With 22 seconds to play in the third quarter of No. 18 Louisville women’s basketball’s 73-61 victory over Kentucky on Sunday afternoon, UK graduate guard Emma King sent Eylia Love to the free-throw line with an opportunity for an and-one. Love, one of five Cardinals who scored in double figures in the rivalry win, drained the free throw and capped off a 14-2 scoring run for Louisville (9-1).
That run proved to be too much for the Wildcats (4-7) to handle, with Louisville securing just enough control to keep a multiple-possession lead for the remainder of the game after UK had managed to keep things competitive through two and a half quarters on the back of unyielding, adaptive defense.
Sunday’s victory was the seventh straight in the rivalry series for the Cardinals — the longest win streak Louisville has had against Kentucky.
UK head coach Kyra Elzy said a series of errors made by her roster ultimately impacted the game.
“We started turning the ball over, which ignited their transition offense,” Elzy said. “We didn’t rotate out on a couple of shooters and last, you know, the offensive rebounds. I thought we started fouling on the offensive rebounds. It was a small stretch, but it really changed the momentum of that game.”
Five minutes of game time proved to be the difference.
“We’re not that far off,” Elzy said. “It with a small window of time, but against that caliber of team, we can’t have that lapse. And it cost us.”
In front of a crowd 11,291 strong at the KFC Yum Center, Elzy opted for a starting five of King, Brooklynn Miles, Saniah Tyler, Ajae Petty and Maddie Scherr. The Wildcats locked in on limiting Louisville’s multiple offensive options, protecting the paint and attempting to force the Cardinals to take outside shots. After a back-and-forth first half, the Wildcats only trailed their ranked rivals 28-27.
Louisville head coach Jeff Walz, who with this victory improves to 10-6 against the Wildcats, said he and his roster were expecting a challenging matchup against Petty, Scherr, Miles and senior guard Eniya Russell. But the first half, Walz said, was an offensive struggle due to his players not scoring off turnovers.
“We knew it was going to be a difficult game,” Walz said. “Offensively for us, we weren’t as smooth as I would have liked to have seen. I thought we passed the ball at times extremely well, but at times we over-passed… In the middle of that third quarter, we finally got some points from our defense. And that’s what we’ve done this entire season is we’ve turned people over, but we’ve scored. In the first half, we were not doing a very good job of that at all.”
Through two quarters, both teams had forced 10 turnovers. Kentucky had only converted those turnovers into six points, while Louisville turned those miscues into 11 points. Walz and his players weren’t satisfied, and the Cardinals added an additional 12 points off nine forced turnovers in the second half.
That’s when Louisville also benefited from finding ways to limit both Petty and Scherr, who were largely responsible for Kentucky’s competitive edge on offense. Petty finished with 18 points and a game-high 10 rebounds, her third straight double-double and her sixth this season. She also recorded one assist, one block and two steals.
Scherr made her return to the lineup after sitting out two games due to concussion protocol following a hard fall on Nov. 30 in the victory over Boston College, and she contributed a game-high 22 points (including four 3-pointers). She also added five rebounds, two assists, one block and three steals.
“What I love about her, she’s a competitor,” Elzy said. “She wants to win, she plays to win. Her ability to score settles us in offensively. I thought she played really tough today, but she knows how to make other people around her better, so glad to have her back on the floor.”
But a third quarter that saw Scherr and Petty’s combine for 10 points — and all other Wildcats coming together for just seven — did little for UK’s chances to earn its first victory against Louisville since December 2015.
The Wildcats made a push in the fourth, pulling within five points after five consecutive field goals late in the game, but a 7-0 run (including five free throws and a fast-break layup) cemented the Cardinals’ victory.
Louisville bested UK in several statistical categories, most notably a 24-9 advantage on bench points and a plus-22 rebound margin. The Cardinals also tacked on 11 second-chance points to the Wildcats’ zero.
The Cardinals who scored in double figures were Eylia Love (14 points), Nyla Harris (13), Sydney Taylor (13), Kiki Jefferson (11) and Olivia Cochran (10), who was celebrated directly after the game for scoring her 1,000th career point (1,003 total) in the win.
Despite returning Scherr and sophomore guard Cassidy Rowe to the available players list on Sunday, the Wildcats are still waiting on Amiya Jenkins, who Elzy said remains day-to-day with a shoulder injury. Elzy did not speak on Zennia Thomas, who has been listed as suspended indefinitely since late November ahead of the game against Boston College. Elzy did, however, reaffirm her confidence in the team’s ability to find its way.
“Obviously, we’re coming off a loss,” Elzy said. “It’s been a rough start. But we have enough and that’s my message to the team. We have enough, we’re gonna get our pieces back. We still have three games in the nonconference that we gotta go get and let our momentum carry us into SEC play. So this team is not giving up. We don’t have any quit in us. We offer no excuses. We’re back to work, and we’ll get it done.”
When: 1 p.m. Sunday
Where: Rupp Arena
TV: SEC Network+ (online only)
Radio: WLAP-AM 630
Records: Furman 6-5, Kentucky 4-7
Series: Kentucky leads 1-0
Last meeting: Kentucky won 74-35 on Dec. 6, 2008, at Memorial Coliseum