Fourth Quarter Surge Lifts Cards Over Deacs
While the final plays weren't quite as unnerving as in the previous meeting in January between Louisville and Wake Forest, the ACC Quarterfinal matchup between the two teams had plenty of tense moments. Though the final score might imply a comfortable win, the game was tied at the end of the third quarter, after Wake refused to go away. Plenty of words will be written elsewhere about the officiating of this game, and had the result turned out differently, I might devote more words to it myself. As it was, Louisville turned a seven point first quarter lead into a fourth quarter tie and then turned that into a double-digit win. The bottom line is that the Cards advanced to today's semifinal round, so let's take a look at the game.
The first quarter saw Louisville jump out to a hot start. The Cards scored on their first possession and quickly turned that into a 7-2 lead. By three and a half minutes into the game, the lead had stretched to 11-4 and Louisville looked like they'd run away with the game. The teams traded blows throughout the remainder of the first quarter with the Cards holding the aforementioned seven point lead at 17-10. It was an inauspicious start for Louisville, with Dana Evans hitting her first three and a reasonable 5-2 foul difference. After that, though, things got weird.
The second quarter opened with Olivia Cochran picking up her second foul. Mykasa Robinson scored the first points of the quarter to stretch Louisville's lead to nine, but Wake kept clawing back. When Hailey Van Lith hit a three pointer to make it 22-16, the Cards went cold. They went on to miss their next six shots before finally scoring again on a Norika Konno fast break layup with 2:41 remaining. They then made the remainder of their shots in the quarter, including two more three-pointers, to lead by four at the break. Over the course of the cold slump, Kianna Smith and Elizabeth Dixon also picked up their second fouls.
In the first half, the Cards shot just 36.8% from the floor, just ahead of the Demon Deacons' 34.8. Louisville committed just three turnovers compared to ten from Wake and the foul discrepancy was 10-4. Looking at the overall foul called numbers, things don't look so bad. However, Wake Forest shot 15 free throws in the first half. Louisville shot zero. For Wake to commit no shooting fouls over a 20-minute first half is, um, unlikely. Either way, Louisville still held a four point lead into halftime. It wasn't the comfortable seven point cushion they had after the first quarter, but with a six-plus minute shooting slump, you'll take it.
The only problem with that was that the third quarter didn't get better. Though another three by HVL gave the Cards another seven point lead and Dana's second three of the game pushed it to six a bit later, Wake would ultimately come back to take the lead in this one with 45 seconds remaining in the quarter. It was eerily reminiscent to the end of game sequence earlier this season when the teams traded baskets over a one point lead. After Kianna Smith gave the Cards a one point lead with 24 seconds left, an Ahlana Smith foul led to a 1-2 effort at the line for Wake to tie it at 44 going into the fourth quarter. We had a barnburner ahead of us it seemed.
Jeff Walz put something in the team's Gatorade before the fourth quarter. After a clunky start to the quarter, HVL scored the first points on a fast break layup with 8:29 remaining. The subsequent possession saw Wake tie the game again on, you guessed it, free throws. Louisville then went off. The Cards scored the next 13 points of the game over a four minute stretch to put the Demon Deacons in quite a hole with 4:15 remaining. There was no slump to follow the big run, and even though Wake Forest finally scored again, Louisville refused to cede their double digit lead. The closest it got for the remainder of the game was ten.
I said I wasn't going to spend a lot of time on the refs, so I won't. I mentioned the 15-0 free throw discrepancy in the first half, and it didn't get better. The final spread was 23-2. Louisville saw Dixon to the line one time and she missed them both. Wake was 18-23 from the charity stripe. This game was only close because of that difference, I can say that quite confidently. Well, that difference and the fact that Dana Evans struggled to even get out of the gate. The ACC Player of the Year shot just 3-15 from the floor, 2-7 from three. She did chip in seven assists, though, leading the team.
The Cards were carried by HVL, a statement that is very likely to be repeated over the next three years. Hailey finished with 24 points on 9-15 (6-10) shooting and added five rebounds, three assists, and four steals with no turnovers. Drool. For the freshman to come up clutch when Louisville needed her to is very encouraging going forward where every game matters. And it isn't just that she put up a gaudy stat line. Every time Louisville needed a big boost, Jeff Walz dialed Van Lith's number. No one else scored more than Dana's eight points. It was a performance from HVL that everyone has been expecting this season, and we can all only hope it becomes the new normal.
The CASE Report
C - Care: Despite the frustrating nature of this game, Louisville actually took decent care of the ball, with just the three turnovers mentioned in the first half. The third quarter saw a pretty big jump, and the Cards finished with 11. It was still a pretty decent showing. Louisville was only able to force Wake into 14, but 11<14 so that's half a point. That said, Wake's defense ranks 315th in the country, forcing just 12.6 turnovers per game. Louisville's 11 is far more than 60% of that, so the Cards finish with a lowercase 'c'.
A - Assists: Louisville's assist game was on point yesterday, and they very nearly picked up the capital A in this category. The final tally was 20 assists on 28 made baskets. A 71% assist rate is nothing to slouch at. If they had gotten it to 75, I made have made an exception for just missing the 2.0 ATO (1.8). However, since they were well on their way to the capital A in the first half (71% assist rate and 3.3 ATO) but committed so many second half turnovers, I can't do it. Lowercase 'a'.
S - Steals: Nine steals isn't terribly many, but it's more than the bar (7.5) and more than Wake (3). Louisville was able to come up with big steals in big places to keep Wake from taking too much advantage of the Cards' shooting woes and HVL led the team with four. Capital 'S'.
E - Efficiency: Louisville's second half shooting performance was a strong effort at 54%, dragging the first half's 37% out of the mud. However, it wasn't enough. The final shooting percentage was 43.8, just under the benchmark of 45%. That said, a 42.9% from beyond the arc gave the Cards a huge boost. 0-2 is basically unscorable. The Cards can't control not getting to the line but given the game flow, it's critical to score when you get the chance. I'll still award a lowercase 'e' for the second half performance and the outside shooting.
That gives Louisville a c-a-S-e for the game, a decent effort from the Cards. They'll need to perform a bit better overall going forward this year, but to get through the grit of the first three quarters and boom in the fourth like they did is very encouraging. Louisville will get Syracuse in today's semifinals at Noon on the ACC Network.
As for the bracket challenge, the results are just about set, with almost all remaining brackets in play having the same results in these last three games. Worldwide Jeff leads the pack at 8-1 and has Louisville defeating NC State in the final. A host of players sit at 7-2 with the same result in the final. Dave-O Watson leads the opposition, sitting at 7-2 with NC State coming out victorious over the Cards in the final. While there aren't many players still up for the chance to win, the final result looks like it will come down to the last game.
Softball Dominates Bradley 18-1 Over Two Games
Basketball took up the majority of the column today, rightfully so, but there's still plenty more going on. Softball began hosting the Cardinal Classic to open Ulmer Stadium for the season yesterday with a pair of evening games against Bradley. They bullied the Braves for a couple of hours. Neither game made it to the top of the sixth, and neither had the Cards concerned for any reasonable amount of time. We'll see if they can carry that momentum into today's games, but, in any case, Louisville was rolling yesterday.
Taylor Roby got the start in the first game, and Bradley threatened right off the bat. A single and a walk gave Roby runners on first and second with no outs to deal with. She rose to the challenge, though, getting a pop-up, fielder's choice, and strikeout to end the inning. Louisville's offense then ended the game in the bottom of the first. Carmyn Greenwood started with an infield single and then advanced to second on a sac fly from Celene Funke (I've never seen that for someone not named Billy Hamilton in recent memory). A Roby walk was followed by a Chung single to score Carmyn and Cassady Greenwood singled to score Roby. Louisville led 2-0 with two on and one out. A steal and a walk loaded the bases, and everyone advanced 60 feet on a wild pitch. Another walk loaded the bases again and a sac fly scored another runner and turned the order over. Another wild pitch brought home one more before Carmyn Greenwood struck out. Louisville led 6-0.
In the second, Bradley was able to claw one run back, getting runners to second and third with two outs before single through the infield scored a runner. Roby got another groundout to end the side. In the bottom of the second, Funke was walked the hard way (hit by pitch on a 3-0 count, oof). She was caught steeling, though, and Jenna Servi came on to pitch hit for Roby. She promptly doubled to center and after a Chung foulout, Cassady Greenwood singled in Servi and was brought home herself by a Hurst double. Louisville led 8-1 after two.
A total of two runners reached over the next three innings before Louisville took to the bat for the bottom of the fifth. The Cards promptly loaded the bases on three straight hits and walked off the game with a full count walk to Maddy Newman. 9-1 in the fifth triggered the mercy rule and the teams went their separate ways to get ready for the second game. The first game lasted just under two hours and started at 4, giving the two teams about half an hour to collect themselves for the 6:30 first pitch of game two.
Gabby Holloway got the start for the Cards in the second game and got things off to much less eventful start. She picked up outs in all three ways, getting a strikeout, groundout, and flyout in order to put down the side. Louisville's bottom half wasn't nearly as eventful either, though a Celene Funke triple (drink) was followed up by an RBI double from Rebecca Chung. Makayla Hurst reached on an error, but Chung got caught in a pickle between third and home to end the inning.
Holloway put in another 3-up, 3-down inning in the second and Louisville got to work in the bottom half. Taryn Weddle was hit by the first pitch she saw and when Charley Butler tried to sacrifice bunt her over, the catcher threw the ball into the outfield. Runners stood on first and second but couldn't advance when Holloway lined out to first. Maddy Newman walked to load the bases and Carmyn Greenwood picked up a painful RBI with an HBP. Funke grounded out to first, but it was enough to avoid the double-play and score a runner before Taylor Roby hit a 3-run bomb to clear the bases. Chung lined out but Louisville led 6-0.
Holloway allowed her first runner in the third inning when she gave up a two-out double. The runner advanced to third on a passed ball but a lineout ended the threat. The Cards went right back to in the bottom half again. A groundout was followed by two walks when Holloway stepped in and sent the ball to center. The center fielder struggled getting the ball in, as did the pitcher, and Holloway reached third on the errors while Butler and Weddle both scored. Leonhardt stepped to third to pinch run and was brought in on Maddy Newman's groundout. Louisville loaded the bases on three walks to the top of the order, but Chung grounded out to the pitcher for the force out at the plate and the scoring ended. Louisville led 9-0 after three.
Leonhardt took over in the circle and although she walked the first batter she saw, she struck out four of the next six she faced in the final two innings. Louisville got a runner on base in the bottom of the fourth on a walk, but didn't take the batter's box in the bottom of the fifth.
The two wins put Louisville at 5-6 overall and gives them the chance to get to .500 today when they take on Depaul at noon. The Blue Demons are 5-4 overall and won their last game over St. Louis 8-5. They haven't played the schedule Louisville has, but they do have a bit of confidence coming in. Louisville should have confidence in droves after yesterday's performances. This one should be available on ACCNX so be sure to split screen it with the basketball game.
Field Hockey Drops Spring Opener
After a very strong fall performance, Louisville field hockey got back underway yesterday as they prepare to play a spring NCAA tournament. Their first match was against tough conference foe UNC, and it didn't quite go as Coach Sowry might have hoped. The Tarheels scored early and late in the first half and those two goals were all they would need to ice the game. With a penalty corner in the first two minutes of the game, UNC put Louisville on the back foot early. The Cards had their chance to tie with a corner of their own just a minute later, but Mercedes Pastor's shot was blocked.
The Tarheels put on a pressure campaign over a six minute stretch in the final ten minutes of the second period that saw multiple shots wide or blocked. With two minutes to go in the half, they earned another penalty corner and Erin Matson was able to capitalize for the second time on the day. The goals in this game were her 14th and 15th of the season.
Louisville was unable to make anything happen offensively for the remainder of the game and the 2-0 score at halftime held until the final whistle blew. The Cards actually led UNC in shots at 16-14 and shots on goal at 9-5, but the goalkeeping for the Heels was just too much for the Cards to overcome. Disappointingly, Louisville also led in penalty corner attempts at 10-5. They went 0-10 while UNC went 2-5. That's how you lose games, and it's surely a sore point for Coach Sowry this morning.
Louisville was not shutout in the fall season or in all of 2019, so this ends a run of 34 straight games with a goal scored. Their last goalless game came against Albany in a 1-0 loss on October 21, 2018. The Cards are still in a good position to fight for high NCAA tournament seeding as this loss puts them at 8-3 on the season. Two of their three losses have come against UNC and the Tar Heels lead the season series 2-1. Louisville may get as many as two more chances against them, as the ACC will host an ACC Championship game on April 24th, prior to the NCAA tournament. The Cards get back on the horse tomorrow when they head to Muncie, Indiana to take on the Cardinals of Ball State. That game is at 1PM.
Cardinal Couple Radio Hour
We're live again this week at an extra special time of 10AM. We've forgotten when Daylight Savings Time starts so we figured we'd just go ahead and bump up the show. In actuality, though, it's a busy Saturday, so we wanted to get the show out prior to all of the fun and excitement getting underway at 12. Tune in to the Cardinal Couple YouTube Channel at 10 today for the live show or check out the replay after it ends. As always (well, mostly always), you can subscribe to the podcast to get episodes pushed directly to your device after they're posted. Be sure to subscribe to the YouTube channel as well, as the crew posts interviews there often.
Until next time, Go Cards!