CRAWFORD | Kentucky women run to fourth straight win over Louisv - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Kentucky women run to fourth straight win over Louisville, 77-68

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Ball pressure is an amazing thing. It can take a team that is rolling, even running away with a game, and completely stop it in its tracks.

Ball pressure was the tale of the No. 13-ranked University of Kentucky women's basketball game against No. 7 Louisville on Sunday. The Wildcats overcame a 16-point deficit to beat the Cardinals 77-68 before a crowd of 14,682 at the KFC Yum! Center.

And they did that because they were able to take Louisville's guards out of what they wanted to do, while the Cardinals' guards couldn't stop UK's from doing what they wanted in the second half.

Here's how dramatically this game turned. In the first half, U of L outscored UK in the paint 22-8. The Cardinals' post players were dominant, and guard Bria Smith slashed her way into the lane for 10 points.

Smith left the game with her second foul midway through the first half, with U of L up 16. From then on, the Cardinals were just hanging on.

UK trailed by only 13 at the break, and in the second half dialed up their defensive pressure on U of L's guards, forcing 15 second-half turnovers and making it exceedingly difficult for the Cardinals to get the ball inside for open looks.

On the other end, UK's guards isolated their counterparts one-on-one, and the defense broke down.

U of L managed just 10 points in the paint in the second half. UK had 26. Janee Thompson, who is all KFC Yum! Center if ever a player were, had 16 second-half points, didn't miss a shot from the field, and finished with a game-high 19.

The Wildcats, after clawing back even, scored 14 of the game's last 16 points to win going away.

“Our guard depth is not where it needs to be at this time,” U of L coach Jeff Walz said. “Our kids got a little worn down and they beat us off the dribble. It was something I was concerned about going in. The first half, we did a really good job of jamming ball screens and keeping ourselves between them and the bucket. We made them shoot over us. The second half, Jude (Schimmel) picked up three or four fouls and started to let them go by.”

And by they went. It took the Wildcats and coach Matthew Mitchell to settle on their offensive approach. Mitchell said he thought his team came out with too little urgency and was outworked in the first half. It was also dealing with foul trouble for its starting center and leading rebounder, Azia Bishop, who wound up playing only 10 minutes and scoring two points.

Eventually, foul trouble led Mitchell to a bit of a smaller lineup, and the talented ball handling from Thompson, Jennifer O'Neill and Linnae Harper helped undo the Louisville defense.

“It was a really tough comeback our team was able to make there in the second half,” Mitchell said. “Louisville has a heck of a basketball team, very, very tough, very disruptive, and it took us a while to figure out what we needed to do. But I'm really proud of our players, that was surely a game they could have folded in and could have said it was not our day and lost that one, but they found a way just to keep battling and made some adjustments in their attitude at halftime and came out with what I think will be a significant victory at the end of the year because I know Louisville is going to have a great season and they have some fantastic players, they're always well-coached and this is just always a very difficult game for us. So I'm really proud of our players and we're certainly happy to get the victory.”

O'Neill had 17 for the Wildcats, Harper had 10 and Makayla Epps had 10. They trailed for all but 4 1/2 minutes of the game, but as they have made their habit against U of L, they led for the ones that mattered most.

It's a team that has possibilities, even if Mitchell says they're not cohesive at the moment. They give great effort, and they do have talent. The roster boasts seven McDonald's All-Americans.

It wasn't their athleticism that hurt the Cardinals, Walz said, but their skill.

“It's not necessarily the quickest team, it's the most talented team,” Walz said. “We've played some teams that had some quick players, but they aren't as skilled. We played some kids that can run up and down the floor, but if you can't shoot and dribble, it doesn't really matter. I'd say top to bottom, they do a great job, there's no question about it. Janee Thompson, I thought her quickness is something we have not seen. Everybody else, I think are solid basketball players.”

U of L got solid play from its talented freshmen tandem of Myisha Hines-Allen, who led the Cardinals with 17 points despite making only 3 of 9 second-half shots, and Mariya Moore, who had eight second-half points and finished with 14. The Cards got 15 points from Smith, but needed more from her, given Kentucky's ball pressure and guard play.

It was a rough day for Cardinal point guards Jude Schimmel and Arica Carter. Schimmel was 0-for-6 from the field and missed some crucial shots late. Carter had some defensive lapses that led to big scores for UK.

But Walz said, as he has after losses to UK in past years, the game will be a learning tool for the future.

“It's one game. Now we're on to the next,” Walz said. “Unfortunately for us, it's been four years and we're not thrilled with this. There's no question about it, but what do you want me to do? Throw in the tent and say, ‘OK, we quit?' Three of the past four years, we have seemed to advance further in the NCAA Tournament, which is what we all play for, so we have to take this as a learning experience and go from it. Matthew does a great job, but I'm sure two years ago, he would've traded for a loss to have a chance to play in the Final Four. It's what we do with this. . . . So we just challenge our kids. Hey, are we willing to work hard to get better? That's why you play these games in the non-conference.”

And for UK, which is building an impressive resume that it hopes will help lead to that breakthrough run in the NCAA Tournament, the game becomes a building block.

“This team needs to improve, we need to get better,” Mitchell said. “We're very, very happy to win as we're moving along in this process. So what it's going to mean this year, is Louisville's going to have a great year, they're a great team, they're well-coached, they have a very talented team, and they're going to win a boatload of basketball games. So the win's going to be significant at the end of the year if we can improve and take care of our business and progress to be an NCAA tournament team, which we need to work hard to get that done. This will be a big win for this particular team.” 

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