There were a few wrinkles to iron out in the blueprint that coach Geno Auriemma carried to practice in preparation for Louisville. Then again, it's been that way all season.
This time, the male practice players who push his players were still on winter break. And then Auriemma was told that Bria Hartley and Breanna Stewart could not work over the past two days because of ankle injuries sustained last weekend.
This left the Huskies short-handed, at least on paper. As Louisville has learned during its stay in the Big East, no team with a roster of McDonald's All-Americans is ever without recourse.
"It's all about who you have out there [on the floor] and who you have them out there with," Auriemma said. "But this isn't the NBA, where you have four or five players capable of out-playing the other team's starters. It's not going to happen."
The Huskies didn't have to jump into the deep because they cleared Hartley to play. She started and soared effortlessly through UConn's 72-58 win over the Cardinals at the XL Center.
The Huskies were led by junior center Stefanie Dolson. She scored 16 points with nine rebounds. Hartley added 16 points and seven rebounds in 32 minutes.
"Those two guys were great," Auriemma said.
Kelly Faris suffered through a tough shooting night (5 of 15) and had seven turnovers. But she also had seven assists.
Shoni Schimmel led the Cardinals with 14 points. Antonita Slaughter added 13. Monique Reid had 10 rebounds.
"Our defense was as good as it's been all year," Auriemma said. The Cardinals shot 23 of 67 (34.3 percent) and 4 of 19 from three. "We've become a very good defensive team."
Stewart warmed up but spent the night on the bench convalescing. Still, the Huskies had all they needed, although Louisville stayed tight and tough throughout the second half.
"She is coming along great," Auriemma said. "In fact, if there was an emergency she could have played."
Still, the Huskies had all they needed, although Louisville stayed tight and tough throughout the second half.
"We've been dealing with [injuries] since the preseason up until now and it's getting tiring," Auriemma said. "It's getting frustrating to not have enough players in practice to give enough players the repetitions they need to get better."
"It puts pressure on the healthy players to stay healthy. It's been bizarre, but the alternative is worse. Except for Bria, our injuries have been a nuisance more than something long-term or season-ending. Maybe our best days are ahead of us."
So ends, for now, the regular-season series with the Cardinals (14-4, 2-2), who are due to join the ACC next season. The Huskies (15-1, 3-1) return to action Saturday at the XL Center against Syracuse before Monday's Gampel Pavilion matchup with No. 4 Duke.
This was an interesting game of strategy, one that resulted in some first-half slop. Louisville had 13 turnovers, UConn 12.
Last year, the Cardinals slowed a physical game and kept the Huskies within 10 in a low-scoring affair in Louisville. And the Huskies did not open a 20-point lead until Faris drained a three-pointer with 5:38 to play. That gave UConn a 65-45 lead.
"You look at the score, we played them evenly the entire second half," Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. "We only turned the ball over three times in the second half and we only gave up two offensive rebounds. I think we've got to be excited about some of the things that we did. Are we happy that we lost? No. We want to win every game that we play in."
This time, UConn was intent to control the pace.
To do that, the Huskies used a rebounding advantage that helped fuel its offense. They pulled down 29 boards in the first half while the Cardinals struggled from the floor, shooting 9 of 29.
And when in the halfcourt, Faris did an excellent job of feeding Dolson, who scored UConn's first six points.
Hartley, who seemed seriously injured Saturday in the moments after tweaking her left ankle, did not seem to be affected Tuesday.
"It felt a lot better than it has in the last couple of days," Hartley said. "It was better for me to be out there running around."
She ran the floor with ease and scored 10 points with seven rebounds in the first half, even though she was 1 of 7 from three and 4 of 11 from the floor. She ended the night shooting 6 of 15, 3 of 11 from three.
"I didn't have any expectations going in," Auriemma said. "It was one of those things where I just wanted to see what would happen."
Louisville did its best to counter, but guard Bria Smith couldn't buy a hoop (0 of 7) in the first half. That left the perimeter attack to the Schimmel sisters, Shoni and Jude.
Jude was 3 of 4 in the half, her sister was 2 of 6, an