remaining undefeated teams all fell; Wyoming against Boise State, Duke at NC State, and then Michigan at Ohio State. Of course, the latter two of those three were the most meaningful to Cardinal fans: they were the #1 and #2 teams sitting above #3 Louisville.
This afternoon, the AP vote placed Louisville at the #1 spot for just the second time in school history (the last time was in 2009, prior to the 2008-09 NCAA Tournament, when Terrence Williams and Earl Clark led the Cardinals to a Big East crown, the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, and an Elite Eight finish).
Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the chance to sit back and enjoy the view from the top would be short-lived: they had to travel north to face Connecticut on ESPN's Big Monday within hours of being pegged as the nation's new #1.
And Connecticut would come out swinging.
Coming off of a huge road win against then 17th ranked Notre Dame 65-58, the Huskies decided to make Louisville's arrival at the XL Center in Hartford anything but welcome. The Huskies jumped out on Louisville early, the lead as big as ten approaching halftime. But the Cardinals would put a little run together to end the first half, and they would go to the locker room at half down just 28-34.
The biggest problem for Louisville in the first half: senior guard Peyton Siva's foul trouble. It's been a common theme the last two years, when Siva gets in foul trouble, especially early, Louisville struggles. Siva picked up two early fouls and saw only four minutes of action in the first half. Losing Siva led to a bulging Connecticut lead, and it took a few minutes for the rest of the squad to settle into their roles without him.
The one Cardinal definitely well within his role was junior guard Russ Smith. Russ had 15 of Louisville's 28 first half points. But with Siva's foul trouble, Smith played the entire first half - something that would come back to get him in the second half.
The second half saw the return of Peyton Siva, the pressure defense, and would be all Louisville. The Cardinals outscored the Huskies 45-24 in the second half to clinch the 73-58 win, their 11th in a row. Russ did get a little tight and played sparingly in the second half, appearing to cramp up with his extended time on the floor.
The Connecticut body language changed drastically in the second half. As Louisville gained the lead and started to build it, the wind came out of the Huskies' sails.
Russ would finish with a game high 23 points. Two other Cardinals finished in double-figures, sophomore forward Chane Behanan with 16 and Siva with 11. Junior center Gorgui Dieng had his first single-digit scoring output during Big East play this season, scoring only 6; but he would still lead the Cardinals with 16 rebounds. Louisville shot 50% from the floor on the night, compared to 39.6% for Connecticut.
Connecticut guard Omar Calhoun would lead the Huskies with 20 points, including 3-triples and 5-for-5 from the charity stripe.
Louisville overcame Connecticut's knockout punch in the first half, and pulled away in the second by forcing UCONN to turn the ball over - 17 times in the game. The win puts the Cardinals at 16-1 on the season, and now 4-0 in the Big East.
Their top ranking is safe, for now. But the Cardinals take the court next on Saturday, back at home, against #6 Syracuse. Louisville and Syracuse have had some epic battles over the last few seasons, and Saturday's matchup will undoubtedly be much of the same. You can catch the game at 4:00pm on ESPN.