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Louisville avoids upset-minded WKU with stifling defense late

Freshman Sydney Zambrotta racked up 15-points for the Cardinals in the first half. Zambrotta connected on a game-high five treys.

Scott Utterback/Courier-Journal

Louisville, KY — It was a battle behind the arc as the No. 8 Louisville Cardinals edge past Western Kentucky University.

The Cardinals defeated their second consecutive in-state opponent, 68-61, in a hard-fought battle to the final buzzer. Louisville moves to 2-0 against in-state rivals this season to stake its claim as the best in Bluegrass.

When two teams from Kentucky face off, all bets are off. Stats, averages, rankings, players... All of that goes out the window. Kentucky may not have invented college basketball. But there’s no doubt the teams in the Bluegrass have perfected college hoops.

Perhaps the best part of basketball in the state of Kentucky is the drama. This match certainly did not lack drama.

It was a shootout from the three-point line to start the game as Mariya Moore fired off a three. Western Kentucky’s Ivy Brown countered on the other end of the floor with a three of her own. Moore grabbed a steal and got the ball to Asia Durr, allowing Durr to connect on a three. Louisville took an early 6-3 lead.

However, Kyvin Goodin-Rogers tied the game as she grabbed her first three points as a Hilltopper. Freshman Whitney Creech added two points of her own pulling the Tops ahead, 8-6, at the first media timeout.

It was clear Coach Jeff Walz was disappointed with the effort of the Cardinals’ starting five. Out of the timeout, Coach Walz put in four freshmen along with Durr. A decision that would prove to be efficient.

Tashia Brown, a junior forward who single-handedly beat the Cardinals last season, grabbed her first points as she drove right up the middle of the Louisville defense for an easy layup. But Kylee Shook brought the Cardinals back to life hitting a jump-shot.

Creech and T. Brown added four quick points for the Tops, as WKU went up 14-8. However, nobody was prepared for what happened next.

Sydney Zambrotta, who entered the match-up averaging 1.5 points per game, went off. Zambrotta hit back-to-back treys to cut the WKU lead and pull the Cardinals within two to close out the first period.

Despite Zambrotta’s hot hand, the Cardinals trailed 16-14 at the end of the first period. The Cardinals had no issues getting to the bucket as Louisville finished shooting 50% from the field and 100% (4-of-4) from beyond the arc. The Cardinals inability to hold on to the ball lead to five turnovers. The Tops jumped on Louisville’s mistakes, turning five turnovers into seven points.

Western locked in on both offense and defense in the second period. I. Brown set the tone for the Tops as she put WKU back up by four. However, back-to-back three-pointers from Zambrotta and Durr propelled the Cardinals ahead by two.

Micah Jones countered with a three-pointer of her own. Zambrotta would not be outdone, as she fired off her fourth three-pointer of the game.

Again, I. Brown countered with a three of her own, while a steal by Jones allowed T. Brown to grab two points.

Myisha Hines-Allen picked up her first points of the game as she drove to the bucket for two. I. Brown penetrated Louisville’s defense as she grabbed a layup of her own to put the Tops up, 28-25, at the under five media timeout.

Out of the timeout, Hines-Allen connected on a jump shot to bring the Cardinals within one. WKU’s Kayla Smith was determined to keep Louisville behind as she notched another three-pointer for Western.

The Cardinals fell behind, 32-27 with just over two minutes left in the half. Louisville’s sloppy played allowed Western to capitalized on the mistakes. A temporary momentum shift appeared to occur as Zambrotta hit her fifth three-pointer of the game. However, scoring from I. Brown, Jones and Kendall Noble put the Tops ahead heading into the half.

Despite going 8-of-9 from beyond the arc, the Cardinals trailed, 38-32.

“We’re 8-for-9 in the first half at the three-point line and down six, “Coach Walz said. “That’s a little concerning about your defensive effort. You’re 8-for-9 from the three-point line in the first half, and you would expect your team to be up 15.”

Coach Walz’s frustration must have lit a fire under the Cardinals because Louisville came out hot in the second half.

The Cardinals showed the ability to bounce back as Louisville went on a 10-0 run to kick off the third period. However, the momentum shifted dramatically as Jaycee Coe connected on a three-pointer as the shot clock expired.

Coe single-handedly led the Tops on a 9-0 run as she hit three treys in a row. Noble added four more points as Western Kentucky held Louisville’s offense scoreless for nearly three minutes. WKU took their largest lead of the game as the Tops powered ahead, 49-41.

Cortnee Walton broke Louisville’s scoring drought, but the Cardinals trailed, 52-44, at the end of three periods.

Louisville turned the ball over five times in the third period, allowing Western to pick up 10 easy points.

However, the final period turned the game around as Louisville held Western Kentucky to only nine points. The Cardinals outscored the Tops, 24-9.

“They (Louisville) outrebounded us in the fourth quarter,” Western Kentucky coach Michelle Clark-Heard told the media.

Coach Clark-Heard added, “We made some little mental mistakes, but credit to them. Asia made big shots; they did big things, and they came out with the win. That’s what a top 10 team in the country does.”

Hines-Allen and Durr were instrumental for the Cardinals in the final period as each added eight points apiece. Durr connected on two crucial threes, including one that would put the Cardinals up 63-59 with just over three minutes to play. Louisville would not trail again.

The Cardinals’ fourth-period rally led Louisville to its eighth victory of the season. The Cardinals defeated the Hilltoppers, 68-61.

On Louisville’s fourth period surge, Coach Walz said, “We actually got down and defended... I was really proud of how we started the fourth quarter defensively.”

Despite outscoring Louisville three-of-four quarters before breaking down in the final quarter, Coach Clark-Heard praised her team, “I was really proud of my team and how they fought and competed. I’m proud of my group, just disappointed we came up on the short end.”

Top Scorers

The Cardinals had three players post double-figures: Myisha Hines-Allen notched her first double-double on the season racking up 16-points and 11-rebounds. Asia Durr also posted 16-points, connecting four shots from beyond the arc. Close behind, Sydney Zambrotta had a breakout game as she added 15-points. Zambrotta racked up all 15-points in the first half as she went 5-of-6 from the three-point line.

The Cardinals dished out 22-assists on 27-shots. Briahanna Jackson led the team in assists, dishing out 10.

For the Hilltoppers, Ivy Brown led with 11-points and nine rebounds, while Tashia Brown added 11-points.

The Tops forced 19-turnovers and converted the turnovers into 29-points.

Next Up

The Cardinals return to action on Wednesday as they face South Dakota State at the KFC Yum! Center.