LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The final games of a regular season, for a team that has been as good all year as the University of Louisville women’s basketball team, can be like the final strides of a marathon.

You’re glad to be finished, but the form might not be picture perfect.

Since an 11-point loss at Connecticut on Feb. 11, the Cardinals have taken care of business, winning back-to-back games on the road before returning home for a 51-39 rock-fight win over Virginia in the KFC Yum! Center.

No, that wasn’t a men’s score. Louisville locked down the Cavaliers, forced them into 21 turnovers and 13 made baskets, and gave up just six points in the second quarter and eight in the third.

Normally, that kind of equation would add up to one of those embarrassing blowout kind of scores. But Louisville was out of sync offensively, shot just 38 percent for the game and was outrebounded by four. After a Jazmine Jones free throw with 49 seconds left, Walz, an expert practitioner of sarcasm, turned to his bench and said, "Woohoo! We scored 50!"

“We have terrible tempo right now,” Walz said after the game. “The ball is sticking in people’s hands right now, we’re not getting it moving. It’s something we’ve tried to address and we’ll try it again tomorrow. We’re like Spalding ball-testers. We’re dribbling to see if there’s air in it, for no reason. When we move it, we’re really good. But when we hold it and just stare, and then we all stand, you can’t get anything going. We’ve talked to them about it, and now we just have to figure out a way to get back to what we were doing two weeks ago. . . . It’s not that we can’t do it. You’ve just got to come to practice and practice with the same tempo you’re going to try to play with.”

In spite of that, the game was never in doubt for Louisville, which led by 18 for a stretch in the fourth quarter. The Cardinals had given up only 30 points before a late Virginia run in the final two minutes.

Virginia hit its first three pointer less than a minute into the game, then missed 16 in a row before making another at the 2:00 mark. The Cavaliers went just 2-19 from beyond the arc in the game.

“We did a really good job of knowing where shooters are,” Walz said. “We let (them) get the one three starting off the game, but after that I thought we did a great job of making sure we were there on the catch and really contesting. . . . But you’ve got to be able to rebound and box out and we didn’t do that.”

Asia Durr, playing on a sprained ankle, had 13 points, seven rebounds and two assists to lead the Cardinals. Myisha Hines-Allen, nursing an injured hip, had seven points and eight rebounds. But the pair combined for just 8 of 27 shooting. The rest of the team was 11 for 23.

Walz said he expected Durr to play, but added, “If you come out, you play hard. What I tell them is if you’re hurt, fine, I’ll sub for you. But if you’re going to go out there, you’ve got to give it everything, because we have some really talented players and when they play at a high level effort-wise, they’re really good. But you just can’t go out half-speed and expect it to work.”

Walz said the team will get back to work on its offensive stagnation, with a Sunday afternoon home game against Pittsburgh. A win will give the Cardinals their first-ever Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title. It also would be the first conference title in Walz’s career.

Walz, however, was more worried about his offense than any kind of celebration.

“I wish I had the answer, because we looked so good two weeks ago, just ball movement, getting it moving, making people chase us,” Walz said. “That’s what I tell them: You’ve got to make the defense chase us. We’re not making good reads. We try to get a little ball reversal, but they’re not guarding Jaz (Jones), which is fine, but we try to dribble at her and she back cuts and we try to throw it to her, but she’s not guarded, so when you throw her the back-door pass you’re throwing it right to them. Instead of having her cut through, dribble hand-off, dive, replace. So we’ve got to learn from some film.”

Still, the effort was enough to improve Louisville’s record to 28-2 and earn it a chance at winning the ACC regular season, with only a win over a Pittsburgh team that is 7-21 overall and 2-13 in the league standing in their way. Louisville beat Pittsburgh 77-51 on Jan. 18. 

“It’s a huge game for us, no question about it,” Walz said. “There’s an ACC championship on the line. . . . Pitt is going to come in here and grind it out and fight. So if our kids come in here and think we just won an ACC championship then shame on us, because we’ll get beat on Sunday, and that would be an awfully bitter pill to swallow.”

NOTE: Walz had promised to donate a dollar to the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, and had gotten an anonymous donor and a local company to do the same, for every fan over 10,000 that showed up for Thursday’s game. The attendance, however, only reached 8,434.

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