Louisville, KY — In the annual Play 4 Kay game, the No. 14 Louisville Cardinals, behind the Big Three, dominated the North Carolina Tar Heels, 87-57.
The 14th ranked Louisville Cardinals honored those with Breast Cancer in the annual Play 4 Kay game. In a truly remarkable gesture during the team introductions, each Louisville starter was accompanied by either a current Breast Cancer patient, a survivor or the family member of a loved one lost. The tear-jerking moment set the tone for the Cardinals. Louisville took the floor motivated to fight hard for a win.
“That meant a lot,” Asia Durr said of the introductions. “Just to know that they fought hard for their life, that’s very special.”
Myisha Hines-Allen added, “Just to see them fight and beat Breast Cancer. I’m glad they came out and helped us.”
North Carolina, fresh off an exhilarating 89-88 victory over Georgia Tech, entered the KFC Yum! Center hoping to salvage its season. However, the Tar Heels were without leading scorer, Stephanie Watts, who did not dress for the matchup.
“She’s a big part of their team, she’s a great player, she’s one of their top scorers, it definitely made a huge difference,” Durr said of Watts’ absence.
After sitting last year’s NCAA Tournament out, it appears the Heels may not make the Big Dance for the second consecutive year. Carolina has not missed back-to-back NCAA Tournament’s since it missed four straight from 1988 through 1991.
From the tip, it was clear this game was going to be a physical battle. The Tar Heels’ defense caught the Cardinals off guard in the first period. Louisville was forced to wind down the shot clock on back-to-back possessions.
Despite Louisville’s offensive struggle, the Cardinals were able to look to Hines-Allen to pick up six of Louisville’s 14 first period points. Hines-Allen, after sitting out a couple of games in early February with an injury, has returned to the court earning double-doubles the last two times out.
North Carolina was able to rack up 11 points in the first period. The Tar Heels were led by Paris Kea, who knocked down two three-point shots. All three of the Tar Heels’ first period field goals came for beyond the arc.
At the end of the first 10 minutes, Louisville held a slight advantage, 14-11.
The Cardinals shot 32% in the first period, connecting on only six field goals. While the Cardinals struggled offensively, Louisville was able to force four turnovers.
The Tar Heels success from beyond the arc carried over in the second period as Jeanine Cherry fired off a triple to bring Carolina within two.
Louisville put up six unanswered points, before Carolina answered with four of its own. Taylor Koenen picked up back-to-back buckets, one of which came from an inbounds pass she picked off.
Sam Fuehring picked up her third personal foul with 3:20 remaining in the half. The Sophomore, who had tallied four points, was sent to the bench and replaced by Cortnee Walton.
With 1:04 remaining in the half, Alyssa Okoene was called for an over the back foul on a rebound. Okoene brought Hines-Allen to the floor. Tempers flared as both players jawed back and forth. But, Okoene was assessed a Technical Foul, sending Durr to the charity stripe to knock down two free throws.
The Cardinals, behind Hines-Allen and Durr, closed the period on a 12-3 run. Louisville outscored North Carolina, 20-10 in the second period.
At the half, the Cardinals held a steady 34-21 lead.
Out of the half, it seemed as if emotions had calmed and both teams came out ready to roll. Carolina racked up four quick points in the opening minutes of the half. But, Durr fired off her first of four third period three-pointers.
Durr’s three led to another three-pointer made, followed by a steal and a layup. With only scoring from the sophomore, Louisville racked up eight unanswered points and extended its lead, 42-25. Carolina was forced to burn a timeout with 6:20 remaining in the third period.
Both team’s cooled off as neither team was able to grab a bucket for nearly two minutes.
Kea broke the silence as she fired off three-pointers on back-to-back possessions. In between Kea’s two triples, Moore racked up a three-pointer of her own. Durr was able to knock down a triple of her own to put the Cardinals up, 50-31.
Carolina shifted the momentum in the closing minutes of the third period, outscoring the Cardinals, 8-4.
Heading into the final period, Louisville held a 54-39 lead.
Louisville was phenomenal in the final period. The Cardinals racked up 33 points in the fourth, connecting on 13 field goals for 65% shooting.
It was clear that Carolina was wore down by the end of the game. The Heels, after shooting 50% in the third, only connected on four field goals (23.5%) in the final period. Jeanine Cherry, despite going down with what appeared to be a head injury in the third period, came out big for the Tar Heels racking up 10 of its 18 fourth period points. Cherry knocked down three triples in an attempt to erase the deficit.
However, Carolina was not prepared for Sydney Zambrotta. Zambrotta, a freshman best known for her spectacular three-pointer shooting, entered the game with 3:30 remaining.
Despite being quite for the first few minutes, Zambrotta fired off three consecutive three-pointers in less than one minute.
“That’s one thing I know Syd is able to do, is shoot the three.” Coach Jeff Walz said of Sydney Zambrotta.
The offensive performance lifted the Cardinals to a 30-point victory, 87-57.
Louisville finished the game with 20 assists on 35 made field goals. The Cardinals out rebounded the Tar Heels by 20, holding a 52-32 advantage on the boards. Louisville also dominated the paint, outscoring Carolina, 42-16. A stat that Coach Walz was particularly proud of.
“We looked to get in the paint, to attack from the inside out.” Coach Jeff Walz said.
North Carolina picked up its 11th conference loss, 13 loss on the season. The Tar Heels shot 31.7% from the field, connecting on 19 field goals, 9 of which came from beyond the arc.
Even though Louisville controlled nearly every facet of the matchup, Coach Walz acknowledged that there was still much work to be done before March.
“There’s spurts where we look really good, we’ve got to get more consistency,” Coach Walz said. “We figured out a way to score 87 tonight.”
Louisville had three players notch double-digits: Asia Durr paced the Cardinals racking up 28 points on 10-of-16 shooting. Durr knocked down a team-best four three-pointers. Myisha Hines-Allen added 19 points and 12 rebounds. Hines-Allen earned her third consecutive double-double and her 12th on the season. Mariya Moore rounded out the top scorers picked up 13 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists.
For Carolina, three players tallied double-figures: Paris Kea led the Tar Heels racking up 26 points and 4 steals. Taylor Koenen nearly picked up a double-double with 13 points and 9 rebounds. Kea and Koenen combined for 8 three-pointers. Jeanine Cherry racked up 13 points, nine of which came in the final period.
The Cardinals play their last home game on the season on Thursday, Feb. 23 as they face the Virginia Cavaliers. Louisville will honor its three seniors before heading to Wake Forest for the last game of the regular season.
While the Tar Heels will travel to Raleigh, North Carolina to face their second consecutive top 15 opponent, No. 15 NC State, on Thursday, Feb. 23.