November 10, 2011
By Charles Cuttone
“WE’VE GOT TO BE SMART”
Huskies prepare for Big East semi against Louisville
The University of Connecticut find themselves in a somewhat familiar position, heading back to another final four in the Big East Conference Championships.
The Huskies have been there before, seven times to be exact, but this is the first time any of the current group of players has advanced this far. They will take on Louisville in the Conference semifinals at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ on Friday night at 5 pm.
The game will be a rematch of a double-overtime Huskies victory at Louisville on October 1. Stephane Diop scored the game-winning goal in the 102nd minute. Andre Blake made a then-season high six saves in the contest. The win snapped Louisville’s streak of 27 games without a loss at home, an unbeaten run that ranked seventh in NCAA history at the time.
"We've got a tough, resilient, mentally strong group," head coach Ray Reid said of his Huskies team that goes into Friday's game ranked fourth in the nation with a 16-2-2 record.
Now in his 15th year at the Huskies helm, the Long Island native surpassed the 350-win plateau earlier this year.
After being eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Big East last season, and falling in the second round of the NCAAs after earning an at-large bid, Reid says this year's team, with the same core group of players, is different.
"I have watched them mature as people," Reid says, a maturity that has been evident on the field as well.
The Huskies opened the 2011 season with 11 straight wins, before a 0-0 tie with Notre Dame. They were unbeaten in their first 14 games, and thus far have only lost twice, to West Virginia and Seton Hall.
During that stretch, freshman ‘keeper Blake led UConn to a nine-game shutout streak that lasted an incredible 961:32, spanning 11 games from Sept. 4-Oct. 12. The NCAA record for consecutive games without allowing a goal is 11. The Huskies recorded nine straight shutouts and set a program record, besting the previous record of eight held by Josh Ford and the 2009 Huskies.
Reid credits the team's success to "good defense,” but also points out "we're got some guys that can move the ball.”
Primary among those "ball movers" is midfielder Carlos Alvarez, whose five goals and five assists this season put him in a tie for second on the team in points.
The Huskies’ primary target on attack has been Mamadou Diouf, who has ten goals and two assists, putting him third in the Big East in both goals and points.
Despite beating them earlier in the season, Reid is well aware of the strength of the Huskies’ Friday opponent, who fell just short of winning the NCAA Championship last year, losing 1-0 to Akron in the final.
"Louisville is a great team," Reid said. "We’ve got to be smart with them."