LOUISVILLE – There are “hostile environments,” and then there is the KFC YUM! Center. It’s an arena that combines NBA size with a college-campus feel, and when the 21,000-plus who pack the place sniff weakness, there’s no place to run or hide.
“We have to stay together as a unit,” Tyler Olander said this week. “The YUM center is probably the toughest place to play, as soon as they see you falling apart they just jump on you. They’ll get on you and it’s tough to come back. It gets real loud in t here. We’ll just have to stick together.”
Veteran Huskies know all about it. UConn last played Louisville in this building two years ago, on Feb. 5, 2012, and was a debacle. UConn lost 80-59 and it wasn’t that close. And when it started going wrong in the first half, the Cardinals outscored UConn 41-16. After the game, a number of players used the word “embarrassed,” and freshman Ryan Boatright said “we basically gave up.”
George Blaney, who was subbing that night for Jim Calhoun, said, “I hope the players are embarrassed.”
Louisville has beaten UConn twice since, 73-58 at the XL Center on Jan. 14, 2013, and 76-64 at Gampel Pavilion on Jan 18, 2014. The only other game Kevin Ollie’s team has lost by double digits was at USF late last season, when the Huskies were decimated by injuries.
Saturday provides another chance to win in Rick Pitino’s Place.
“We’ve just got to limit their transition,” Shabazz Napier said, “that’s the biggest thing. They play good defense and they get in transition. They’re hard to play when they do that. We have to make sure we make our shots and play god defense.”
Of course, it must be noted that Louisville won it all last year, and reached the Final Four the year before, so they’ve handled almost every team they’ve played.
“They’re a really good team, well coached,” Niels Giffey said. “Really athletic,. They play a different style, much like Syracuse. They are not like other teams we play; they do the matchup zone, the pressing, you’ve got to beat it pretty much every time. They’re a team, that always grinds it out and we have to be the team with the higher intensity, the higher energy.”
UConn’s last win at Louisville was Jan. 21, 2006, by a score of 71-58.