After publicly questioning his team’s heart and effort last week, Louisville Coach Jeff Walz couldn’t say enough about how much of both the No. 7 Cards showed in knocking off No. 17 Kentucky on Sunday.
“I thought we showed a little will to win tonight,” Walz said after the Cardinals topped UK 69-67 in overtime at the KFC/Yum Center.
Yes, it was nice to finally get a win over Kentucky after losing to the Cats five straight seasons, but the coach was just happy to get any win after the Cardinals had lost to two straight top-five teams.
“It’s been a pretty intense week,” said Walz, whose postgame tirade about participation trophies and friendship brackets at AAU events earned him some ESPN screen time last week. “It’s been a very, very intense week.”
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It ended in a very intense game where Louisville had to come back from four points down in the final minutes of regulation to win.
“We had to do it for the city, had to do it for the state,” said Louisville guard Briahanna Jackson, who had eight assists and 10 rebounds to go with five points.
Forward Myisha Hines-Allen had a game-best 26 points to go with five rebounds for the Cardinals, who outrebounded Kentucky 49-40, including 21-8 on the offensive end. Louisville outscored the Cats 17-4 on second-chance points.
Louisville opened the overtime period by scoring five straight points — a long three-pointer by Asia Durr and then a layup by Hines-Allen to get the lead for good.
Durr had 15 points, including a three-pointer that ended a nearly six-minute scoring drought for the Cardinals in the fourth quarter.
Kentucky chipped away at the lead in overtime and had a chance to force a second one, but Taylor Murray’s jumper didn’t leave her hands in time. The sophomore guard had a career-best 21 points and five rebounds for Kentucky.
“We looked like our goose was cooked a couple times there and we kept coming back,” UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “Credit Louisville for playing hard, but I’m happy to be driving back to Lexington with this team that I’m fortunate enough to coach. We’ll just get better from here.”
Murray’s was one of a couple of near misses for the Cats, including Makayla Epps’ potential game-winning shot in the lane that fell short with five seconds to play.
“In the air, I kind of got mixed up between shooting a jumper and shooting a floater,” said Epps, who scored 22 points and grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds (all on the defensive end) while adding six assists.
“Stuff like that happens, but this is a learning moment for me. It hurt, but it’s something I can keep getting in the gym and nine times out of 10, I’m going to make that shot.”
The senior also had a chance to keep it from overtime after Alyssa Rice’s steal on an inbound, but Epps’ off-balance three at the buzzer didn’t go.
UK’s leading rebounder, Evelyn Akhator, struggled with foul trouble for much of the game and Mitchell declined to expound on why she spent most of the fourth quarter and OT on the bench.
Kentucky (6-2), which has a short bench thanks to a mass exodus of players last season, had four players play 42 or more minutes, including Epps, who played all 45, and Murray, who played 44.
“Louisville’s a quality, quality team,” Mitchell said. “Proud of our effort. ... everything that led to us getting beat today is correctable. You can’t question our kids’ heart; you can’t question our kids’ tenacity and you can’t question their togetherness.”
Kentucky, which averaged just 10.1 turnovers coming into the game, had nine turnovers in the first half and finished with 19, their most of the season.
For Louisville (7-2) this game was about getting a victory after a difficult week that included losses to No. 3 South Carolina and No. 5 Maryland, the latter prompting Walz to question his team’s toughness.
A win over Kentucky was a big deal and showed how tough Louisville is, said Hines-Allen, who joked that she planned to brag about it to her brother, UK defensive end Josh Allen.
“We had (athletics director) Tom Jurich come in after practice and tell us how important this game is,” Hines-Allen said. “We hadn’t beat Kentucky in five years. This was really important not only for us but for the city as well.”
Middle Tennessee at Kentucky
7 p.m. Friday