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Saturday, January 2, 2021

Louisville Knocks Off Rust Against NKU; Bellarmine Next -- SATURDAY CARDINAL COUPLE

Cards Use Late 3rd Quarter Surge to Sink Norse

After nearly a month out of action, Louisville fans couldn't have expected to see the most crisp return to the court for the Cards. Refreshed legs, sure, but the players couldn't have been terribly worn out after just five games anyway. Whatever you expected, it probably wasn't that Louisville would struggle so much in their return to the floor against a 4-4 NKU team that had yet to win a non-conference game. As their schedule currently stands, NKU now looks to finish the season 0-5 in non-conference. However, they're currently tied with IUPUI and Milwaukee atop the Horizon league and will play a double header against IUPUI for the conference lead next weekend.

To NKU's credit, they had a hand in the way the game went yesterday. The outcome was not just the result of Louisville's long layoff. The Norse shot the ball pretty well, were very active on the glass, and harassed Louisville defensively. After a scrappy first quarter, NKU hung on to win the second quarter by a pair and held the deficit to just two at the half. Louisville would have liked to have been in much more control, but NKU would not give up.

The third quarter saw the Norse take their largest lead of the game when they used an 8-0 run to open up a five point gap with five minutes remaining in the quarter. I quipped in our group chat asking if Louisville's offense had any plans of showing up yesterday, as the score at the time was just 41-36 with just 15 minutes to play. Right on cue, Louisville rattled off a 17-2 run, capped by a 14-0 finish, to lead by ten at the end of the third quarter. The Cards looked in complete control, with Dana Evans coming alive and the Norse looking completely lost.

That wasn't the end for NKU, though. Back-to-back empty possessions for Louisville, both followed by fouls on layups that NKU converted (they shot 13-14 from the line and 9-9 in the fourth quarter) made it just a four-point game once again. The Cards stretched the lead back to eight, but the Norse just kept holding on. With just under eight minutes remaining, Lindsey Duvall converted yet another 3-point play for the NKU, cutting the lead to just three. Louisville floated that back up to 11, and the lead hovered at 7-9 points for the next six minutes. With 52 seconds remaining, Tayah Irvin scored NKU's final points to cut the lead to five. From there, Louisville would close out the game with free throws to win by 10. 

The Norse were led by Lindsey Duvall, who was comfortable in her return to the Yum! Center and was eager to show why she got the opportunity to play there in the first place. She finished with 20 points on 7-14 shooting while going 3-5 from beyond the arc. Duvall also added seven rebounds and two assists to go along with just two turnovers. Grayson Rose also reached double-digits, with an 11 point game, and Ivy Turner flirted with a triple-double. She shot just 3-15 from the floor, but finished with 8 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists. 

On the home side of the floor, Louisville put five players in double-digits. The Cards were led by Dana Evans, who finished with 20 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals. Olivia Cochran, Kianna Smith, Hailey Van Lith, and Liz Dixon were the other players in double digits. While E. Balogun struggled from the floor, shooting just 1-6 and finishing with two points, she had eight rebounds, five assists, four blocks, and two steals to show why she remains on the floor even when the shooting touch isn't there. Kianna Smith added 10 rebounds to her 11 points to pick up her first double-double as a Cardinal. 

The CASE Report

Looking at the final score and having watched the game, I don't have high hopes for Louisville's performance in these metrics. However, they won, which is ultimately what matters. That said, let's take a look.

C-Care: Any time Louisville scores significantly below their average, you would expect that to be a result of some carelessness with the ball. While Louisville did turn it over 13 times, that's far fewer than it felt like in the game flow. It's also fewer than the 18 they forced out of NKU. That said, NKU really struggles to turnover their opponent, forcing just 13.33 per game, good for 291st in the country. Louisville's 13 is far greater than 60% of that average, so it's a lowercase 'c'.

A-Assists: The Cards did manage to move the ball pretty well, finishing the game with 18 assists. That's on 30 made baskets, so good for a 60% assist rate, though HVL would have liked a few more of her passes to have been finished in the basket. Unfortunately, they didn't quite double up their turnovers, and finished with a 1.38 ATO. I know, my thresholds are cruel. Lowercase 'a'.

S-Steals: Straightforward category here. Louisville finished with 11 steals, a tally that is greater than the 7.5 steal threshold and the 6 steals that NKU managed. Uppercase 'S'.

E-Efficiency: I know what you're thinking. Louisville didn't turn the ball over that much and NKU wanted to run the floor with them, so they must have been terrible from the floor to score so few points. Nope. Louisville actually finished with 41.7% shooting, although the 18.2% from three was rough. Taking that out, Louisville shot 52% from two-point land, which isn't world beating but is pretty good. The Cards also shot 76.9% from the free-throw line. It was worse than NKU, but it'll do. Uppercase 'E'.

So there you have it. Louisville was actually not that bad statistically, finishing at c-a-S-E. Having watched the whole game, I can't tell you what kept Louisville from dominating, other than NKU's scrappiness. Louisville won the battles for turnovers, rebounding (though only by 4), second chance points, fast break points, and points off turnovers. Credit to the Norse for sticking around in this one. It is likely to keep Louisville on their toes, particularly against teams they would consider lesser opponents. 

Cards Welcome Bellarmine in First D-1 Matchup Between Schools

On that note, another opponent that Louisville should have no trouble with will head to the visitor's locker room today. At noon, Louisville and Bellarmine will tip-off in what will be the first matchup between Louisville and Bellarmine in any sport since the Knights joined Division 1. While history would have leaned toward that distinction going to the men's basketball programs, I'm sure Jeff Walz is happy to make the connection, especially as today's game will put Louisville more than halfway to the 13 required games to become eligible for the NCAA tournament.

With Monday's game against Morehead State postponed, the Knights will lace them up in the Yum! Center for their final game before beginning ASUN play. It hasn't been the greatest debut season for Bellarmine, as they enter today's matchup 0-4. In their games against Ball State, Western Kentucky, Western Illinois, and Evansville, the Knights have been outscored 331-210. Interestingly, they've scored more points and allowed fewer in each successive game. Their best performance came against Evansville on December 29th, when they lost 72-62 on the road. 

The Knights are led in volume scoring by Lauren Deel, who has averaged 10.5 points in all four of their games. However, Breia Torrens is likely to surpass Deel soon, as she has averaged 16 points in the Knights' two most recent games, the only two in which she's played. 

Louisville should be able to control the pace of this one and score at will. Bellarmine is allowing their opponents to shoot 50% from the floor this season, while managing only 30% themselves. I expect Dana and HVL will both get back to the deadly duo we'd seen in the first portion of this season today. The game tips off at noon on the ACC Network Extra.

Cardinal Couple Radio Hour

Paulie and Jared will be at the Yum! Center for this one, but Jeff, Daryl, and I will bring you this week's Cardinal Couple Radio Hour right up until tip-off. We'll talk about Louisville's long hiatus finally coming to an end and take a look at the upcoming schedule (will Louisville finally play UNC?). Tune in to the Cardinal Couple YouTube Channel at 11AM, or check out the replay when the show ends. You can also subscribe to the Cardinal Couple Radio Hour podcast and have the joy and excitement of UofL women's athletics pushed straight to your device. 

Until next time, Go Cards!

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