Recap courtesy Associated Press
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Louisville found a way to slow down Connecticut star Kemba Walker. Now that they're finally healthy, there may be no stopping the Cardinals.
Peyton Siva scored 15 points, freshman center Gorgui Dieng posted his first career double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds, and No. 16 Louisville rolled by the punchless Huskies (No. 12 ESPN/USA Today, No. 13 AP) 71-58 on Friday night.
"Our defense was incredible," said Louisville coach Rick Pitino. "This was definitely, defensively a gem."
The Cardinals (20-7, 9-5 Big East) bounced back from a loss at Cincinnati on Wednesday by harassing Walker into a rare off night.
The national player of the year candidate finished with 16 points -- five below his season average -- on 3-of-10 shooting and received a technical foul late in the second half after venting his frustrations at officials.
"We were just trying to stop Kemba, it's a challenge," Siva said. "He's unguardable. I just wanted to get in there and bother his shot."
Jamal Coombs-McDaniel also scored 16 points for the Huskies (20-6, 8-6), but UConn ran out of gas after taking its only lead of the game early in the second half.
"Quite frankly, we didn't have anybody, except Coombs, to lead us, including number 15 [Walker]," said UConn coach Jim Calhoun. "We just couldn't find anybody to play the way we wanted to play."
While UConn sagged, Louisville surged. The Cardinals took control for good with a 15-4 burst to sweep the season series from the Huskies for the second straight year.
Dieng, forced into action after starter Terrence Jennings ran into foul trouble, held his own against UConn's bigger, more experienced frontline of Alex Oriakhi and Charles Okwandu. His long arms helped the Cardinals hold a 40-36 edge on the boards and overcome a subpar night from senior captain Preston Knowles, who had six points on 2-of-13 shooting but added seven assists.
"I feel like I'm getting back in shape," said Dieng, who missed five games after sustaining a concussion in a win over West Virginia on Jan. 26. "If I keep getting stronger, I can find my game."
He found enough against the Huskies to help Louisville notch its eighth straight 20-win season and all but secure a spot in next month's NCAA tournament, not bad for a team ravaged by injuries and considered an afterthought in the Big East when the season began.
UConn, picked to finish 10th in the conference in the preseason, has been just as big a surprise as the Cardinals but simply couldn't get it going.
The Huskies shot 37 percent (17 of 46), went just 12 of 20 at the free throw line and tied a season high with 16 turnovers.
"It didn't come down to a pretty contest," Calhoun said. "It was a rock fight and they won the rock fight."
Still, UConn had a chance. The Huskies trailed by as much as 12 in the first half but went on a 9-0 burst to start the second and take their first lead at 32-31 on an emphatic putback dunk by Oriakhi.
The Huskies' momentum lasted all of 30 seconds.
Kyle Kuric drilled a 3-pointer from his customary spot in the corner, then followed with another from the top of the key on Louisville's next possession. Siva added one of his own and the Cardinals were back in command.
The lead stood up because Louisville didn't back down from Walker.
Shadowing him by extending matchup zone defense to well beyond the 3-point line, Walker never appeared to get comfortable. He missed his first three shots, his first make coming on a fortunate banked-in 3-pointer.
The rest of the Huskies weren't much better. While Coombs-McDaniel kept UConn in it with 11 points, the rest of the team went just 3 of 18 from the field.
"You could tell from the start we didn't have it," Oriakhi said. "The body language, the vibes. It wasn't there from the beginning. We lost our chemistry."
As poorly as UConn played in the first half, the Huskies trailed 31-23 at the break as Louisville missed a chance to put it away early despite some spectacular plays by Siva.
The 5-foot-11 sophomore threw down a 360-degree dunk following a steal at one point and added a couple of difficult layups, but Louisville's offense looked out of sync when he went to the bench.
It allowed UConn to keep it close for awhile, but the Huskies faded late in the second half while playing their second game in just over 48 hours.
With the game slipping away late in the second half, Walker drew a rare technical foul after badly missing a runner in the lane. He turned toward the officials and begged for a call and got one, but not the one he wanted.
Knowles made one of the two free throws to extend Louisville's lead to 67-51 with 3:31 to play.
"They outworked us," Oriakhi said. "They're not the most talented team but they outworked us. It was a game that was there for us, we didn't want it."
The game came just hours after Pitino closed one of the more difficult personal chapters of his life. A federal judge sentenced Karen Sypher to more than seven years in prison on Friday afternoon following her conviction last summer on extortion and other charges against Pitino stemming from a sexual tryst in a Louisville restaurant in 2003.
Pitino had no comment on the sentence, though his attorney Steve Pence said the coach was "glad" the ordeal was behind him.