By Daniel Rankin —
On Feb. 20 in an ACC matchup, the No. 3 ranked Louisville Cardinals beat the No. 23 Virginia Tech Hokies by a dominant score of 70-56.
With the win, the Cardinals move to 23-3 on the season and a second-place ACC record of 14-2.
Sophomore Guard Hailey Van Lith led the way with 20 points and forward Emily Engstler finished her 8th double-double of the season with 19 points and 15 rebounds.
Engstler was one of three graduating seniors honored before the game as part of the Senior Day festivities, along with guards Kianna Smith and Chelsie Hall.
Three other seniors were missing from the pregame festivities as Liz Dixon, Mykasa Robinson and Ahlana Smith announced earlier this week that they’ll be returning to play another season in Louisville thanks to the NCAA’s extra year of eligibility.
Coming off a surprising one-point road loss to North Carolina, the Cardinals started the game hot by grabbing a quick 8-0 lead. The Cards’ physical play and tough defense forced the Hokies to turn the ball over and fall behind.
After a 22-14 first quarter, Virginia Tech was able to pick up the pace. However, the Cards still extended their lead by 3 points heading into the locker room.
Good ball movement inside and outside the paint and impressive Van Lith jumpers pushed the Cards to a 14-4 run to start the second half. Kianna Smith capped off a successful senior day scoring 4 of her 11 points in the third quarter.
Early in the fourth quarter, Louisville had its largest lead at 24 points, but the Hokies managed to get it down to 14 by the end of the game. Although the starters had fewer minutes in the final quarter, the Cards will undoubtedly need to keep the pressure on late in games come Tournament time.
Overall, a comfortable ranked win after a heartbreaking loss on the road is a positive moment for the Cardinals.
However, early foul trouble, unforced turnovers and allowing a late run from Virginia Tech highlight areas of concern that need to be addressed before elimination games begin.
“We’re a good team, good enough to make the final four,” stated Head Coach Walz after the game. “But we could also be eliminated in the second round,” he said, referring to the NCAA Tournament.
But before the Tournament, the Cards will compete for the ACC Championship in Greensboro, North Carolina. After tonight’s win, Louisville has secured a double-bye for the ACC Tournament, with their first game starting in the Quarterfinals on Fri., March 4.
Up next for the No. 3 ranked Cardinals are two road games to finish out the regular season with Pittsburgh on Feb. 24 and Notre Dame on Feb. 27.
Photo by Daniel Rankin // The Louisville Cardinal