LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Louisville coach Jeff Walz was close to gushing about his team’s defense before saying that throwing opponents off rhythm is what the No. 3 Cardinals do.
They did it again Thursday night, pressuring Pittsburgh into a season-high 35 turnovers and beating the Panthers 81-39.
Emily Engstler had 12 points and 10 rebounds for her fourth double-double, and Hailey Van Lith had 12 points for the Cardinals (13-1, 3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), who have won 13 straight.
Louisville quickly pounced on a Panthers squad playing their first game since Dec. 22, forcing 24 mistakes in the first half alone for 18 points en route to a 40-13 cushion. Overall, Louisville ended up just four forced-turnovers shy of tying the program record set against Northeastern Illinois on Jan. 13, 1992.
The Cardinals had nearly as many points (32) to show for all the mayhem they created.
“It’s what we’ve been doing all year,” said Walz, whose team also had a season-high 19 steals. “We’re defending extremely well, we’re putting pressure on the ball. Now, we didn’t force all 35. There were some unforced turnovers, but I thought we did a really nice job of picking the ball up early, creating some defensive tempo.”
Louisville also held Pitt to season lows in shooting (26%) and points, making it the ninth time in 14 games the nation’s third-ranked scoring defense held an opponent below their scoring average.
The Panthers were scoreless for the first 4 1/2 minutes and hit their first basket less than minute later. They scored in double digits in the final two quarters but never shot better than 28% in any quarter.
“Louisville is the No. 3 team in the country for a reason and they stifled us all game long on the offensive end of the court,” Pitt coach Lance White said. “We turned the ball over way too many times to win against a really good team. We are going to have to limit turnovers moving forward if we want to have a chance to compete in this conference.”
Emy Hayford had eight points for the Panthers (9-5, 0-3), while Rita Igbokwe had six points with 14 rebounds.
Louisville’s stifling defense offset its 40% shooting (28 of 70), though Engstler provided the bright spot by making 5 of 11 from the field with 2 of 4 from long range. She also made a career-best seven steals, converting several into easy layups.
Van Lith made 4 of 11 shots for Louisville. Olivia Cochran had 11 points, while Chelsie Hall and Payton Verhulst added 10 each for the Cardinals.
Louisville played without reserves Mykasa Robinson and Norika Konno, who were in COVID-19 protocols. Pitt was missing sophomore guards Sandrine Clesca and Liatu King, also due to COVID-19 protocols.
Pitt entered the game ranked 10th nationally with 299 free throw attempts but took just 15 against Louisville and made nine. Conversely, the Cardinals were 17 of 18 from the line. … Pitt has lost three ACC games by an average margin of 34.3 points.
Pittsburgh: The effects of the Panthers’ layoff quickly showed as they continually made mistakes that led to easy Louisville baskets, which limited shooting opportunities. The few they managed often missed as well. The upside: Pitt finished even on the boards with 43.
Louisville: Because the Cardinals disrupted the Panthers so often, their cold shooting was almost overlooked. What mattered was that their defense created so many chances. Five players reached double figures for the second time in three games and 10 scored at least one basket, impressive for a shorthanded squad.
“It really boosts everyone’s confidence,” Hall said. “It’s good to see people in practice getting into the game and seeing what they’ve practiced. It’s always fun to see everyone score, make points, get steals and even take charges. It was fun to see everyone score.”
Pittsburgh: Hosts Georgia Tech on Tuesday night to begin a three-game homestand.
Louisville: Visits Miami (Fla.) on Sunday.
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