ALBANY — On Sunday afternoon the UConn Huskies entered the Times Union Center one win away from their 12th consecutive Final Four appearance. They took care of business, beating the top seeded Louisville Cardinals 80-73.
“This one means a lot. This team has done a lot behind closed doors to make this work,” said UConn guard Katie Lou Samuelson.
The first seven points of the game belonged to the Huskies. Louisville got the game back within a score by the five minute mark, but Megan Walker added six points on two three pointers and UConn ended the first quarter with a six point lead 22-16.
Louisville coach Jeff Walz said “Megan Walker was the difference in the first half… She made shots.”
The defensive game plan for the Cardinals called for an extra girl near UConn forward Napheesa Collier to double once she got the ball. This left sophomore Megan Walker with an excess of space to take shots. She drained two more three pointers in the second quarter on only three shots. She led the Huskies in scoring for the quarter along with Katie Lou Samuelson as UConn extended their lead to seven points. Louisville’s 2000 point scorer Asia Durr struggled to find her shot early. In the first quarter she went 0-8. She followed that up by shooting 1-2 in the second quarter with three points.
Louisville’s Arica Carter said, “Asia is a great player and we knew that eventually she’d start hitting shots. But until then we just have to keep playing the game, it happens”
In the third quarter Katie Samuelson, who has been struggling with a back injury for the past couple weeks, was back in her old form. She hit two threes and had eight points. Unfortunately she ran into some foul trouble with three minutes to go and had to leave the game for an extended period. Asia Durr finally found her stride scoring seven points and leading the Cardinals to cut the deficit to four going into the fourth quarter.
Louisville came out and started pressing in the fourth quarter. The inability to slip into their normal half court offense made the Huskies very sloppy and they turned the ball over six times. As good as the Cardinals were on defense Asia Durr was even better on offense. She scored 11 points en route to Louisville cutting the deficit to just two points. Samuelson came back off of the bench with 6:21 left in the game. She made big play after big play, biggest of which was a step back three that gave her a chance for a four point play. She scored 10 points which led to a game high 29 points for her. Asia Durr finished the game with 21 points but it just wasn’t enough as UConn pulled away to a 80-73 final.
Coach Auriemma said, “Watching Asia Durr has been incredible. She has had an amazing career and I have a ton of respect for her.”
With the win, UConn has received an invitation to the NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four for the 12th straight year, continuing an era of dominance that appears impossible.