By Randy Whetstone, Jr.
LOUISVILLE, Ky – After beginning the preseason ranked No. 8 in the nation, the University of Louisville women’s basketball team (12-5) started the season 1-4 and, subsequently, dropped from the Top 25. Yet after their loss to Kentucky, the Cardinals have gotten back to the basics. They won their ninth straight after a 65-48 win over No. 18 Duke (12-5) on Sunday afternoon. The Cardinals also remain unbeaten in the ACC.
“We are figuring out how to play as a team,” said Louisville head coach Jeff Walz after the game. “I think we did a great job. It was a great team effort, and a great team win. I thought we did a great job in the scouting report. You take away the last two and a half minutes, and we did a really great job.”
In all likelihood, this win should put Louisville back as one of the nation’s Top 25 teams. Early on in the season, Walz said the freshmen played as if everything would come easy to them, but they soon found out otherwise.
After the fall semester ended, the team went to practicing twice a day, with freshmen practicing in the morning and then joining team practice that evening. Walz said it has certainly helped his young team.
Since then, they have gone undefeated and are developing some maturity.
On a cold Sunday and first day of snow in 2016, it was Louisville’s defense that dismantled Duke and had them freezing from the field. Louisville held the Blue Devils to 39.1 percent shooting. They were a thief and aware on defense, getting 14 steals as a team and forcing 22 Duke turnovers.
Louisville capitalized, scoring 27 points off those turnovers.
On the boards, the Cards held their own against the taller Duke team, beating them in the rebound total, 42-36. Cortnee Walton had 12 rebounds and Erin Degrate added 9 of her own.
“This was one of the best defensive games we played,” said Walton after the game. “It was a very well-executed scouting report. We made it difficult for them to make shots that they usually get. Overall, I think we did a really good job.”
In the first half, it was tough for Duke to get into any type of rhythm. Looking stagnant on the offensive end is what led to turnovers. Yet they did get some production from their frontcourt. Forwards Azura Stevens and Oderah Chidom overmatched the frontcourt of Louisville, and they scored some easy baskets in the paint. The Blue Devils just failed to take care of the rock. Eleven of their 14 steals came in the first half, and Louisville extended its lead to double-digits with 6:15 left in the half.
Louisville was led by Myisha Hines-Allen and Asia Durr, who combined for 20 of the team’s 31 points in that half. Durr came in and hit some shots from three-point land that pushed the Cards’ lead as far as 15. They went into the break leading 31-17.
Early in the second, Briahanna Jackson, who didn’t score in the first half, hit a three to put Louisville up 35-19.
Duke had the advantage shooting from the field, though, scoring their entire first half total in the third period alone. They were led by Rebecca Greenwell who posted 14 points on 4-for-11 shooting in 38 minutes.
But, again, it was the turnovers that kept Duke from getting back into the game. Hines-Allen, Walton, and Arica Carter combined for 10 of the team’s 14 steals that led to breakaway lay-ups on the other end.
You couple that with player of the game Asia Durr’s 15 points, going 3-for-8 from three in 28 minutes off the bench, and Louisville gave the Blue Devils all they could handle – and then some.
“I just wanted to come out and play,” said Durr after the game. “I know I’ve struggled, but today I wanted to go out and contribute for the team. We have been playing hard and putting in the work. We think about that and go out and fight hard each game.”
Duke got as close as 10, but Louisville’s lead remained in the double-digits and Duke couldn’t overcome. Mariya Moore for Louisville made the comeback near impossible. She was big in the second half, scoring on some highly-contested, three-point plays. She hit the floor a few times, causing the fans, trainers and coaches to be on high alert, but the tough sophomore showed no signs of grimacing as she went down, and got back up quickly.
Moore finished with 15 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Hines-Allen also had a productive performance. She, along with Moore and Durr, have been the trio to carry the scoring load for Louisville all season. Hines-Allen scored 14 points while shooting 60 percent from the field to go along with five rebounds, five assists, and three steals.
After losing to Duke in Durham last season 66-58, the Cards returned the favor in Duke’s first visit to the KFC Yum! Center as one they will not want to remember. Their road miseries continued, dropping to 1-4 on the road, and 1-2 in the ACC.
“You have to come out and play for forty minutes and we didn’t do that,” said Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie. “I compliment Louisville. They played really well and (Asia) Durr played with great poise as a freshman.”
The Blue Devils have been inconsistent offensively their past three games, scoring 50 points versus Syracuse, 95 against Wake Forest, and then 48 points on the road versus Louisville. McCallie said taking care of the ball has been the issue.
“Turnovers. We can’t give the ball to the other team. That is what has given us issues on the offensive end.”
But for the winning team that seems to continue building confidence, getting better is the only focus now.
“We still have to continue to work,” Walz added. “We have to get better and hopefully it will keep going forth, and hopefully our freshmen will continue to play well.”
Louisville’s next game will be at Virginia, Jan. 14 at 7 p.m.