CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Jeff Walz, who has exclusively been a head coach at Louisville and has been there for 15 years, saw his No. 3 Cardinals battle back from down 10 after one and earn him his 400th career win, 63-53 over the Boston College Eagles on Sunday at Conte Forum.
Walz had 385 wins entering this season and the Cards have now won 15 games in 2021-22 compared to one loss, which came in their opener against No. 7 Arizona.
385 divided by 14 is 27.5 in case you’re wondering, which is astonishing.
In the win, Kianna Smith (18 points) was a calming influence during a second-quarter comeback, Hailey Van Lith (16 points) made clutch baskets late and Emily Engstler swiped six steals.
Louisville (5-0 ACC) won the second 22-5, suffocating a BC offense whose reigning ACC Player of the Week, Cameron Swartz, was threatening to be problematic for the duration of the contest.
Swartz, who dropped 39 on Clemson on Jan. 9, got the home crowd going with a four-point play that made it 15-8 Eagles at the 3:43 mark of the first. She followed that with a layup 32 seconds later.
All that was a welcome sight for a BC team that lost to Louisville by 30 in the first 2021-22 meeting between the teams.
“I think that definitely the first quarter we just came out really strong and we pushed in transition and that’s not something I feel like we did as much last game,” Swartz said. “And I think for the most part we didn't let them determine what our offense did in the beginning. ... And I think our defense we just played as hard as we could. I mean T Soule (Taylor Soule) and Marnelle (Garraud) were denying the whole time on some of the best players in the country and stopping them.”
Van Lith had six points in the second and teammate Ahlana Smith matched K. Smith with five points in the frame, but it was K. Smith who really slowed things down and got the offense going for Louisville.
A. Smith hit a three that cut the Cards’ deficit to 20-17 two minutes and 59 seconds into the period. It was a Van Lith mid-range jumper from the left baseline that tied the game at 21 and a deep two from Chelsie Hall that gave Louisville its first lead of the game at 23-21.
The energy BC had in the first was just nonexistent in the second and the Cards looked much more like the No. 3 team in the nation.
The Eagles fought back though. After a K. Smith triple gave Louisville a 12-point lead two minutes and 19 seconds into the third, BC went on an 8-0 run that featured a trey from Marnelle Garraud and a 3-point play converted by Dontavia Waggoner.
However, four was the magic number. Louisville led by at least that much for the entirety of the second half. It led by nine entering the fourth and achieved its biggest lead of the game (15) with 1:04 to play.
The Cardinals entered the contest fourth in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 49.2 points per game. They were coming off a 13-point win over Syracuse in which they allowed a season-high 71. So they got back on track.
BC (12-5, 3-3 ACC) beat those same Orange by 24, indicating before the game even started that they seemed to have a shot at contending with Louisville. The Eagles’ 30-point loss to the Cards earlier this season was on the road. They entered Sunday with just one home loss — a game against No. 21 UNC that they seemed to have in hand and only let slip away by three — and eight double-digit home wins. They are 4-3 on the road, but are a different team at home and had reason to be optimistic.
They had reason to be optimistic and can also feel good about themselves moving forward after giving No. 3 a scare.
“I think that being in the locker room you can just hear the talk of the girls and the confidence that’s coming out of this game,” Swartz said.
But with confidence comes the natural desire to say “this wasn’t good enough.”
“Everyone that is in Conte every day and sees how hard we work knows that we’re a top team in the nation,” Soule said. “But I think now it’s just proving (it to) people with box scores and with Ws. I think at the end of the day you can pat yourself on the back for a hard-fought loss, but if it’s not a W, no one’s really gonna respect you enough.”
“I think for the stage our program is in right now, it’s exciting to have a hard-fought battle with the No. 3 team in the country,” said BC head coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee. “But I just heard, Taylor Soule pretty much said it best, at the end of the day we’re not playing horseshoes.”
Engstler added seven rebounds and three blocks to her stat line. K. Smith was an efficient 8-of-13 from the field and 2-of-3 from downtown.
Meanwhile, after yielding stardom to Swartz last week, Soule, BC’s leading scorer, notched a team-high 17 points in defeat. Swartz finished with 12 points, three assists and two steals, three-time reigning ACC Freshman of the Week Maria Gakdeng added eight points, seven rebounds, three steals and two blocks and Waggoner managed seven points, five rebounds and four steals.
The amount of turnovers each team had was comparable with Louisville winning the margin by just three. However, it turned 24 BC turnovers into 27 points, whereas the Eagles only had 15 points off turnovers. Likewise, BC actually had one more offensive rebound than the Cards, but lost second chance points 14-5. So Louisville really capitalized on its extra possessions and BC didn’t.
The Eagles struggled from beyond the arc (2-of-15) and from the charity stripe (9-of-16).
BC was the first team out of ESPN’s Jan. 14 bracketology. It will host No. 20 Notre Dame on Thursday, Louisville has a huge matchup against No. 4 NC State that same day in Raleigh.