Once again, UConn beat Louisville. And once again, Shoni Schimmel struggled to score.
In fairness to Louisville, last night’s 68-48 loss to Connecticut was objectively closer than the final score suggests for most of the game.
The problem was that subjectively it never really felt like they were going to get within 10 points of the undefeated UConn Huskies, which is a shame given all the anticipation and the thousands of Native Americans that traveled from across the U.S. to see the game. Louisville had opportunities to cut into the lead and just kept hitting a wall.
One of the major insurmountable obstacles for Louisville shows up quite clearly in the boxscore: the WBB State statistics show a +28.8% offensive rebounding advantage for the Huskies, a good number of which were part of third and fourth chance scoring opportunities. Sure, UConn has a height advantage, but on more than one defensive possession Louisville looked to be more interested in watching the ball’s path to the rim than recovering the potential miss.
But the other problem for Louisville was a familiar one: star guard Shoni Schimmel shot just 4-for-14 from the field, a problem that Mike Rutherford of SB Nation’s Card Chronicle described in his recap last night.
Louisville started quickly, scoring the game’s first seven points and building a lead they would hold throughout the game’s first two segments. UConn then answered with a 12-0 run to take a 32-21 advantage they would not relinquish.
It was another frustrating night against UConn for Cardinal star Shoni Schimmel, who was playing her final regular season game at the Yum Center. After hitting her first two shots, Schimmel missed nine straight and finished the evening with just nine points.
What has to be acknowledged about that performance is that there are times when the defense deserves the lion share of the credit for a poor shooting night and this was one such instance.
Just as they did the first time, UConn used guards Bria Hartley and Moriah Jefferson to face guard Schimmel everywhere she went to deny her the ball and smother her when she did get it. What fans sometimes fail to understand is that being defended like that takes a toll both mentally and physically – you have to spend so much energy just trying to shake free of the defender that once you do get the ball you’re either rushing to make something happen with the newfound freedom or simply not sure what’s coming next. As coach Jeff Walz described in his post-game press conference, UConn was also doubling off screens to make it tough for Schimmel to make a play after receiving the ball.
Halfway through the second half with Schimmel looked exhausted on both fronts, something color analyst Stephanie White mentioned a few times – Schimmel stopped moving altogether and just looked spent. On one possession when she did finally get the ball after running off a set of screens, she bobbled the past and squandered an opportunity to get a clear look at the basket. After a while, the screens themselves were less effective as Schimmel’s speed coming around them declined and allowed defenders to catch up to her.
Meanwhile, UConn was content to let the rest of the team beat them and the Cardinals just looked increasingly out of sorts until their body language screamed demoralization. With the Huskies’ trio of front line shot blockers patrolling the paint, it’s not at all difficult for them to both stop Schimmel with quicker guards and protect the rim against everyone else. Good looks are nice, but when they turn into jumper after jumper after jumper, they end up being a negative.
It’s possible that Louisville could see UConn two more times this season: once in the AAC championship game and again in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, depending on how seeding works out. But getting a win? To put it a bit more charitably than John Altavilla of the Hartford Courant did, it’s highly unlikely that Louisville is going to come up with the answers to this UConn riddle.