Louisville suffocates Huskies

Louisville's Russ Smith (2) shoots while being guarded by Connecticut's Tyler Olander during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Hartford, Conn., Monday, Jan. 14, 2013. Louisville won 73-58. (AP Photo/Fred Beckham)

Louisville’s Russ Smith (2) shoots while being guarded by Connecticut’s Tyler Olander during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Hartford, Conn., Monday, Jan. 14, 2013. Louisville won 73-58. (AP Photo/Fred Beckham)

John F. Silver

  HARTFORD, Conn. – Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright came into Monday’s game against No. 1 Louisville with something to prove.

The Huskies know there won’t be any chance at a postseason berth this season and with a regular season national television game against the nations top ranked team it was going to be a time to strut your stuff.

For one half UConn, Napier and Boatright did all they could do knock Louisville off its perch just hours after becoming the nations top team.

Then the Huskies ran into the Cardinals defense.

That’s when any dreams of a UConn upset ended.

Louisville, led by guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith, suffocated Napier, Boatright and UConn holding the Huskies to 26 percent second half shooting as it turned a six point halftime deficit into a rout with a 73-58 victory on Monday.

Louisville, 16-1, 4-0 Big East, outscored the Huskies 45-24 in the second half as Siva, who missed most of the first half with foul trouble, spearheaded a defensive effort that crushed UConn.

UConn (12-4, 2-2) committed 10 turnovers, allowed 15 points off turnovers and went eight minutes of the second half without a field goal in the defeat.

The fullcourt pressure of Louisville was to much for the Huskies as they were whipped for the first time this season. The key to pressure is making non-ball handlers make decisions and that’s what the Cardinals did in spades in the second half.

“They try and get ball in the wrong persons hands and make that person dribble and make plays,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. “They took the ball out of our two guards hands and we didn’t do a good job responding. We had careless turnovers that led to fastbreak points for them…that’s how they shoot 60 percent.”

It was a thorough blanketing in the second half for Louisville. Napier began the game hot and in transition hitting four of his first five shots and had 10 first half points. He finished with 12 points on 4 of 13 shooting and never got in rhythm in the second half.

“I think for myself, I feel I have to outplay the other guard,” Napier said. “It comes down to the guards. I felt like going into game I had to do my best and not only look for shots I can make, but also get everyone else involved. For the first half, I did a good job with that. Second half? We left all the passion in the locker room.”

Boatright was also a non-factor  on 4 of 10 shooting for 11 points and five turnovers.

What the Cardinals did in the second half to the Huskies was put together a scary display of defensive athleticism, toughness and transition offense. The turnovers and fast break baskets off forced UConn shots led to 60 percent second half shooting for the Cardinals.  That in turn allowed the pressure to be set up as the defense squeezed the life out of UConn. The Huskies struggled to get the ball up the floor and couldn’t get anything going in the offense even when it didn’t turn over the ball.

The catalyst was Siva, who had only two points in the first half in four minutes as he sat out with foul trouble. The Huskies shot 53 percent in the opening half and led 34-28 at the break.

Siva returned and with his running mate Russ Smith helped to wear down UConn. Siva had nine points, four assists and three steals in the second half while Smith finished with 23 points. The quickness and pressure in the backcourt that Siva provided was a major factor in the turnaround.

“Anyone knows basketball knows he made a big difference,” Ollie said of Siva. “He was energized, took it to the rim and got it to the basket. He’s a great player and Russ (Smith) kept doing his thing. When you don’t make field goals you can’t get back and set up our defense up. Shooting 25 percent and they get rebounds and pushing it, it’s tough for any team.”

Boatright and Napier came in averaging 34 points per game, but struggled for a combined 23 on 8 of 23 shooting with six turnovers.

“We had Shabazz to two points in the second half and Boatright had 11 in the game,” Siva said. “We just tried to contain them. They are one of the best backcourts in the nation.”

The Huskies like to rely on their backcourt with Boatright and Napier and on Monday it was outplayed.

Smith got to the rim at will and when Siva was in the lineup in the second half the guards shredded UConn’s defense.

“It makes a big difference,” Napier said of having Siva on the floor. “Both their guards are electric and fast. (Siva) is so good off pick and roll and is hard to guard and he got open shots for (Smith) and (Behanan). In second half we didn’t play as well as we should have.”

The Huskies are only going as far as Napier and Boatright can take them. On Monday night, for the first time this season, the dynamic duo was taken away.

“Our goal was to limit them to one shot and not let Napier and Boatright have good looks,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “We found that in the last 10 minutes of play, 82 percent of their shots come from Napier and Boatright.  So at the end we just wanted to make sure they didn’t beat us.”