Storrs, CT (SportsNetwork.com) - Two of the top teams in the American Athletic Conference collide in Storrs on Saturday night, as the Connecticut Huskies play host to the 18th-ranked Louisville Cardinals at Gampel Pavilion.
With wins in two straight and four of their last five games, the defending national champs seem to be settling into their new conference surroundings. Rick Pitino's Cardinals trail only the red-hot Cincinnati Bearcats (5-0) in the AAC standings, improving to 4-1 with Thursday's 91-52 demolition of Houston.
Kevin Ollie's Huskies are starting to heat up at the right time as well. UConn dropped its first two league games, but has bounced back with a three-game win streak, two in conference play, to pull even in the AAC at 2-2. The Huskies are coming off one of their most impressive victories of the season, an 83-73 win at nationally-ranked Memphis.
These two powerhouse teams don't have a long history, as this series dates back to just the 2000-01 campaign. Louisville holds an 8-6 edge all-time thanks to wins in six of the last seven meetings.
The Cardinals took the fight out of the Cougars early on, shooting 70 percent from the floor in the first half, including 11 3-pointers to take a massive 57-29 lead into halftime, before cruising to the 39-point romp. Overall, Louisville connected on 15 3-pointers, five of which came from forward Wayne Blackshear, who led the team in scoring with 23 points. All-American candidate Russ Smith added 4 treys and netted 18 points in the win, while Luke Hancock finished with 10.
Some of the names have changed, but Louisville is still getting it done at a high rate, thanks to stellar play at both ends of the floor. The Cardinals currently boast of a +21.0 scoring margin, averaging 83.4 ppg, while limiting foes to just 62.4. Smith leads a deep scoring pool with 18.1 ppg. The 6-foot senior is also the team's top facilitator, doling out just under five assists per game (4.9). Montrezl Harrell is a budding star up front, shooting a hefty .622 from the field and averaging 11.7 points and team-high 8.2 rebounds per game. Chris Jones (11.3 ppg), Hancock (10.5 ppg) and Blackshear (9.9 ppg) provide other scoring options.
UConn didn't light up Memphis from behind the arc like Louisville did to Houston, but the Huskies were highly efficient on the offensive end, shooting at an impressive .571 clip for the game. DeAndre Daniels was a big part of the win, as he posted a double-double with game-highs of 23 points and 11 rebounds. All-American candidate Shabazz Napier added a double-double of his own with 17 points and 10 assists, while Lasan Kromah chipped in with 13 points.
Napier is the perfect counter-measure for what Smith brings to the table for Louisville. UConn's star guard does a little bit of everything on the court, leading the team in scoring (16.1 ppg), rebounding (6.2 rpg), assists (6.2 apg) and steals (36). Complementing Napier on the floor are Daniels (13.4 ppg) and Ryan Boatright (12.4 ppg). Connecticut is shooting .468 from the floor overall and enjoys a +10.3 scoring margin.