Louisville-UConn Preview

The Associated Press

While Louisville handled its first three Big East foes with relative ease, the new No. 1 team in the nation could be in for a tough test Monday night.

Hoping to open 4-0 in conference play for the first time in four seasons, the Cardinals visit Hartford trying for a sixth victory in seven matchups with a Connecticut club coming off arguably its most impressive win to date.

Losses last week by former No. 1 Duke and previous No. 2 Michigan allowed Louisville to climb from third in the AP poll to the top spot this week. The only other time the Cardinals were No. 1 was the final poll of the 2008-09 season.

They reached the top this time thanks to a 10-game win streak and an impressive start to conference play.

After beating Providence and Seton Hall by an average of 16.5 points, Louisville (15-1, 3-0) cruised to a 64-38 win over South Florida on Saturday. Junior Gorgui Dieng recorded his third straight double-double with 12 points and a career high-tying 16 rebounds while star point guard Peyton Siva shot 7 of 11 - 3 of 5 from 3-point range - to finish with 17 points, becoming the 64th player in school history to reach 1,000.

"Dieng is so much better and Siva's making 3s," USF coach Stan Heath said. "That was not the case in the past. You'd dare him to shoot and you'd be OK with it.

"They're legitimate. If they keep improving, keep working, they're legitimate to win it all."

Louisville, which hasn't won its first four league games since opening 8-0 in 2008-09, now turns its attention to the Huskies (12-3, 2-1). The Cardinals have won back-to-back trips to Connecticut, although those games were decided by a combined three points.

While coach Rick Pitino may wish he had more time to prepare for Monday's matchup, the Huskies find themselves in a similar situation after upsetting No. 17 Notre Dame 65-58 in South Bend on Saturday.

"They have the same thing," Pitino said. "It's only a hindrance when the other team doesn't do it and that's not the case. They're a great ball club. ... They've got arguably one of the best backcourts in the nation. They are a terrific team."

The Huskies' impressive guard combo of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright came up huge Saturday, combining for 33 points and nine assists. Connecticut outscored the Fighting Irish 7-0 over the final 43 seconds to snap Notre Dame's 17-game home winning streak.

"We just talk about hanging in there and hanging around. Good things are going to happen to a team that sticks together and for a team that plays for each other," coach Kevin Ollie said. "This was a great opportunity for us and we took advantage of it."

While Napier and Boatright continue to carry the Huskies, forward Tyler Olander appears to be coming into his own. The 6-foot-9 junior, averaging 5.3 points, had 10 in Tuesday's 99-78 win over DePaul, then scored a career-high 16 to go along with seven rebounds Saturday.

He shot 11 of 13 from the field in those two games.

"It's definitely very rewarding," Olander said. "Things weren't really working out for me at the beginning of the season. I stuck with it and kept working hard and got into the gym. It feels good to finally have hard work paying off."

Connecticut, which has outscored visitors by an average of 15.4 points, is looking to open 9-0 at home for the fourth consecutive season.

The Cardinals could use a bounce-back effort from Russ Smith if they hope to stop the Huskies' run. The star guard is averaging 18.7 points to rank third in the Big East, but he has totaled 19 on 4-of-24 shooting (16.7 percent) in his last two games.

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