By Derek DeBurger

No. 20 Louisville dropped a can’t-lose game against the Virginia Cavaliers.

The Cavs have played the role of giant killer twice this season, and they came out of the gates with exactly that energy. Virginia opened the game on a 12-6 run, making the paint a living nightmare for the Cards. Louisville eventually woke up but could not reclaim the lead by the end of the first quarter. Louisville trailed 15-16.

Still, they kept the momentum going in the second quarter. The team took their first lead of the game, pushing it up to five early on. Virginia then proceeded to go on a 14-2 run to retake the lead by a seven-point margin.

After the rest of the quarter, the Cards were officially on the ropes, trailing at halftime 32-26.

Louisville was finally able to get something going in the third, scoring 28 points in the quarter. The Cards consistently scored in the paint and drew fouls, leading to open looks from three-point range. Louisville took a seven-point lead into the final quarter.

Once again, Louisville started the fourth quarter strong and grew the lead to nine—the highest of the game for either side. Virginia cranked up the intensity and got back to what kept them in the game in the first place. The Cavs dominated the paint and the boards, led by Camryn Taylor, to come storming back on a 15-1 run. Louisville went without a made field goal for over six minutes in the fourth, and by the time they began to hit them again, it was too little, too late.

Louisville would lose 68-73.

Head coach Jeff Walz said it after the game, but Louisville was “out-toughed” in an embarrassing way. Taylor scored 22 points, and over half of her points came in the second half. She drew several fouls, too, getting the Cavs to the free-throw line numerous times in the fourth quarter.

The toughness of Virginia rattled the Cards down the stretch. When Louisville found itself down five points late, too many ill-advised threes were just jacked up to get all five points back in one shot, almost as if there was a fear of scoring in the paint. Louisville outshot Virginia from the field, from three, and the free throw line, but were outrebounded by three and had one more turnover than the Cavs.

Virginia just got Louisville out of sorts early and made them panic late. This is their first-ever ACC home loss to an unranked team, and it makes getting a top-four seed in the NCAA tournament and the ACC tournament very difficult.

Louisville falls to 22-7 on the season and 11-5 in the ACC.