MTSU rains 3s, Louisville women's basketball loses two straight for first time since 2020

It was raining 3s in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, on Sunday. But none of them went in No. 18 Louisville women’s basketball’s favor.

Middle Tennessee controlled the pace of the game from start to finish, downing the Cardinals 67-49 at the Murphy Center. It’s the team’s lowest point total of the season after averaging 77 points in the previous eight games.

For the first time since dropping contests to Florida State 67-59 and Syracuse 59-51 during the 2019-20 season, U of L has lost consecutive games after sustaining a 96-77 loss at the hands of No. 4 Ohio State on Wednesday.

"We've had teams that might not have scored the ball extremely well, or things like that, but we've always guarded. We are not guarding right now," U of L coach Jeff Walz said. "We'll have stretches where we will and then we'll have just some really bad breakdowns. Every time we have a breakdown, we get scored on. It's part of life. Do I like it? No. It's not much fun to be sitting here 5-4. So, we're just going to have to get back to work and keep grinding. It's going to be a year if we want to be successful that we're going to have to grind it out and get really tough."

Louisville was playing without 3-point sharpshooter Payton Verhulst, who, on Saturday, reportedly entered the transfer portal.

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Louisville (5-4) returns home to play SIUE at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the KFC Yum! Center.

Middle Tennessee went 11 for 26 from 3-point range and Louisville couldn’t keep up. The Blue Raiders hit three consecutive 3-pointers at the beginning of the game, going up 11-6. The Cardinals eventually responded and used a 12-4 run in the final five minutes of the opening quarter to lead MTSU 18-15. Olivia Cochran led the charge with nine points in the first 10 minutes and ended the game with 14 points and seven rebounds before fouling out in the fourth quarter.

U of L's Olivia Cochran (44) shoots against Ohio State's Taylor Thierry (2) during their game at the Yum Center in Louisville, Ky. on Nov. 30, 2022.
U of L's Olivia Cochran (44) shoots against Ohio State's Taylor Thierry (2) during their game at the Yum Center in Louisville, Ky. on Nov. 30, 2022.

Louisville’s final lead was 23-21 around the four-minute mark of the second frame before Jalynn Gregory nailed a corner trey. From there, the Blue Raiders went on a 15-2 run over the final 5 minutes, 56 seconds of the half.

The Cardinals were held scoreless in the final 2:58, missing five shots in the final stretch, a trend that continued in the second half. The team only made four field goals in the third quarter, while MTSU came out of the break and made back-to-back 3-pointers.

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Louisville did, however, out-rebound Middle Tennessee 47-40. It wasn’t enough to generate offense, though, as the team trailed by as many as 20 when Middle Tennessee took a 54-34 lead in the waning seconds of the third quarter. Zyanna Walker made her debut as a Cardinal and made their final two shots of the period, eating away at some of MTSU’s lead 54-36.

Louisville’s offensive struggles snowballed with the team unraveling in the fourth quarter and ending the game shooting 28% from the field. The Cardinals didn’t make any field goals in the final 4:40. Their final points came via two free throws from Hailey Van Lith, who scored 12 points in the contest.

"I thought we took some really good shots," Walz said. "We had some wide open looks. They weren't guarding a few of us out there. I mean, absolutely were not guarding us. You've got to be able to step up and knock down some shots and unfortunately, we just didn't do it."

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: Middle Tennessee rains 3s on Louisville women's basketball in upset