The Louisville men’s team has received plenty of attention for the key injuries they have suffered lately, but the women’s team has had to overcome nearly just as much over the past two weeks. After a rough week that included consecutive losses, the Lady Cards couldn’t wait to get star player Myisha Hines-Allen back on the court. She missed the entire loss to NC State and played just one minute against Notre Dame. But with her return came more bad news, as starting point guard Briahanna Jackson played just 5 minutes in the Notre Dame game, due to back spasms, and would miss both games this past week.
In their first game, on the road against Virginia Tech, Coach Jeff Walz decided to go big. Instead of inserting another point guard into the starting lineup to replace Jackson, he put Kylee Shook, the tallest person on the team in there, and allowed Asia Durr, the lone guard left in the lineup to run the point. Kylee made good on his decision, scoring 5 early points, including a three pointer, before backup point guard Taylor Johnson finally came in, to bring the team back to a more traditional set-up.
From here, the 1st quarter was mostly a back and forth affair. Eventually the Cardinals came out with just a 21-19 lead. The Cardinals were able to control the game more in the second half, extending their lead up to 8 points, led by Sam Fuehring’s spark off the bench. Fuehring is a former McDonalds All-American (like so many other girls on this team), who has really struggled to find consistent time on the court this season. But we see enough flashes to know the talent is clearly there, and confidence-building performances like this can really pay off in March.
The Cardinals took a 40-35 lead to the break, but almost immediately allowed the Hokies to pull the game back into a one possession game, where it would remain for the quarter. Eventually, the would maintain a 58-56 lead going into the 4th quarter, although Tech would tie things up on the first possession of the quarter. This is when the Cards finally put their foot on the gas, scoring the next 11 points, and eventually going on a 17-4 run to put the game out of reach. They were led by Asia Durr scoring 30 points for the second straight game, this time in a winning effort. Durr has now hit at least one three pointer in 30 consecutive games, the longest such streak in the ACC. In her first full game back, Hines-Allen seemed to be back at full strength, playing 38 minutes and recording a double-double of 13 points and 13 rebounds. Mariya Moore played all 40 minutes, and had 17 points and 11 rebounds, along with 11 points and 11 rebounds off the bench for Fuehring. The Cardinals had three player record a double-double in a game for the first time since 2009. As a team, the Cardinals shot 57.8%, and 44.4% from three, to win the game convincingly, 88-70.
Before their next game, the Cardinals were faced with another blow, as Asia Durr was suspended due to a violation of team rules. Luckily they had Boston College headed to the Yum! Center, the last place team in the ACC. With two starters down, Coach Walz would stick with the freshmen Shook, and also add Taylor Johnson to the starting lineup. The Cards would make quick work of the Eagles, giving up just 4 points in the 1st quarter. Early in the 2nd quarter, the Cards got up 16-6, and the lead would never fall below double-digits again. Kylee Shook led the team in scoring with 14 points, including 2 three pointers. Hines-Allen had yet another double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds.
Past that, this game mostly became about resting the players who needed it, and giving some experience to the bench. Every player that was active for the game saw time on the court, with all but one getting 10 minutes or more, and no one playing more than 25 minutes. Mariya Moore, who played all 40 minutes in Thursday’s game against Virginia Tech, and 39 minutes on Monday against Notre Dame, didn’t even play in the second half of this game, totaling just 2 points in 14 minutes. All twelve Cardinals scored in the game, led off the bench by Ciera Johnson’s 7 points and 8 rebounds, another 8 points from Bionca Dunham, and 6 points from Fuehring and Jazmine Jones. All this added up to a 68-43 win for Louisville, that never felt like it was in question.
Louisville now sits at 22-6, and 9-4 in the conference. This puts them at 5th place in the ACC. I’m about to throw a bunch of numbers at you, so buckle up. Currently, Florida State and Notre Dame are tied for first place in the ACC at 11-1, 2.5 games ahead of Louisville, and both of those teams owning tiebreakers against the Cardinals. With 3 games left, the most ACC wins the Cardinals could end up with is 12. And since Notre Dame and FSU close the season against each other, one of those teams are guaranteed to win at least 12 games themselves, where the tiebreaker would come into effect. This means, by my count, that despite being just 2.5 games behind with 3 to go, the Cardinals have been eliminated from the 1 seed in the ACC Tournament. They’re also 1.5 games behind Duke, the current 3 seed, in a similar tiebreaker situation, so they’re best bet is probably to aim for getting back in the 4th seed, where they sit just a half game behind NC State (although, once again, NC State owns the tiebreaker).
The Cardinals are currently enjoying one last week off, before their final stretch of the regular season, which begins on Sunday, at home against North Carolina, who has struggled to just a 13-12 record this year. They’ll follow that up on Senior Night the next Thursday against Virginia, who they beat in overtime earlier this year, and finish the regular season on the road against Wake Forest, on February 26th.