Boston's 23/18 Line Leads SCar Over Louisville
Louisville's hopes for it's first national title were dashed when the country's top player showed why on the big stage. To their credit, Louisville game-planned away from Aliyah Boston early, and it was working, right up until it didn't. As was reported on the broadcast, Jeff Walz was content to allow South Carolina to fire away from beyond the arc as long as it meant that Boston didn't beat them single-handedly. In response, SC promptly used the difference in three-pointers to win the game. Boston got hers, too, as she finished with 23 points, 18 rebounds, four assists, a block, and ahem no fouls. She was 8-12, 1-2, and 6-7 in 35 minutes.
The tone of the game was set early, as Louisville forced a turnover, only to miss on the ensuing possession and earn Olivia Cochran her first foul just 32 seconds into the game on a rebound attempt. While I was concerned about the possibility of O spiraling, given how she has struggled with stars in the paint at various times this season, I was pleased to see her regain her composure and play fairly decently despite Boston's ability to make plays. After the foul, South Carolina scored on a layup, HVL turned over the following possession, and Zia Cooke made SC's first three-pointer. Louisville would turn the ball over again and have a few misses before Coach Walz called a timeout with the score at 11-2.
The Walz timeout was just ahead of the media timeout, and the teams went to the second at the same score. For a couple of minutes after the media timeout, neither team wanted to do much with the ball. After 90 or so seconds of back and forth nothingness, Louisville decided they should get closer. They went on a mini 6-0 run to close the game to 15-10, before, not for the last time in the game, SC weathered the run and pushed right back to where they wanted to be. The end of the first quarter should have been an omen for how Louisville would close with opportunities to stay in the game. Louisville grabbed a rebound with 29 seconds remaining in the quarter, turning off the shot clock. With an opportunity to cut the lead to a single possession, Louisville instead turned the ball over and allowed a layup on the other end. 17-10 SC after one.
Louisville trimmed it to four and regained the ball with time ticking down and a chance to cut the lead to a single possession once more. Again, a mental lapse reared its head, and Louisville's halftime locker room talk had to include conversations about allowing the lead to stretch back to two full possessions when it could have been as little as two points. Never mind the fact that Boston both traveled and fouled on the final possession (hook elbow around the defender. Watch the replay, I'm sure it won't be hard to find since it was in the highlight real), Louisville had failed to close a quarter for the second time in the same game.
Back to those three-pointers beating the Cards, South Carolina put the theory to the test, as they opened the second half with a pair of them, and free throws after Emily Engstler's second foul improved their lead to 12 points. When it could have been just two, the massive break in the opposite direction felt even more painful. The pain continued, as Engstler picked up her third foul less than a minute later and with still 17 minutes of game time. The teams traded a couple of baskets and then a South Carolina 3-pointer moved the deficit all the way to 15 points.
The fourth quarter opening was not the big swing that Louisville needed. Had the Cards come out of the gate with juice, they may have been able to get back into this one. Instead, the clock wound down as the two teams traded free-throws and two-pointers. The Cards got the deficit back down to nine and looked to gain some momentum by forcing a shot clock violation. It was all downhill from there, though, as a pretty terrible turnover led to an Engstler foul trying to recover it. It was her fifth, and Louisville would go the final five minutes without her. The Cards would score just five more points in that time. Had they held South Carolina to zero over the final segment, it still would not have been enough.
South Carolina's defense was praised coming into this one, but it was Louisville's own issues that cost them the game. You certainly won't find me congratulating the officials on a good game last night, but they weren't the reason Louisville lost. It was frustrating to see Louisville called for travels that weren't and then watch Boston et al put on a tap show, but Louisville lost by 13. It wasn't the Mississippi State game where we could point at one egregious call. Louisville had too many unforced errors and way too many missed layups. Even when they got open under the basket, a golden opportunity against a team like South Carolina, they couldn't convert.
In their final games as Cardinals, Engstler and Kianna Smith did all they could to keep it going. Engstler had 18 points, 9 rebounds, an assist, 4 steals, and a block before fouling out. Smith had 14 and 5, and was much more productive in the set offense because of her height advantage over HVL. She was able to get her own shots and find openings when the defense focused on others, but she couldn't find the three-ball last night. HVL was quiet early, her 20-point streak coming to an end, but she finished with 9 points and 9 rebounds and played every minute. Her drive was there all game, but it would be nice for her to close out on 3-point shooters with a hand up, whether they are known to be good at the shot or not.
The FRED Report
F - Free Throws: Louisville was just 4-7 from the stripe. They missed their first three, which means they were 4-4 down the stretch, but they just couldn't get to the line. There were more than a few misses that I would classify as "shots that shouldn't count because the shooter should be going to take free throws" but not enough to have made a difference. Whether or not they earned free throws isn't the category. 57% is below the standard, so there's no letter.
R - Rebounding: The Cards were at a severe height disadvantage but lost the category by just 3 rebounds overall. They led the offensive rebounding stat, holding a team that collected 47% of its own misses this season to just 8 offensive boards, and led in second chance points. It may be controversial, but I'll award a capital 'R'.
E - Effort/Execution: Louisville stuck with this one. Even in the final two minutes, they were employing their own press and working hard to break the South Carolina pressure. That said, the execution didn't match. There were too many turnovers and defensive breakdowns, especially in critical moments. I will give a lowercase 'e' because, like I said, the stats show Louisville just had some bad luck.
D - Defense: The game plan was to not let Aliyah Boston beat them. Whether or not they did that is arguable. She had 23 and 18 but she was voted the Player of the Year. I have to give credit for executing the game plan, and they forced 15 turnovers, but allowing over 45% shooting from the floor, including (at one point) allowing a team to shoot 12-15% over it's average from three, can't get full points. Lowercase 'd'.
The CASE Report
C - Care: Louisville didn't take care of the ball. They had 15 turnovers. While South Carolina was credited with 11 steals, many of those were careless passes or fumbled dribbles. The Cards did tie South Carolina in turnovers, but despite their highly touted defense, South Carolina forced only 13.5 turnovers per game this season. If I have to make a tiebreaker, I'll make it points off turnovers, which SC won 16-13. No letter.
A - Assists: Louisville finished with five assists on 27 made baskets. I'm going to stop there. No letter.
S - Steals: Back to Louisville's defensive effort, they had 13 steals. Over the standard and over the opponent. A small consolation in the grand scheme. Capital 'S'.
E - Efficiency: The Cards should have been to the line more. They have some held whistles to blame for that but they also didn't force the issue. Nevertheless, they didn't capitalize a ton on the attempts they did get with the 57% mark. They were 43% from the floor, just a shade under the 45% we look for, with a lot of that struggle being attributed to the 1-8 effort from beyond the arc. No letter.
The Cards finish the reports with _-R-e-d and _-_-S-_. It would be tough to look at those, if you are a Cardinal Couple reader that knows how they usually apply, and see a win. It wouldn't be impossible, as there are statistically anomalous games, but not against the top-ranked team in the land. It just wasn't Louisville's night.
I take solace in knowing the Cards just didn't have it last night, rather than a soul crushing defeat like the ones against NC State or Miami. It's unfortunate to come up short, since this team could have won the game had they played their best, but they belonged in the game. Final score or betting line aside, Louisville earned that Final Four appearance. They didn't have to go through Baylor, sure, but they didn't face a double digit seed after their 1-16 game. This wasn't the year that Louisville broke through, but they are still among the top teams every year for a reason. They were the only team in the Final Four on the men's and women's side this season to not have a championship, but they will get there.
It is always tough to see seniors' college careers end on a loss. It happens to most players around the country, but that doesn't make it any less sad when it's your team. The Cards will be without some of the driving forces on this year's team next season, but the team that remains will have grown substantially from their experiences. I'm looking forward to next season already. Hear Coach Walz and some of the players after last night's loss below.
Pick 'Em Challenge
46: Kenny Schneider*, Jared Anderson*, Kenneth Stark Sr, Bea
45: Perry Sosh
44: Nick O, Joe Hill, Jason Wyrick, Jeff
43: Blue Lou, Doug Anderson, Katy
42: Benny J
41: David Watson, Case, Daryl
39: Louavulfan35, Vivian McAdams
37: Curtis Franklin, Arthur, Paul
21: CC Chimps
Cardinal Couple Radio Hour Podcast
We'll be without Jeff again this morning, as he has taken the opportunity to shed the frustrations of last night's loss by rooting for his beloved Volleyball team to get some big spring wins in Bowling Green. That means the live show will be off again this week, but we'll still have a podcast for you. There have been other games this week, unfortunately mostly losses, but the primary topic will be basketball. Tune in for a conversation that is hopefully cathartic. We'll get the show started at around 11, like normal, so the show will be up before 1. There are plenty of playback options, so be sure to check out whichever is best for you!
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Until next time, Go Cards!