By DOUG FEINBERG
AP Basketball Writer
STORRS, Conn. (AP) _ Breanna Stewart has already developed a knack for hitting the big shot.
The sensational sophomore had 24 points and 10 rebounds to lead top-ranked UConn to an 81-64 victory over No. 4 Louisville on Sunday in a rematch of last season’s national championship game.
Just as in the matchup last April, which UConn won by 33 points, Stewart and the Huskies were too much for Louisville.
“She scores them exactly when you need them,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said of his young star. “Every one of her points seems to mean something. She hits three-run homers when we’re down two and that’s what separates her from everybody else.”
The win was UConn’s 31st straight dating back to last season’s title run. That’s the fifth-longest winning streak in school history.
The Huskies (25-0, 12-0 American Athletic Conference) led by 11 at the half and when Louisville (23-2, 11-1) got within 47-40, Stewart answered with five straight points to ignite a 16-5 run that put the game away. Louisville could only get within 14 the rest of the way.
“As a basketball player, I want the ball in my hands at that time,” Stewart said.
Asia Taylor scored 18 points to lead Louisville, which had its 16-game winning streak end. The Cardinals’ only other loss came back on Dec. 1 against Kentucky.
Stewart, who scored 22 points in the national championship game, got UConn going in the first half. UConn only led 29-24 before the 6-foot-4 sophomore hit consecutive 3-pointers to give UConn its first double-digit lead of the game. The Huskies led 44-33 at the half.
“She’s a special player,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “I told our players there’s no question she’s the best player in the country in my opinion. When you have breakdowns she makes you pay for them.”
UConn did receive a scare late in the first half when Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis went down with 18 seconds left, injuring her left elbow on a jump ball play.
Mosqueda-Lewis, who missed eight games with a nerve contusion of her right elbow, returned early in the second half with a sleeve over her left elbow, but didn’t score. She finished the game with 13 points.
“It’s not as bad as last time,” Auriemma said. “It’s in a similar spot, just a different elbow. We got a week off before we play again and I guess we’ll know more in a day or so. There’s not that same sense of urgency I saw the first time.”
The Huskies could ill afford to lose her. UConn is already without forward Morgan Tuck, who recently underwent season-ending knee surgery. Guard Brianna Banks also missed her third straight game with an ankle injury.
“We got to put bubbles around our guys,” Auriemma said. “We can’t afford to get anyone else hurt.”
Louisville guard Bria Smith missed her second straight game because of tendinitis in her knees.
Moriah Jefferson added a career-high 18 points for the Huskies, who improved to 8-0 against Top 25 teams, including victories over six of the top 10. They’ve won those games by an average of 21 points.
“They are the greatest team in the country right now,” said Shoni Schimmel. “They are a hard team to guard. They do what they do best and that’s score.”
The only currently ranked team left on UConn’s schedule is a rematch against Louisville on the first Monday in March.
“We’re going to learn from this game,” added Schimmel. “We’ll get them back at our place and have all our pieces. We’re looking forward to play them again.” The only currently ranked team left on UConn’s schedule is a rematch against Louisville on the first Monday in March.
Louisville hasn’t had much success against UConn, losing 14 of the past 15 meetings, including twice with the national championship on the line.
Sunday’s game was the annual Play4Kay game in honor of former N.C. State coach Kay Yow, who died of cancer in 2009. UConn wore uniforms with pink trim and all the fans were given pink pompoms. The Huskies were auctioning off their uniforms after the game for the charity.
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