By Carl Adamec
HARTFORD, Conn. — Bria Hartley spent much of her weekend wondering whether she would get off the bench when the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team faced Louisville at the XL Center Tuesday night. The junior guard hurt her bothersome left ankle just five minutes into Saturday’s game against Marquette and did not return, leaving her status in doubt for the Cardinals.
Instead, Hartley barely came off the floor and for good reason. She looked much more like her All-America self than she has recently.
Hartley scored 16 points as No. 3 UConn downed 15th-ranked Louisville 72-58 in Big East action before a late-night crowd of 8,702.
“It felt a lot better than the last couple of days,” Hartley said of her ankle, which cost her the first two games of the regular season. “Just to get out there and get moving, it was better that I was out there running around.”
Hartley played the entire first half and didn’t take a seat until 13:01 remained. She returned four minutes later and came out for good with 3:40 left and the outcome decided.
In her 33 minutes, the North Babylon, N.Y. native was 6-for-15 from the floor and added seven rebounds.
“I didn’t have any expectations going in,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “If it looked great and she didn’t have to come in and out and play all the time, we were going to let her go. She played a lot of minutes tonight and I don’t know if I wanted to do that, but I figured that if she came out and sat for a long time that might be worse than staying out there.”
Stefanie Dolson had 16 points, nine rebounds, and three assists for the Huskies (15-1 overall, 3-1 Big East). Kelly Faris added 13 points and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis 12. Faris had seven assists, though the nation’s leader in assist-to-turnover ratio also had seven turnovers.
“It’s mid-January and it’s that time of the year when the players that have been there before know what’s at stake and what is going on and now it’s their turn to make sure it gets done,” Auriemma said.
The Huskies gave up the first basket for their only deficit of the game, which tipped off at 9:10 p.m. Leading 16-12, UConn used a 10-2 run to take command. Hartley scored the first six points followed by baskets by Dolson and Moriah Jefferson. It was 37-23 at halftime.
Louisville was within 50-39 before 3-pointers by Faris and Mosqueda-Lewis sandwiched around two Brianna Banks free throws put it away. UConn’s largest lead was 72-49 with 2:19 left. The Cardinals scored the final nine points.
UConn won the rebound battle 46-39. They held the Cardinals to 34 percent shooting from the floor and forced 16 turnovers.
“We knew that it was going to be one of those games,” Auriemma said. “They play hard, they play physical, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I think we play hard and we play physical. We couldn’t buy a lot of buckets in the first half but our defense was as good as it’s been all year. We’ve become a pretty good defensive team.”
Shoni Schimmel had 14 points for Louisville (14-4, 2-2), but had no assists and five turnovers. Antonita Slaughter chipped in 13 points.
“I was really proud of the way we fought,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “I thought we came out and really competed. We just couldn’t get a six- or eight-point run together.
The Huskies are 45-0 against the five former Conference USA teams — Cincinnati (7-0), DePaul (9-0), Louisville (12-0), Marquette (8-0), and South Florida (9-0) — that joined the Big East for the 2005-06 season. They are 11-1 all-time against the Cardinals. Louisville’s only win against UConn came in the 1993 NCAA tournament first round in Storrs. It was the second straight loss for the Huskies. They have not lost back-to-back in 709 games since.
UConn freshman forward Breanna Stewart missed her second straight game with a sprained left ankle suffered in Friday’s practice while doing a rebounding drill. She did go through pregame warmups and Auriemma said he would have used her in an emergency. He expects her to be ready to play Saturday when UConn entertains Syracuse at the XL Center (4 p.m., SNY).