How bad is Pitt Panthers women’s basketball? For two seasons in a row, Jeff Walz has been able to hold players on the bench for lack of need. Last season it was Asia Durr with a tweaked knee. This time, Dana Evans and Elizabeth Balogun were benched as a precautionary measure (and for increased healing time) after sprained ankles suffered against Georgia Tech.
Echoing last season, the presence of two of Jeff Walz’s top contributors was not required as the Cards steamrolled their way to a 79-47 victory to secure their eighth-consecutive 25+ win season.
Occupying their unusual places on the bench, it’s possible that Evans and Balogun were smacking their lips with hunger. The Sunday brunch buffet was open at the Petersen Events Center, but with one caveat. Only one team was allowed through the buffet line at a time.
The Panthers were allowed to strike first on a Dayshanette Harris three pointer while it took the Cardinals a couple of minutes to get their bearings. An 0 for 3 start from the field was followed by a 4 for 4 stretch that put the Cards on an 8-0 run that drew a Lance White timeout for Pitt. The Panthers weren’t quite ready to go away, and Louisville wasn’t quite ready to send them there. The Cards embarked on a 2 for 10 stretch that allowed the Panthers to draw back within a point thanks to a Jahsyni Knight half court three pointer at the horn.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, that dramatic shot and the interior play of Pitt freshman center Rita Igbokwe were the only bright spots. Louisville rocketed out to an 18-2 run over the first half of the second quarter before allowing Pitt to string together an 8-0 run that drew a Walz timeout. But that, as they say, was that.
By the end of the first half the Cards sported a 39-24 lead. Kylee Shook was already two points and two rebounds away from a double-double, and Yacine Diop was a mere four points off of her season high of 14 points. While Mykasa Robinson had zero points, that wasn’t the stat she was aiming for. The steady sophomore already had five assists and four rebounds as she easily settled into her assigned role in Dana’s absence.
By the third quarter, the bell had been rung and even with 15 minutes to play the Cardinals bench started to empty. A 14-0 run to start Q3 stretched over the first five minutes of the quarter before Pitt could find an answer. Despite the effort, the Cards managed to outscore the Panthers 24-5 in the third as the likes of Lindsey Duvall, Molly Lockhart, and Jessica Laemmle took to the court.
Some garbage time late in the fourth quarter allowed the Panthers to put together a run that allowed freshman standout Harris and veteran Gabbie Green to creep into double figures, but the decision had long been made. Kylee Shook’s 17 point, 10 rebound double-double marks her ninth of the season, made her the leading scorer, and added her to the list of four Cardinals in double figures. Yacine Diop tied her season (and UofL career) high of 15 points while Jessica Laemmle earned her career-high of nine points in the fourth quarter alone.
Every Cardinals player that saw the court managed to get into the scoring column while also holding their third-straight opponent to 50 or fewer points; the eighth such time they’ve done that this season. Yacine Diop and Mykasa Robinson, to put it simply, looked quite good. It was perhaps strategic that Walz left Robinson and Diop in the game late in order to better develop as the post-season approaches. Robinson saw 35 minutes of action while Diop saw 31. That level of back court depth at this point in the season should have Cards fans in ecstasy.
Now just two games remain before the Cards travel to North Carolina for the ACC tournament. Thursday at home against Boston College will be followed by senior night next Sunday versus Virginia Tech. The win at Pitt marks Louisville’s eighth-consecutive 25+ win season and keeps them a game ahead of N.C. State. The Wolfpack have a game in hand as they face Duke tomorrow night before facing the ever-present Syracuse next Thursday.
The goal for the Cards will be to see Evans and Balogun back on the court against Boston College, if only to put to rest any fears of a lengthy convalescence. Louisville women’s basketball has an ACC regular season title well within their grasp, and the path looks quite clear to the top seed in Greensboro next week.