- Kate Fagan, Columnist, espnW.com
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NEW ORLEANS -- A look at the first half of Tuesday's national championship game between fifth-seeded Louisville and No. 1 seed Connecticut.
First-half analysis: Connecticut 48, Louisville 29
Overview: Louisville looked like the looser team off the tip, opening the game with a 3-pointer from the left corner by forward Sara Hammond. The Cardinals used that quick start to build a 14-10 lead with 13 minutes, 52 seconds to play. Connecticut immediately went on a 19-0 run, which included a couple of smooth loooking jumpers from UConn freshman Breanna Stewart and was punctuated by a 3-pointer from Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis. Louisville immediately called a timeout, trailing 29-14.
Key player: UConn's Stewart. The 6-foot-4 forward scored 18 points in the first half, but more important than just the total was her timing. She dropped many of her buckets during the crucial first-half stretch when the Huskies separated themselves from the Cardinals. She hit a long 3-pointer from the left wing, the ball splashing through the net as a foul was called on Louisville's Monique Reid. Stewart scored her points efficiently, finishing the first half 7-for-11 from the floor. Stewart also grabbed seven rebounds. Also crucial was the amount of defensive energy Louisville was forced to expend focusing on Stewart's whereabouts. The Cardinals were always cognizant of Stewart's location in UConn's half-court offense, which led to open shots for other players, such as forward Mosqueda-Lewis (12 points) and guard Bria Hartley (six points).
Key stat: Louisville's 3-point shooting. The Cardinals finished the first half only 2-for-9 from beyond the arc. And star guard Shoni Schimmel went 1 of 8 from the floor and 2 of 9 from the 3-point line. This is poor shooting for any team, but especially damaging for a Louisville squad that really needed an above-average night from downtown to compete with the much more experienced Huskies. The Cardinals actually missed eight long-range attempts in a row during the first half. After Hammond's 3-pointer in the opening seconds, Louisville could not connect until late in the first half, after it was already significantly behind. Louisville needed 16 3-pointers to defeat Baylor earlier in the tournament, and many people thought the Cardinals needed a similar performance to compete with UConn.
Key moment: A five-minute stretch in the first half when the Huskies went on a 19-0 run. Once the Cardinals found themselves staring at a 15-point deficit, the life seemed to suck out of them. Louisville guard Jude Schimmel, after picking up her third foul, was fighting back tears on the bench. Similarly, Louisville guard Bria Smith caught a couple of elbows during the first 20 minutes and she looked frustrated after picking herself up off the floor the second time. The Cardinals started forcing their offensive end of the floor, rushing shots and panicking.