LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Marcus Williams wasn't about to let
Connecticut's chance to grab the nation's top ranking slip away.
Williams scored 15 points and Rudy Gay added 12 as No. 3
Connecticut pulled away late in a 71-58 victory over
Louisville (No. 15 ESPN/USA Today; No. 17 AP). Following losses earlier in the day by No. 1 Duke and
No. 2 Florida, the Huskies could ascend to the top spot when the
new rankings come out on Monday.
"It's an open door we could step right into," Williams said.
"But it's just a ranking in January. I don't think we know how
good we are yet. I think we need a couple more victories."
"It means a lot to a freshman to come into UConn and be number
one, but it's just a label," added Connecticut forward Jeff
It's a label the Huskies (16-1, 4-1 Big East) could wear pretty
well if they can dominate the way they did in the final five
minutes against the undermanned Cardinals (13-5, 1-4). Connecticut
finished the game on a 12-3 run after allowing the injury-depleted
Cardinals to keep it interesting for most of the night.
David Padgett scored a career-high 27 points for Louisville, but
the Cardinals shot just 2-of-20 from 3-point range and couldn't
stop the Huskies in the second half.
"They're just physically more talented," said Louisville coach
Rick Pitino after his team dropped its third straight. "They're
bigger and better."
And the Huskies showed it over the final 4:12. After the
Cardinals drew within 59-55 on a jumper by Juan Palacios, Williams
took over. He hit a runner in the lane to push the Connecticut lead
to six, then ended Louisville's upset bid two minutes later with a
steal and layup that pushed the lead to 12.
"Marcus is not the scorer, but he is the runner of the team,"
Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said. "He gets the ball to the right
people in the right time at the right spots."
There were plenty of spots to be found in the second half, as
the Huskies shot 68 percent from the field and attacked the rim
after settling for jumpers in a sloppy and lethargic first half.
"[Pitino] really made a decision for us not to run and get in a
race, to grind it out," Calhoun said. "I thought we could grind
it out. We didn't take a bad shot the last four minutes coming down
the stretch and made our free throws."
Louisville kept it close even without leading scorer Taquan
Dean, who missed his second straight game nursing a sprained ankle.
That left Pitino with the daunting task of snapping a two-game
conference losing streak using seven new faces in front of a
national television audience.
In the end, the Cardinals simply couldn't keep up with the
older, more experienced Huskies.
"What they need down the stretch is experience," Calhoun said.
"It's what we have. Our experience and our toughness won this
With the Cardinals struggling from the outside, Padgett took it
upon himself to keep the Cardinals in it. Using a variety of hooks,
layups and pump fakes, Padgett frustrated the Huskies and kept
"We played 35 minutes with the best team in the country,"
Padgett said. "Those guys are just really talented and a really
good basketball team. I thought we played pretty well in the first
half and like I said, we just broke down a little bit towards the
The Huskies appeared to be in control after building a 12-point
lead in the first half, holding Louisville scoreless for more than
Yet Louisville rallied behind the play of Terrence Williams. His
seven rebounds kept the Cardinals competitive on the glass and his
energy seemed to rub off on his teammates.
Despite shooting just 31 percent from the floor -- including
0-of-9 from 3-point range -- Louisville trailed just 30-27 at the
half by taking care of the ball while forcing Connecticut into
Connecticut turned the ball over nine times, with the normally
sure-handed Marcus Williams giving it away twice.