LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Midway through the second half, the University of Louisville women's basketball team fell behind 55-50 at Rutgers, where it had never won in four tries.
But this is a different U of L team. It has been through an NCAA Tournament run to the title game, and doesn't flinch when facing a deficit. Sara Hammond hit a three to key an 11-0 run that covered just under two minutes, and a Shoni Schimmel three pointer completed a 14-2 spurt, with scores from four players, that put the Cardinals in control in an 80-71 victory.
Schimmel finished with 24 points, Hammond had 18 and Asia Taylor added 19 to lead No. 5-ranked U of L, which won its 14th straight and stretched its school-record start to 21-1. Schimmel made four more three-pointers to boost her total to 20 over the past three games, matching the most in a three-game stretch this season by any NCAA women's player. She also moved into the No. 2 spot on U of L's all-time scoring list behind Angel McCoughtry.
"We definitely have matured as a team going through our run last year," Schimmel said. "We learned a lot from it. For us, take it a basket at a time instead of trying to hit a home run shot."
Rutgers repeatedly pounded the ball into the paint and looked for mid-range baskets, but the Cardinals got into a defensive rhythm to make their run, and hurt Rutgers on the offensive glass to score on back-to-back possessions early in its 14-2 spurt. Walz said he knew his team would be exposed trying to guard the dribble, but thought his players responded well in the second half. Rutgers shot 52 percent from the field.
"I'm glad that our players were able to see it," Walz said on his Nelligan Sports postgame radio show. "They admitted after the game that guarding the dribble is a weak spot of ours right now. But it's nice to be able to get a win instead of taking a loss. We got abused off the bounce, but still found a way to get the win."
The Cards made only five of 21 three-point attempts, but hit a season-best 19 of 22 from the free-throw line. Bria Smith had seven points, three assists and three steals without a turnover.
Outscored by 12 in the paint in the first half, the Cards turned that around behind the play of Hammond and Taylor to outscore Rutgers by 14 in the paint in the second half.
Walz after the game returned to the theme of toughness. The Cards face South Florida in the KFC Yum! Center on Super Bowl Sunday at 2 p.m., then travel to Central Florida before a matchup next weekend with defending national champion and No. 1-ranked Connecticut.
"I want to win a national championship," Walz said. "That is my goal. That's why I'm here at Louisville. That's what I was hired to do. And we're one game short of it, twice. And part of it is because we're not tough. We've got to get a little tougher. And I'm going to get it out of them. I told Sara Hammond, she is so close to being just a special, special player, but you see glimpses where she gets that one offensive rebound and gets hit a little bit and falls to the ground. I don't care. Just go back up and finish. Bria gets knocked down and you'd have thought they were going to have to bring the ambulance in, helicopters. I thought the Coast Guard was going to fly in. Then we steal the ball and she flies down the court and gets an and-one. I told her in the locker room, I think the good Lord reached out and touched you. … Keep playing until the whistle blows. Just the little things. And they know, I'm trying to get them to the point where we can compete to win a championship. Because that's what they want, too."