New No. 1 UConn Rips Fifth-Ranked Cardinals

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Connecticut reached No. 1 two months ahead of schedule.

The way the Huskies are playing, they might stay there a while.

Jeff Adrien scored 18 points and grabbed seven rebounds and the Huskies celebrated their return to the top of the polls for the first time in three years with a 68-51 dismantling of Louisville (No. 7 ESPN/USA Today, No. 5 AP) on Monday.

"We definitely made a statement that we're No. 1," Adrien said.

The Huskies certainly played like the best team in the nation.

Hasheem Thabeet dominated the lane, scoring 14 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks as UConn (21-1, 10-1 Big East) rolled to its 10th straight victory.

Jerome Dyson added 14 points and A.J. Price had 11 points, eight rebounds and three assists as the Huskies had surprisingly little trouble shutting down the red-hot Cardinals.

"They're very truly the No. 1 team in the country," said Louisville coach Rick Pitino. "We weren't in their league tonight."

Not many teams are when the Huskies play as well at both ends of the floor as they did against the Cardinals.

Terrence Williams led Louisville (17-4, 8-1) with a career-high 26 points but got little help from his teammates. Williams shot 11-of-19 from the field, while the rest of the Cardinals went 11-of-45 (24 percent) from the floor.

UConn emphatically ended Louisville's nine-game winning streak by dictating the pace and using Thabeet's massive 7-foot-3 wingspan to hold Louisville to a season-low point total. The junior's defensive dominance was so complete UConn coach Jim Calhoun looked surprised when he found out his center was credited with just four blocks.

"Thabeet had four blocks? Come on," Calhoun said. "It doesn't matter if he has four or 40. Just his presence in there was intimidating."

The Cardinals shot 34 percent from the floor -- including 5-of-17 3-pointers -- and rarely challenged one of the nation's leading shotblockers. Louisville shot two free throws and the Cardinals were so reticent to get in the lane that they sometimes pulled up for jumpers on the fastbreak rather than try and get to the basket.

"It's February and it's time to get better," Thabeet said. "Coach told me to control the middle and not let them get into the offense and not give up uncontested shots. After I got a couple of blocks they stopped bringing it in there."

UConn became the fourth No. 1 team in as many weeks earlier in the day but managed to avoid the pitfalls that sent Pittsburgh, Wake Forest and Duke tumbling out of the top spot.

Louisville ended Pittsburgh's perfect run with a 69-63 upset on Jan. 17. The Cardinals were hoping to become the first team since Georgia Tech in 1993 to knock off two No. 1s in the same season but simply couldn't keep up with the Huskies.

The Cardinals had resurrected their season during a perfect January, reeling off nine straight wins -- including four against ranked teams.

Yet with 30 pro scouts on hand to watch the two preseason favorites in possibly the nation's toughest conference, the Cardinals were no match for UConn's size, speed or experience.

Louisville power forward Earl Clark struggled against whoever the Huskies threw at him, finishing with five points on 2-of-16 shooting. Heralded freshman center Samardo Samuels, clearly bothered by Thabeet, was held scoreless, missing both of his shots from the field.

"I think they outplayed us in every phase of the game," Louisville guard Edgar Sosa said. "They just wanted it more."

Adrien, who is quickly becoming the glue, led the way.

With the Cardinals sagging to stop Thabeet, Adrien bulled his way wherever he wanted. He hit 7-of-12 field goals and seemed to hit a shot whenever the Huskies needed one.

"Adrien has really turned into a leader and provides a lot of energy for us," Thabeet said. "When we needed a loose ball, he goes and gets it."

Not that there were many big shots or loose balls to get in the second half as the Huskies turned the Big East Game of the Year -- for this week anyway -- into a rout late in the first half.

Williams picked up two early fouls, including a touch foul while Price attempted a 3-pointer and went to the bench less than four minutes in.

Pitino did his best to protect his best all-around player, but the Cardinals appeared lost when their senior co-captain wasn't on the floor. The Huskies put together a 15-2 run to end the half while Williams watched from the bench.

Adrien had little trouble with Williams' replacement, freshman Kyle Kuric, scoring six points during the burst, including a pretty hook shot over Kuric's arms as UConn took a 38-26 lead into the break and was well on its way to cementing its status as the nation's top team.

UConn stretched the lead to 15 early in the second half and the Cardinals had no answer. Louisville never got within 10 points over the final 20 minutes and Thabeet raised his arms in triumph as the buzzer sounded.

Yet as emphatic as they were in victory, the Huskies know it won't matter if they can't keep it going.

"Being No. 1 is like winning in Maui," Calhoun said. "It's nice but I want to be there in April."


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