LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Breanna Stewart had 22 points and 14 rebounds and top-ranked Connecticut blew out No. 3 Louisville 68-48 Monday night to complete an unbeaten regular season.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis added 13 points and 10 boards for the Huskies (31-0, 18-0 American Athletic Conference), who outrebounded Louisville (28-3, 16-2) 47-30 and outran the Cardinals to add the inaugural league title to their collection of Big East trophies. The defending NCAA champions also beat the Cardinals for the 14th straight time.
Like last month’s meeting in Storrs, Conn., UConn turned a small run into big momentum ending with another decisive victory. This time, it was an 11-0 first-half spurt for a 32-22 lead that eventually grew to 22 in the second half.
The end of Louisville five-game winning streak spoiled the home finales for four seniors including guard Shoni Schimmel, who scored nine points before a school record crowd of 22,163. Louisville shot just 38 percent from the field.
UConn wasn’t much better at 40 percent (26 of 65 from the field), but owned many areas en route to its 37th straight win – the third longest winning streak in school history. The Huskies scored 18 points off 16 Cardinals turnovers, outscored them 15-2 on second-chance baskets and made 7 of 22 3-pointers.
Senior guard Tia Gibbs scored 16 points and junior forward Sara Hammond 12 for Louisville, which made just 4 of 15 from behind the 3-point arc.
UConn has been on cruise control all year in earning its NCAA-record ninth straight 30-win season. The Huskies’ closest game recently was an 66-55 victory over Baylor in January and they entered the game leading the nation in field goal defense (30.1 percent).
UConn’s run included last month’s 81-64 victory over Louisville that was close twice in the first half before Stewart keyed runs that helped the Huskies pull away. Louisville had hoped to be better the second time around, but just couldn’t keep up with the Huskies’ pace or rebounding after the early moments.
Emotion from a pregame ceremony honoring Schimmel, Gibbs, Asia Taylor and Antonita Slaughter carried over to the first two minutes as the Cardinals scored the game’s first seven points with Schimmel sandwiching a 3-pointer between jumpers by Taylor and Hammond. Unfazed by its biggest deficit this season, UConn rallied to tie the game at 16 nearly four minutes later behind two long-range jumpers by Mosqueda-Lewis and one by Moriah Jefferson.
The Huskies trailed just three more times after that before mounting a 11-0 run for a 32-22 lead with 8:12 remaining in the half with Jefferson scoring five points and Stefanie Dolson four. It was the type of run that Louisville coach Jeff Walz had hoped his team would prevent with comebacks impossible against a UConn squad that also wears down opponents with hustle.
A couple of sequences symbolized that Huskies strength as Mosqueda-Lewis flashed along the left end line for a putback basket, which followed a possession extended by at least three offensive rebounds. UConn’s payoff was a 27-14 domination of the boards, a 12-0 advantage in second-chance baskets and a 43-31 halftime lead helped by 46 percent shooting and six 3s.
Louisville never got closer than 10 after that.