Louisville women's basketball collapses in second half, falling to Ohio State: 3 takeaways

Louisville women’s basketball coach Jeff Walz doesn’t have a starting lineup set in stone.

The No. 18 Cardinals’ starters are dependent on the opponent and what works best defending that team. U of L opted for a smaller lineup of Chrislyn Carr, Mykasa Robinson, Hailey Van Lith, Morgan Jones and Olivia Cochran against fourth-ranked Ohio State on Wednesday at the KFC Yum! Center. For a while it paid off, with the Cardinals going up by as many as 14 during the second quarter.

"I knew Ohio State was going to have four basically four guards out there," Cardinals coach Jeff Walz said. "So we needed to be able to defend on the perimeter, and then knowing that they were going to press as much as they were, you want to try to have four ball handlers in the game whenever you had the opportunity to."

Too many turnovers and missed opportunities cost the Cardinals, however, as undefeated OSU took the 96-77 win over the Cardinals in the final Big 10/ACC Challenge. It’s the team’s worst loss since a 68-48 loss to UConn on March 3, 2014 and ends a 21-game home winning streak.

"They ended up shooting 60 or 59% from the field. Well, you won't beat anybody if you allow somebody to shoot close to 60% from the field and that's our problem," Walz said. "It wasn't just a barrage of threes. It was, we had breakdowns that turn turned into layups."

Louisville (5-3) hits the road to take on Middle Tennessee at 5 p.m. Sunday in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

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Here are three takeaways from the Cardinals’ dominant performance:

Hailey Van Lith returns

U of L's Hailey Van Lith (10) shoots against Ohio State's Jacy Sheldon (4) during their game at the Yum Center in Louisville, Ky. on Nov. 30, 2022.
U of L's Hailey Van Lith (10) shoots against Ohio State's Jacy Sheldon (4) during their game at the Yum Center in Louisville, Ky. on Nov. 30, 2022.

Louisville guard Hailey Van Lith made her return to the court after sitting out against Longwood with an undisclosed injury. Her first shot Wednesday night came at the 6:39 mark of the first quarter and ended in a three-point play as she was fouled on the attempt, putting the Cardinals up 9-3.

Van Lith led the team with 20 points to go along with 10 rebounds and three assists for her second double-double of the year. Four of those points came late in the opening frame after OSU had narrowed the Cardinals’ lead to 15-14. Van Lith started with a layup then nailed two free throws at the 2:12 mark to create separation 19-14.

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Turnovers help, then hurt, Cardinals

The key to Wednesday’s game was turnovers. Louisville opened the game with two but settled in and forced Ohio State into five turnovers for seven points. Jones tracked down a loose ball and took it to the other end of the court for a fastbreak layup and 4-1 lead. She used two more Buckeyes turnovers to record seven of the Cardinals’ first 12 points.

Much like the Cardinals did, OSU capitalized on three U of L miscues to power a 9-0 run to tie the game at 12.

Louisville ended the first half with 17 points off 12 OSU turnovers where the Buckeyes scored nine points off nine Cardinal turnovers.

The trend proved true in favor of the Buckeyes to start the second half. They got off to an 11-5 run on the strength of five Louisville turnovers to cut the deficit to 50-48 after a 3-pointer from Taylor Mikesell, who ended the game with a game-high 26 points on 10-for-16 shooting.

The Cardinals turned the ball over 24 times, with an uncharacteristic eight coming from Van Lith.

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Louisville collapses in third quarter

Louisville’s hot start seemed to carry over into the second half with Carr scoring the first five points of the third quarter. Her 3-pointer off an assist from Van Lith put the Cardinals up 50-37.

But Ohio State used the aforementioned five Cardinal turnovers and wide open looks at the basket to get off an 11-0 run during a three-minute period. Nyla Harris ended the run and Louisville’s scoring drought with a layup at the 6:06 mark, but the Buckeyes weren’t done yet.

The Cardinals’ final lead was 59-57 after a free throw from Cochran with 3:26 to go in the third quarter. Mikesell went 2 for 3 at the charity stripe after being fouled on a 3-point attempt then knocked down a jumper for the 61-59 advantage. The Buckeyes never trailed again.

Louisville kept it close and didn’t let the Buckeyes get too far ahead down the stretch. The Cardinals had a chance to tie the game at 65 to end the quarter but missed on a fastbreak layup.

"They scored more points," Walz said when asked what happened in the third quarter. "We actually came out and executed the first two possessions of the third quarter, and then, defensively, we just we collapsed. Something that we've been talking about all year, we were 296-23 here when we score 70 or more points. 296-23. We scored 77 tonight. We scored enough points to win. We just did not defend."

Ohio State outscored Louisville 28-18 in the third quarter then built on the momentum with a 31-point fourth quarter.

Reach Louisville football, women's basketball and baseball beat writer Alexis Cubit at acubit@gannett.com and follow her on Twitter at @Alexis_Cubit.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Louisville women's basketball collapses vs No. 4 Ohio State