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Louisville defends no. 1 ranking, pushes past UConn

Jan 14, 2013, 9:10 PM EDT

Rick Pitino, Wayne Blackshear, Peyton Siva AP

Early in the first half, Louisville, fresh off their newly-minted no. 1 team status on Monday afternoon, looked shaky. And you could hear the pundits on Twitter, wondering how the Cardinals would respond.

The second half was their response.

The Cardinals(16-1, 4-0 Big East Conference) held the Huskies (12-4, 2-2) without a point for over four minutes in the half, surged ahead, eventually making it a 73-58 final margin in Hartford.

The start for UConn was as good as they could’ve imagined, stretching their lead to 29-19 with 4:11 left in the first half. The half concluded with Omar Calhoun taking advantage of a Louisville mistake when, as the shot clock expired, Chane Behanan gave up on a rebound with two seconds left on the game clock. Calhoun laid the ball in for a 34-28 halftime edge.

However, the defensive pressure, the thing the Cardinals are known for, went up in the second half. The Cardinals got it back to a tie at 36-36 just three-and-a-half minutes into the half and, tied at 41-41 with 15:30 left, went on a 19-3 run over the next 7:36 to pull away.

The Cardinals outscored the Huskies 45-26 in second half, shooting 60.7-percent overall and 42.9-percent from three-point range. UConn shot just 16.7-percent from three in the half.

Russ Smith finished with 23 points and kept Louisville in the game early, scoring 15 of the team’s first 24 points. Calhoun had a career night for UConn with 20 points.

The first defense is the hardest, and Louisville did their job, though I’m not sure a start like they had on Monday night will be able to fly on Saturday night, when they play at home against Syracuse.

Unfortunately for UConn, this is the first time this season that I’ve seen a glimpse of last year’s Huskies. They got down during the offensive slump midway through the second half and allowed the Cardinals to pounce. I’m in no way saying this team will revert back to that form, they wont because Kevin Ollie has this team’s total focus, but they did that tonight. Though it’s easy to see why with Smith and Peyton Siva forming possibly the best backcourt in college basketball.

Gorgui Dieng finished with 16 rebounds to go along with six points.

David Harten is the editor and founder of The Backboard Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter at @David_Harten.

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