By Sam Draut–

Defensive struggles have been the biggest problem for the University of Louisville women’s basketball team this season. It was a reason for the team’s 1-4 start to year and coach Jeff Walz frequently implored to his roster that an emphasis on the defensive end was necessary for a deep run in the NCAA tournament. The weakness that had plagued the Cardinals all year long ended their season on Sunday in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Louisville (26-8) struggled to string together stops during its second half comeback and fell to DePaul 73-72, missing out on what would have been the Cardinals fourth consecutive trip to the Sweet 16.

Jessica January scored a game-high 25 points and made the game-winning free-throw with 14.5 seconds left. DePaul made eight 3-pointers while holding off a feverish comeback.

After January made the go-ahead free-throw, Louisville had one final possession to take the lead. ACC Player of the Year Myisha Hines-Allen received the ball near the top of the key and drove to the basket, but was called for an offensive foul near the low-block with 1.7 seconds left. DePaul advanced the ball to midcourt after calling a timeout, but Louisville forward Mariya Moore picked off the inbounds pass and heaved up a 75-foot shot that fell well short as time expired.

Hines-Allen finished with 14 points on 6 of 11 shooting and added nine rebounds. The sophomore forward said the team had run the final play before and the goal was to get the ball to the basket.

“When I went up, I didn’t think it was a charge,” Hines-Allen said.

Coach Doug Bruno said he noticed Louisville was susceptible to charging while Walz said it was a “50-50 call” on the final play.

“We were trying to attack off the dribble, I was hoping Asia (Durr) would attack,” Walz said.

DePaul led by 10 points with 8:36 left in the fourth quarter before Louisville began to mount a comeback. Asia Durr and Arica Carter made back-to-back 3-pointers. With Louisville trailing by four, Briahanna Jackson took over the game on the offensive end for the Cardinals. The junior guard had a team-high 20 points and had three baskets in the final six minutes to keep Louisville in contention.

Jackson had a jumper and layup to close the deficit to two points at the 5:22 and 3:41 mark. With Louisville down 72-70 with 30 seconds left, Walz called a timeout to advance the ball to midcourt. Jackson scored on a tough reverse layup 15 seconds later to tie the score.

On the ensuing possession, after DePaul advanced the ball to midcourt following a timeout, Jackson and January both pursued the inbounds pass near midcourt, but Jackson was called for a foul which led to January’s go-ahead free-throws.

“There was some contact on the play, but I felt I made a play on the ball,” Jackson said.

After falling behind 40-32 at halftime, Louisville scored more frequently in the second half, but defensive lapses prevented the Cardinals from tying or taking the lead until late in the fourth quarter. Louisville closed the deficit to one possession five times in the third quarter, but trailed by nine points going into the final period of play. Jackson said the defensive lapses came down to discipline and details. Walz said DePaul’s experience aided them on the offensive end of the floor as they took advantage of his team’s mental breakdowns.

“Every time we had a breakdown or cheated the process, we got scored on,” Walz said.

The most frequent responder to a Louisville basket was January, who shot 10 of 17 from the field and also finished with eight rebounds and five assists. The junior guard scored in a variety of ways, sweeping drives to the basket, midrange jumpers and she also made one 3-pointer.

“January played extremely well, she was the difference in the ball game,” Walz said.

In the final eight-and-a-half minutes, Louisville held DePaul to eight points and was much more engaged on the defensive end.

“We had to buckle down, we knew it was going to come down to stops,” Hines-Allen said. “We couldn’t capitalize.”

Along with Hines-Allen and Jackson, Durr and Moore combined for 88 percent of the Cardinals scoring. Moore made two 3-pointers and had 14 points while setting a career-high with 10 rebounds. Durr was 6 of 12 shooting and finished with 15 points.

In the postgame press conference, Walz said he was proud of his team that fought through a slow start to begin the year. With no seniors on the roster, Louisville is set to return the entirety of its team that went 15-1 in the ACC.

Heading into the offseason, Walz said the second round loss “has to hurt them as bad or worse” than it hurts him, believing it should add fuel to the players fire during workouts.

Photo by Laurel Slaughter / The Louisville Cardinal