By Sam Draut–
With doubt abound as Louisville women’s basketball team entered the conference portion of their schedule in January, the young roster was forced to begin a new season after starting 1-4 and 3-5. Three months later, Louisville left little question to its position in the ACC in its final game of the regular season.
Louisville opened on a 14-0 run and defeated Pitt 65-36 on Sunday at the KFC YUM! Center. Hot shooting and suffocating defense sparked a decisive opening half for the Cardinals. Myisha Hines-Allen scored 17 of her team-high 25 points in the first half and Louisville outscored Pitt by 32 in the first half.
Hines-Allen, the reigning ACC Conference player of the week, said Louisville’s first half performance was its best of the season.
“We played with energy, we played with a lot of emotion, we were having a lot of fun,” Hines-Allen said.
While Pitt scored 10 points in the first 20 minutes and made 14.8-percent of its shots from the field, Louisville shot a torrid 68-percent from the field. Hines-Allen made all eight of her shots from the field before halftime. The Cardinals led 22-2 seven-and-a-half minutes into the first quarter.
Head coach Jeff Walz was pleased with the way his team charged out to a commanding lead early in the first half.
“We passed the ball extremely well, we moved well without the basketball,” Walz said. “We made the extra pass and when we step into our shots we’re a pretty good shooting team.”
Led by Hines-Allen’s efficient shooting, Louisville picked up its 15th win in the ACC and sealed its second overall seed for upcoming conference tournament. Over the past eight games, the 6-foot-2 forward has averaged 19.9 points.
“She isn’t taking bad shots,” Walz said. “She is a very good shooter, she stays within herself. She has been shooting the ball really well from 12 to 15 feet, which then brings people out, then her ability to drive and finish. She is real tough matchup for a lot of people.”
Alongside of Hines-Allen, junior Briahanna Jackson filled out the first half scoring column. The 5-foot-6 guard scored 10 of her 12 points in the first two quarters. Jackson and Hines-Allen combined to shoot 16 of 21 from the field.
For the first time this season, Jackson finished shooting 50-percent or higher from the field in consecutive games. She made 5 of 7 shots against Pitt after shooting 6 of 12 from the field Thursday against 17th-ranked Miami. Formerly in the midst of a month long slump, Jackson has shot better in the past two weeks.
“I haven’t thought about offense, I think that’s what has happened, I don’t dwell on missed shots,” Jackson said. “I let the game come to me.”
Beyond Hines-Allen and Jackson, six other Cardinals scored, but made 10 of 32 shots for 31-percent shooting compared to the duo’s 76.2-percent. Because of the 12:30 p.m. tip, players did not go through a traditional pregame shoot around in the hours leading up to the contest.
Midway through the first quarter, Louisville faced a scare when starting forward Cortnee Walton rushed off the floor with an injured finger. Walton received treatment and rejoined the Louisville bench a few minutes later, but did not return to the court.
After the game, Walz said Walton dislocated her left pinky finger, but the 6-foot-3 forward told her coach that she could have gone back in to play. Since the injury is to Walton’s offhand, Walz believes she will wear a splint and play through the injury.
Walton is Louisville’s second-leading rebounder behind Hines-Allen and the ACC’s leader in offensive rebounds this season. Hines-Allen said Walton’s absence “effects me a lot because I have to rebound.”
“She really does a great job of anchoring our team,” Walz said. “She does a lot of things that you don’t see in the stat sheet.”
With a double-bye ensured, Louisville’s next stop is Greensboro, NC for the ACC tournament. Louisville finished ACC play 15-1, and owns sole possession of second place in the conference. Winning 21 of its past 22 games, Louisville’s success is a stark contrast to the early struggles.
“It says a lot about the young women on this team,” Walz said. “We started 1-4, it could have gone either way.”
Walz said the weeks over winter break when the team frequently practiced twice a day helped the group improve defensively.
“We’re excited that we’re reaching our peak toward the end of the year,” Jackson said.