LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Courtesy: UofL Athletics) – Hailey Van Lith scored 20 points and Emily Engstler had 19 points and 15 rebounds to lead No. 3 Louisville to a 70-56 victory over No. 23 Virginia Tech on Sunday.
Coming off a one-point loss Thursday at No. 22 North Carolina, the Cardinals (23-3, 14-2) dominated from the start. They led 13-4 less than five minutes into the contest and never trailed against the Hokies (20-7, 12-4).
The win was a big one for the Cardinals as they clinched a double-bye for next month’s Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. The Hokies, with a win, could have passed Louisville for the second seed.
”I was pleased with how we came out and competed,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. ”There was a lot on the line for this game today. If you look at seeding implications, all of it. So, we could have dropped out of being a top-four seed if things went the wrong way, and today was a big game for us.”
Van Lith, a sophomore guard, made 8-of-17 shots and committed just one turnover.
Engstler posted her eighth double-double of the season as the senior wing scored 19 points, one point off her season-high, and grabbed a season-best 15 rebounds. Kianna Smith added 11 points in the victory.
Engstler, a senior transfer from Syracuse, said it was important for the team to come back with a strong performance after the loss to the Tar Heels.
”It’s just like making a mistake in life,” she said. ”Your reaction is what really matters, and I think we react really well to close games like that, losses. I think we do a good job of coming back in the next game and getting our passion back.”
The Hokies (20-7, 12-4) made just 9-of-24 shots in the first half, with none coming in the final 6:06 – and that was despite Olivia Cochran and Liz Dixon, the Cardinals top two post players , both having two fouls.
Walz credited the Cardinals full-court pressure defense, which limited the amount of time the Hokies had to get the ball into 6-6 junior center Elizabeth Kitley.
That defense, which was led by Chelsie Hall applying pressure in the backcourt, shows the roadmap for Louisville’s postseason fortunes, he added.
”We scrambled defensively like we have in the past, and we’ve got to get back to it,” he said. ”How we played Michigan here at home, Kentucky, at UConn. You got to scramble. We’re a really good basketball team. I’ve said I do think we are a good enough team to get to the Final Four, but we’re also good enough to get beat the second round here. And it’s a fine line.”
Louisville would grow the lead to as much as 62-38 in the opening minute of the fourth quarter.
Hokies coach Kenny Brooks said his team did not adapt to the physicality of the game, especially early.
Despite Louisville’s bigs getting in early foul trouble, the Cardinals still outrebounded their guests 43-31 and got 15 offensive boards.
”We need to adjust a little bit quicker, but you know what, we’ll learn from it and get ready for our next opponent, which is going to be a very similar type basketball game,” said Brooks referring to the upcoming game against Miami on Thursday.
Kitley still led the Hokies with 21 points and 13 rebounds, but while she made 7-of-12 shots, her teammates made just 10-of-31.
”We really played how they wanted us to play, not how we should have played,” Kitley said.
Aisha Sheppard was held to just eight points for Virginia Tech. However, the fifth-year guard still became the Hokies all-time leading scorer. She now has 1,792 points, surpassing the 1,791 Renee Dennis scored from 1983-1987.
Louisville celebrated Senior Day on Sunday, but only three of the six seniors or graduate players – Engstler, Hall and Kianna Smith – were honored before the game and then took an impromptu victory lap after the game.
That’s because earlier this week seniors Liz Dixon, Mykasa Robinson and Ahlana Smith announced they would return for next season.
The trio, the team’s top all-season reserves, will take advantage of the NCAA rule granting players who played in the 2020-21 season an extra year of eligibility.
Virginia Tech: After shooting a season-best 58.1% in Thursday’s 49-point victory at Syracuse, the Hokies struggled mightily in Louisville. Louisville’s defense held the Hokies to 39.5% – including just 4-of-17 3-point shooting – on Sunday, and Virginia Tech also committed 14 turnovers.
Louisville: With the win, the Cardinals finished the home portion of their regular-season schedule undefeated. It marks the first time they have done that since they started playing at the KFC Yum Center in 2010. Dating back to last season, Louisville’s 16-game home winning streak is currently the longest in the ACC and one off the longest in school history.
Virginia Tech hosts Miami on Thursday.
Louisville travels to Pittsburgh on Thursday evening.
Copyright 2022 WAVE. All rights reserved.