CARDS ESCAPE IN ATLANTA
Emily Engstler banked in a layup with 3.3 seconds left and Louisville Women's basketball pulled out a 50-48 win in Atlanta over Georgia Tech Sunday afternoon at the McCamish Pavilion.
If you are a fan of up and down the court, fast break, high scoring basketball, this wasn't the game for you. Defense dominated for 40 minutes in this one, The Cards shot 35.6% for the game, the YellowJackets performed even worse at 32.6% in a game where there were a combined 39 turnovers between the two squads, GT committing 22 of them.
Louisville started cold from the floor, missing their first eight shots , before Chelsie Hall connected on a jumper with 3:39 left in the first quarter to make the score 6-2.Georgia Tech. A Hall free throw concluded the Cards scoring for the quarter -- but Tech wasn't exactly burning up the nets either, going 3-11 in the first ten minutes, Two Lotta Maj-Lahtinen free throws with a second left in the quarter gave the home squad an 11-3 lead after ten minutes. This was far from pretty, precise or point-producing basketball -- eight first quarter turnovers by Tech were about the only thing keeping the Cards around. One wouldn't have blamed Jeff Walz if he demanded a ladder and tape measure after the first quarter, just to make sure the rims were set at regulation height.
A three-pointer by Lorela Cubaj a minute into the second quarter put the Cards down by 11. It was the Yellow Jackets fourth bucket of the contest -- all of them three pointers -- and it wasn't until Payton Verhurst connected on a layup with 6:46 left in the half that the Cards gathered their second basket of the game. That seemed to spark the dormant Cards, though. A Engstler three, another Verhulst bucket and Hall steal and layup over the next two minutes had the Cards within three at 15-12 with 4:47 to go in the first half. Tech had seen enough, though...and buckets from Cubaj and Hermosa over the next minute pushed the GT lead to seven at 19-12. Tech would score just a lone free throw over the final three minutes -- the Cards using a 8-1 run, with two buckets from Cochran, a Van Lith free throw and spectacular three from Ahlana Smith with three seconds left in the half to gain a 20-20 tie.
Louisville managed just seven points in the third quarter. A three by Engstler 26 seconds in gave the Cards their first lead of the game at 23-20, but 2-9 shooting the remainder of the quarter plagued the Cards.
An interesting development occurred with 5:02 left in the quarter. Mykasa Robinson got her face rearranged on a high Cubaj elbow and Jeff Walz loudly took exception with ref Karen Preato (and rightly so) for a review of the action for a possible intentional foul. Preato, in turn, first calls a technical on Walz, and then decides that maybe the crew should take a look. No intentional was called, though, and GT hit one of the ensuing two free throws. It was a quarter where UofL was whistled for nine fouls, and Georgia Tech just one. Fortunately for the Cards, the YellowJackets could hit only 5 of the 10 free throws they were awarded in the quarter....otherwise their 32-27 lead at the end of third third might have been higher.
The fourth quarter was a virtual scoring frenzy, based on what had happened earlier. Both teams had their highest outputs of the game in the fourth in points -- Louisville 23 and GT 16. .A Kianna Smith three to start the fourth cut the Tech advantage to two. two Van Lith free throws a minute later tied the ball game up. Tech regained the lead, though, and that's how the contest went for the next six minutes, Tech's lead varying between 1-4 points. Cubaj nailed a jumper to give GT a five-point edge at the 2:58 mark at 47-42..
And then, the Cards came back. An Engstler steal and layup cut the lead to three. Two Cochran free throws with 1:05 remaining made it a 47-46 Tech lead. Cubaj countered with a free throw to set the lead at two, but a Van Lith jumper off an Engstler pass tied things up at 48 with 35 seconds left. Lahtinen whiffed on a three eleven seconds later and the Cards grabbed the rebound and got a timeout with 14 seconds to play. Would Walz come up with a game winning play? Van Lith's ensuing inbounds pass eventually resulted with the ball in Engstler's hands, she "fake fed" the crossing Van Lith and Hall and confidently drove the right hand side of the paint by Cubaj...released... and her shot dropped in.
50-48. 3.3 remained on the clock. It was Louisville's second lead of the game and it couldn't have come at a better time.
Tech had one more chance, but no time outs. Lahtinen's desperation shot from sidelines mid court was well-guarded and well oft the mark. Louisville had prevailed in Atlanta.
THE FRED REPORT
|A roller-coaster ride today in Atlanta for the Cards|
FREE THROWS -- The Cards went 7 of 16 from the charity stripe. Only three Cards attempted "free ones", Cochran went 3-8, Van Lith 3-6 and Hall 1-2. 43.8% won't earn a letter here.
REBOUNDS -- Louisville won the rebounding battle against the taller Tech squad 36-34. Cochran was huge in her effort, with 13 in her 34 minutes and Kianna Smith added six. You win the rebounding battle, you get a CAPITAL "R" in my book.
EFFORT/EXECUTION -- Engstler led the way with 14 points in just 22 minutes, the turnovers (17) weren't awe-inspiring, and the 36% shooting was salvaged by 62% in the fourth quarter. You have to admire a squad that comes back to win after leading only 1:18 of the 40 minutes. Louisville's last three minutes of execution to get the win dictates I award the small case "e" here.
DEFENSE -- Despite Cubaj being a one-women wrecking crew on the Cards, Louisville didn't do that bad a job defensively. They held GT to 32% from the floor. They had 10 blocked shots and six steals. They forced 22 turnovers. Tech had 0 fast break points. Defense kept Louisville in this one and I'll award a CAPITAL "D" for the effort.
FINAL FRED TALLY: -_R-e-D
Sometimes, you win ugly. This was a battle between two teams that could very well be in the Sweet Sixteen at the end of the year. It's hard to say that Georgia Tech actually lost this game, let's just say Louisville was better this Sunday. And, thank goodness, the Cards only face them once in the regular season. Championship teams find a way to win, someway, somehow -- and that's what Louisville did. Never say die, never stop until the clock shows 00:00 and holding the Yellow Jackets to one basket and one free throw in the final 4:22 of the game was the deciding factor.
Besides Engstler's 14 points, three Cards finished with seven each -- Cochran, Hall and Van Lith. Kianna Smith totaled six points, Verhulst added four, Ahlana Smith produced three points. Kasa Robinson finished with two. Dixon and Konno played but did not score
Imagine this Cardinals squad without Emily Engstler this year. Built tough, plays tough and doesn't understand the phrases "back down" or "coasting''. Somewhere, Sam Fuehring is smiling and nodding slowly in approval.
Lessons to be learned from this one, sure, and the Cards have to find a way to eliminate these ice cold starts...but road wins on the ACC should be worth more than just one in the won/loss column.
And...a warning to the rest of the league. These Atlanta Yellow Jackets are more than capable of stinging you. The Cards avoided the stinger today, but nearly saw that top three ranking go up in smoke. I can't honestly say if only seven GT players dressed for the game made that big a deal or not. All five starters were dressed and Tech usually goes with a rotation of seven in close games.
A Cards win that was in doubt until the end, but the conference standings don't care if you win by two or twenty-two. A "W" is a "W".