By Derek DeBurger
No. 19 Louisville women’s basketball staves off the late push by the No. 22 Ole Miss Rebels to do their part in the ACC/SEC Challenge.
As expected, this was an ugly game from the start; both teams possessed great defenses, and they made sure everyone knew how stout they could be.
These two teams were almost perfect counters to each other in the first half. After the Cards jumped out to a 12-6 to start the game, the Rebels went on a run to take the lead before the first quarter ended, tied at 14-14. Again in the second quarter, Louisville was able to extend their lead but the Rebels fought back, and even were able to take a two-point lead into the half.
The first half was as tight as tight can get, but the Cards drew fouls on some of the Ole Miss bigs to get them in early foul trouble. This would lay the foundation for a successful finish as the refs were more than willing to test out their whistles in the second half.
There were 50 total fouls called between the two teams at the end of the game, 24 of those belonging to the Cards.
The third quarter was where the Cards pulled away from the Rebels and put their foot down. Nina Rickards led the offense to by far the best scoring quarter of the night by either team, all while the defense kept up its same intensity. Kiki Jefferson also chipped in with a team-high 16 points, and Jayda Curry provided a good boost off the bench.
The fourth quarter, if you looked at the boxscore, was deadlocked; no team gained an edge. The reality is Louisville carried their momentum from the third and nearly ran away with the game at the end. With just under two minutes left the Cards led by eight, and with the way Ole Miss had been shooting and the pace at which they play, a comeback seemed impossible. Ole Miss cut the lead down to four with just under a minute left, even forcing a turnover to get the ball with a chance to cut the lead. With the ball, the momentum, and the energy of the crowd, there was a real possibility that the Rebels might force overtime or even win in regulation. Back-to-back defensive stands by the Cards forced the Rebels into fouling, yet Louisville was able to put the game away at the free-throw line.
Louisville wins 64-58.
This is a massive quad-1 win, and will go miles in helping the Cards boost their resume come Selection Sunday. They showed that they’re a tough team that can take a punch and deliver one right back at you. For how close this game was for its entirety, the Cards led for 35 minutes.
It also appears that Jeff Walz is starting to whittle down his rotation after only playing nine players on Wednesday, the lowest in a game all year. Probably the biggest piece to the rotation puzzle is having Curry play the role of sixth man instead of starting. Curry was a highly touted recruit in the transfer portal, and it would’ve been shocking to think at the start of the season that she wouldn’t be the key addition to this team, but she provides great energy and play off the bench and seems to have taken the change gracefully.
Rickards has also proven herself to be the best option at point guard, earning the starting spot.
This was a great game and a great win for the Cards who are now 7-1 on the season.