NEW ORLEANS — Connecticut beat Louisville back in January and didn’t even have star Breanna Stewart on the floor at the time.
That doesn’t mean the Huskies are going to be brimming with confidence about their chances of winning an eighth NCAA national title on Tuesday night against the Cardinals for one simple reason: Louisville (29-8) has become the master of the upset.
The Cardinals beat Cal 64-57 in the semifinals in the latest game they weren’t supposed to win, rallying from 10 down to do it. Louisville stunned defending national champion Baylor and knocked off perennial power Tennessee just to get to New Orleans.
Next up are the Huskies, who know how little one should read into previous meetings. UConn (34-4) lost to Notre Dame three times this season, only to beat the Irish handily, 83-65, in Sunday night’s other semifinal.
If the Louisville women pull off a fourth-straight upset and the men’s team beats Michigan on Monday night in Atlanta, then Louisville would become the first school to win men’s and women’s NCAA titles in the same year since UConn did it in 2004.
Incidentally, that 2004 women’s title for Connecticut came in New Orleans.
The last time Louisville made it to a title game was in 2009, losing to — that’s right — Connecticut, 76-54.
Louisville coach Jeff Walz has a simple answer when asked what changed between the end of the regular season and the NCAA tournament to make his team so tough to beat.
“We’re playing our best basketball at the end of the year and that’s all that matters,” Walz said. “We’re figuring out a way to pull them out and win and play well at the right time.”
Still, there are reasons to wonder how Louisville will manage to do it against UConn. They will need to deal with Stewart, who poured in 29 points against Notre Dame on Sunday night. She did not play when the Huskies beat Louisville by 14 points nearly three months ago.
So history certainly seems to be Connecticut’s side.
Not that Louisville is too concerned with history. In beating Cal, the Cardinals, who were seeded fifth in the Oklahoma City Region, became the first team seeded worse than fourth to win a game in the women’s Final Four.
“Right now anything can happen,” Walz said. “Why not us?”