After a brutal first two weeks to the season, that saw Louisville beat 4 tournament teams, 3 ranked teams and 2 top ten teams, The Lady Cards used the Thanksgiving holiday and week after to enjoy one of the lighter stretches of the season, by only play three games over the past two weeks. Of course, there are no stretches on this schedule that are too easy, so it still involved two road games, including their third matchup of the season against a Big Ten foe.
First, the Cardinals would stay home for a Black Friday matchup against in-state opponent, Murray State. It was clear from the opening whistle that the Racers would be no match for the Cardinals, jumping out to a 29-8 lead after one quarter, which stretched to 57-22 by the break. After allowing just 6 points in the fourth quarter, and never taking their own foot off the glass on both sides of the ball, Louisville would come away with the decisive victory, by a score of 115-51. The 115 points were a new record for the Women’s Basketball program at Louisville.
As he often does in these circumstances, Coach Walz used this opportunity to give his bench some playing time, as only one starter made it to 20 minutes, Asia Durr, and two of them only tallying 14 minutes. Of that group, Sam Fuehring led the way by scoring 12 first quarter points, followed by Myisha Hines-Allen, who dropped in 8 points and 12 rebounds.
The reserves made the most of their chance to shine, led by Bionca Dunham, who had easily the best game of her young career at Louisville, with 19 points and 16 rebounds, including 10 offensive boards. Kylee Shook seemed to finally brush off the rust that has affected her early this year, dropping in a game high 21 points on 8-10 shooting, including 3-4 from behind the arc. Freshmen Dana Evans continued to impress, with 14 points, 7 assists, and 5 boards, and Sydney Zambrotta seemed like she wanted to prove she could do more than just shoot 3’s, which she did by scoring 16 points, including 6-6 from the stripe. Overall, every play for the Cardinals scored, except for Jessica Laemmle, who more than made up for it by dishing out 6 assists, and grabbing 2 steals. The Cards forced Murray State into 26 turnovers, and out shot them 55.3% to 29.5%.
Next, the Cardinals headed on the road, for their second true road game against a Big Ten opponent on the season. Last time it was Ohio State, this time Indiana, in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. While the away atmosphere may have stopped the Cardinals from pulling away and turning this game into another blowout, they were able to control the game for all 40 minutes, never trailing, and only allowing Indiana to draw even twice, early in the first quarter. Louisville led by 9 at halftime, and as much as 15 at one point in the 3rd quarter. Indiana was able to cut the lead back to 7 at one point in the 4th, but never came any closer, as Louisville eventually won, 72-59.
This game saw the starters return to their normal minutes, and Myisha Hines-Allen used the opportunity to dominate the game, recording yet another double-double, with 25 points and 12 rebounds. Jazmine Jones followed her up with 12 points and 7 boards. Asia Durr struggled for the second straight game, with just 9 points on 3-12 shooting. However, her teammates were able to make up for it, including 9 more points from Fuehring, and a statline filling performance from Dana Evans, with 8 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 4 steals.
While a win over Indiana may not carry the same weight as the one Louisville got over Ohio State last month, any road win is an impressive feat, especially against another power conference team. The Cards would need one more road win, against South Dakota State, before heading back home. Some may see the name South Dakota State and assume this game would go similarly to the Murray State contest, but they would be mistaken. SD State boasts tournament experience from two years ago, NIT experience last season, and came into the day with a 6-1 record, including a win over another ACC team, in NC State. The fact that this game was played on their home court would only make it a tougher task for the Cardinals.
Early on, it played out that way, with the Jackrabbits hopping out (I’m so sorry) to a 24-12 lead after one quarter. Louisville wasted no time striking back, going on a 7-0 run to start the 2nd quarter to trim the lead. However, SD State would still take a 31-23 lead into the break.
At this point, it seemed Asia Durr was on her way to another lackluster (by her standards) performance, with just 2 points at halftime. However, she would awaken in the second half to nearly single-handedly bring the Cards back in it. She scored 12 points in just the first 6 minutes of the second half, to finally pull the Cardinals ahead by one. While SD State would briefly pull back ahead, a free throw by Durr to open the 4th quarter would break a 46-46 tie, and give Louisville a lead that they would not surrender again, winning a tight contest 68-64.
Durr ultimately finished with a game high 20 points. Arica Carter dropped in a season high 14 points, and Hines-Allen added another 10 of her own. Fuehring spent most of the game in foul trouble, eventually fouling out with just 4 points in 17 minutes, but the reserves picked up the slack, with Dunham dropping in 6 points and 7 boards, and Kylee Shook adding 5 more points of her own, all in the first half.
As of this writing, the Cardinals still sit 4th in the AP Poll and 5th in the Coaches. But with Notre Dame (ranked ahead of them in both) losing their first game on Sunday, Louisville stands to move up a spot on Monday. The Cardinals have now improved to 8-0, their best start since the 2014-15 season, when they also started 8-0, before dropping their 9th contest to Kentucky. This year’s squad still has two weeks before that rivalry matchup, and will have four more games between now and then, all at the KFC Yum! Center, and all against opponents from the state of Tennessee, as Tennessee-Martin, Vanderbilt, Middle Tennessee, and Tennessee State, will all get a chance to spoil Louisville’s perfect start.<