LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — With No. 7 Louisville needing any spark it could get, Ahlana Smith’s clutch sequence on both ends of the floor finally shifted momentum against No. 14 Kentucky.
Smith and Hailey Van Lith each made two late baskets and the Cardinals held off Kentucky 64-58 on Sunday to beat their in-state archrivals for the fifth straight time.
A moment of silence was held before the game to remember victims from Friday night’s storms in Mayfield. Louisville’s athletic department also teamed with the KFC Yum! Center and the Kroger grocery store chain for a bottled water drive.
The teams then played a tough, tense game before a crowd of 12,167 that finally turned for Louisville behind Smith.
“The fact that you can have a rivalry game as intense as it was, which it always is, but people can come together for a common cause, gives us a little hope in humanity and do something good,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said.
Smith blocked Robyn Benton’s layup attempt, grabbed the rebound and hit a go-ahead jumper in the lane with 2:47 remaining. Chelsie Hall added three free throws in the final 17 seconds as the Cardinals (8-1) won their eighth consecutive game.
“It’s what we work for every day in practice,” said Smith, a senior reserve guard who tied a career with 13 points and made two steals. “We had to keep playing until the clock was off. We knew it was going to be tough until the end of the buzzer. We stuck to the game plan.”
Kentucky (6-3) had rallied from a 49-42 deficit to lead 54-53 on a jumper by Dre’Una Edwards with 3:37 left.
Smith gave Louisville the lead and Van Lith added a layup off Emily Engstler’s block of Benton’s layup. Smith’s layup and Van Lith’s jumper provided a 61-56 cushion before Hall sealed it at the foul line.
Hall finished with 15 points, while Van Lith added 13 each. Louisville shot just 40% but made 8 of 13 in the final quarter while its defense stopped Kentucky down the stretch. The Cardinals scored 21 points off 21 turnovers, none bigger than mistakes they forced in the final minutes.
“We knew we had to get stops on defense and we put a lot of emphasis on that in practice,” Hall said. “Just making sure we did what we needed to do. We had a week of prep and we needed every bit of it. It paid off.”
Edwards and Treasure Hunt each had 14 points and Benton 13 for the Wildcats. Edwards also had 14 rebounds in her return from one-game suspension for an academic issue. Kentucky dropped its second in a row after overcoming 1-of-13 shooting in the third quarter to briefly lead.
Kentucky: Just when the Wildcats seized momentum despite some ragged stretches, they went cold at key junctures. Rhyne Howard’s scoring struggles continued as the All-American guard managed just nine points three days after getting 12 against DePaul. The Wildcats did not make a steal and shot 39% while posting a season high in turnovers.
“Louisville was really aggressive defensively,” coach Kyra Elzy said. “They made us play faster than we wanted to play. Some were careless turnovers, some I thought was from their pressure. But I thought they made us play faster than we could think and forced turnovers we usually don’t make.”
Louisville: The Cardinals’ inconsistency squandered leads and prevented them from padding advantages. But their smaller lineup featuring Smith and Van Lith came up big defensively and it resulted in clutch baskets. The Cardinals made 10 steals and finished even on the boards with 37, including 10 by Engstler.
Louisville ensures it will stay in the Top 10 with a tough win. Kentucky could fall after two losses.
Louisville hosts Eastern Kentucky on Thursday in its last tune-up before facing No. 3 UConn.
Kentucky hosts Morgan State on Friday.
More AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25
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