By Derek DeBurger

Louisville’s season comes to a shocking end at the hands of the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders.

Louisville started the game off on fire, getting out to a 6-0 lead after the tipoff and going on a 12-0 run in the middle of the first quarter. After the Cards went up by 13 points, they ended the quarter on an 8-5 run to take a 28-12 lead. Louisville’s first quarter was an overall great performance both offensively and defensively, and was highlighted by the team effort in scoring.

Louisville kept their momentum going in the first part of the second quarter, pushing their lead as high as 18 points. When it looked like the game was trending in the direction of a blowout, their play turned sloppy, giving up several open looks from three-point range to Jalynn Gregory. MTSU cut the lead to 11 points, holding the Cards scoreless for the final four minutes of the second.

Louisville led 38-27 at the half.

Olivia Cochran nabbed a quick bucket in the second half, but MTSU went right back to the lockdown defense in the second quarter. The Cards continued to fall apart on both sides of the court with lazy passes, lost shooters, and numerous fouls. The Blue Raiders slowly chipped away at the lead until finally taking it for themselves with 50 seconds left in the third quarter, their first lead of the game. Louisville trailed going into the final quarter 50-51.

With their backs suddenly against the wall, Louisville needed to act fast. The Cards went back and forth with MTSU for the first couple of minutes, then over five minutes went scoreless during a 9-0 MTSU run. Down eight points, the Cards were forced to extend the game with fouls. Louisville made somewhat of a dent in the deficit, but the clock continued to run down and foul trouble caused the only points guards on the team—Nina Rickards and Jayda Curry—to foul out.

With just a few seconds left, MTSU was at the free throw lineup two but missed both shots. The Cards got the rebound, and Merissah Russell took a half-court heave for the win, but the shot just rimmed out.

Louisville’s tournament run ends, 69-71.

The 18-point blown lead ties for the third biggest comeback in a women’s NCAA tournament game, the Cards own 18-point comeback in 2021.

The loss is the first loss in the round of 64 in head coach Jeff Walz’s career, and just the third time the Cards have failed to reach the Sweet Sixteen when making the tournament. The loss also ends the streak of five-straight Elite Eight appearances and six-straight Sweet Sixteen appearances.

MTSU is a fantastic team, and when put into perspective this loss is not a bad one, but still frustrating. The Cards made the same mistakes Friday that they had made all season long, the same mistakes that kept them from ever reaching their full potential.

Cochran played a great game despite playing limited minutes due to foul trouble. She finished the game with 17 points, 10 rebounds, one block, and one steal.

Louisville’s once-promising season ends on a sour note, dropping them to a final record of 24-10.

Photo Courtesy // Scott Utterback, The Courier-Journal