If you’re a top 10 team in the Big East, it’s been a tough week. On Saturday afternoon, the No. 5/5 UConn Huskies were looking to avoid the fate that No. 2/2 Pittsburgh, No. 8/7 Villanova (twice) and No. 9/10 Syracuse all faced this week.

Unfortunately for the Huskies, they were unable to avoid it as Peyton Silva’s layup with 27 seconds left in the second overtime was the difference in the Louisville Cardinals 79-78 win over the Huskies in front of a sold-out crowd at Gampel Pavilion.

The University of Connecticut's Kemba Walker misses a jumper in traffic against Louisville in their Big East game at Gampel Pavilion. Walker scored 20 points in UConn's heartbreak one-point loss in triple overtime, 79-78. Silva’s layup put the Cardinals up 79-74 but Shabazz Napier cut it to 79-76 on a layup. Napier fouled Silva on the inbounds and Silva missed the front end of a one-and-one that was pulled down by Roscoe Smith. Kemba Walker got the ball in his hands and was fouled by Silva. Walker made both free throws and on the inbounds pass, he fouled Chris Smith with eight seconds left.

Smith missed both free throws with the rebound pulled down by Napier who got the ball in the front court to Walker. But Walker wasn’t able to deliver yet another game-winner as his 35 foot shot went in and out to give the Cardinals the win.

UConn falls to 17-3 (5-3 Big East) on the season. The No. 23/19 Cardinals improve to 17-4 (6-2).

Napier led the Huskies with 23 points, scoring 21 of them in the second half and overtime. Jeremy Lamb scored 14 of his 21 points in the second half and added six rebounds with three assists. Walker chipped in with 20 points, four rebounds and four assists.

Roscoe Smith wasn’t a big factor on the offensive end with just five points but he did pull down 12 rebounds and had three steals.

Silva killed the Huskies all afternoon long and led the Cardinals with 19 points and had seven assists, three steals and two blocked shots. Terrence Jennings had a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds while Preston Knowles and Kyle Kuric both had 15 points.

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The first half was a tight affair with the Cardinals getting out to a 7-4 lead early on. But UConn battled to take an 8-7 lead on an Alex Oriakhi tip-in but the Cardinals retook the lead. The Huskies once again came back and got out to a four point lead at 15-11. The Cardinals would come back once again to tie at 15 before the Huskies took their largest lead of the half with the next five straight points.

The Cardinals would get no closer than two points the rest of the half and they would trail UConn by five at 28-23 at the break.

Silva pulled the Cardinals to within two right out of the gate in the second half on an old fashioned three-point play but UConn responded with the next six points to increase their lead to eight. Over the course of the next four and half minutes, the Cardinals would get the Huskies lead down to three.

With 12:02 remaining and the Huskies up by three at 43-40, they scored the next six points over a three-minute span to open up a nine-point lead. The Cardinals wouldn’t go away though as UConn had trouble with Louisville’s matchup zone defense while on the offensive end they would cut the lead to four with 6:13 remaining.

Napier hit a clutch three to put UConn back up seven but once again the matchup zone proved to problematic for the Huskies ash they were unable to get the shots they wanted. Meanwhile on the offensive end for the Cardinals, they fought back and tied the game at 55 on a Kuric three-pointer with 2:13 remaining.

The Cardinals retook the lead after a Walker turnover with Silva hit two free throws. On the enusing possession, Napier was fouled and hit just one-of-two at the line. But on his miss, the rebound was pulled down by Oriakhi. Walker would then hit a three-pointer to put the Huskies up two with 1:20 to go.

Silva would tie the game up at 59 with 23 seconds left. After a timeout, the Huskies got the ball into the hands of Walker but his last second shot was off the mark and the game went to overtime.

The first overtime saw the teams battle it out and stay close. Lamb had a chance to win it with a three but it was off the mark and we went to a second overtime. In that second overtime, the Cardinals got out to a quick six-point lead and the Huskies were never able to recover.

I really thought UConn had this game won. But the defense became pourous at the wrong times and the offense had trouble with the defense that Louisville presented. Walker was constantly double-teamed and always had a hand in his face. Lamb was huge in the first half but totally disappeared in the second half and didn’t reemerge until it was too late. 

The one thing I didn’t understand was the fact that Napier always had the ball in his hand at crunch time. I know he’s improved and had a good game but I felt as though the ball should have been in Walker’s hands. That’s how it’s been all season long and things shouldn’t have been any different.

It’s a tough loss no doubt, especially coming on your home floor. But unlike last year’s team, I have no doubts that this team will rebound and play better when the next time they take the floor.

That next time on the court for the Huskies will come Wednesday night when the Syracuse Orange come to the XL Center. The game is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. and will be nationally-televised on ESPN.

Notes and musings:

Louisville Cardinals @ UConn Huskies 1.29.11 box score

Here are quotes from UConn head coach Jim Calhoun, Kemba Walker,  Jeremy Lamb, Roscoe Smith, Shabazz Napier and Louisville head coach Rick Pitino.

The starters for the Huskies were Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb, Roscoe Smith, Tyler Olander and Alex Oriakhi.

Former Husky Jerome Dyson was in the crowd at Gampel.

Kemba Walker was wearing red sneakers in the first half but came out in the second half with white ones on.

UConn had won their previous six games before Saturday’s loss.

The Huskies shot 37.7% (29-77) from the floor while Louisville shot 48.4% (30-62).

UConn had 13 assists on their 29 made baskets.

Both teams had eight three-pointers.

The Huskies were 12-of-19 (63.2%) from the charity stripe. That’s not going to get it done in the Big East. Of course the Cardinals were just 11-of-20 (55%).

UConn won the battle of the boards 51-36.

The Huskies outscored Louisville 38-36 in the paint and 21-10 on second chance points.

The Cardinals outscored the Huskies 18-6 on the fast break.

UConn had 12 points off of 15 Louisville turnovers. The Cardinals had 13 points off of 12 Huskies turnovers.

Photo credit: Cloe Poisson – Hartford Courant (No. 14)