Van Lith Leads No. 10 Louisville To 80-66 Win Over Belmont

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Hailey Van Lith has had some struggles early this season for Louisville, but she believes she’s hitting her stride now.

The sophomore guard considered one of the country’s best players scored 16 points for the No. 10 Cardinals, who beat Belmont 80-66 on Sunday.

That was the most she’s scored since dropping 19 in the season-opening loss to Arizona. Even as the Cardinals (7-1) have rebounded from that loss, Van Lith struggled to find her offense, entering Sunday shooting just 34.8% and averaging 9.4 points per game.

She had arguably her best game of the season. After missing her first two shots, she finished making 7 of 15.

Patience, she said, has been the key.

“I tried not to get freaking out, too over my head, ‘cause it is a young season, and I trust myself and I trust my skills. … So, we’re ready to roll from here on out, and my team can rely on me a little bit more now that I’ve got my flow back,” she said.

Louisville coach Jeff Walz said he was never concerned about Van Lith’s offensive production.

“It’s going to come,” he said. “She works too hard. She’s too good of a player, and she does other things on the floor. … So, it was just a matter of seeing a few of them go in and then getting that confidence.”

After dominating No. 12 Michigan defensively on Thursday, the Cardinals faced a tough challenge from a Bruins (4-4) team that returned all five starters and 11 players from a squad that reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season. The mid-major power trailed only 22-20 with eight minutes left in the first half.

An 11-0 run in the second quarter gave Louisville a 37-22 lead. The lead grew to as much as 64-41 in the final seconds of the third quarter. However, Destinee Wells hit a half-court buzzer-beater to give the Bruins momentum into the final period.

Belmont made 5 of 7 3-pointers in the final quarter and got as close as 72-61 with 4:47 left, but the hole was just too deep. The Bruins shot 45.2% but made just 9 of 29 from beyond the arc.

Belmont coach Bart Brooks said Louisville's length and athleticism challenged his team.

“They cover space so well, so efficiently, so quickly, and they’re really disciplined defensively,” Brooks said. “So, it was difficult for us. Some of our looks early were probably a little bit rushed, a little bit out of rhythm. We found our rhythm offensively in the second half, and really, I think our kids relaxed a little bit.”

Walz said he was disappointed with his team's defense in the final quarter. The Cardinals entered the day ranked second nationally allowing just 43.6 points per game. Belmont scored 42 in the second half.

“We just had some terrible breakdowns,” Walz said. “We just kind of went a little haywire out there and stopped doing what we’ve done for the past seven-and-a-quarter games.”

Offensively was a different story, though, as Louisville shot better than 50% (54%) for the third time this season. Nine players scored for the Cardinals, with six getting at least eight points.

Kianna Smith scored 14 and reached the 1,000-point mark for her career.

Wells scored 19 points to lead the Bruins. All of those came in the second half as the Ohio Valley Conference’s preseason player of the year played just 10:43 of the first half due to two fouls.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Losses by No. 6 Indiana and No. 9 Iowa earlier in the week combined with Louisville's 70-48 rout of the Wolverines on Thursday and Sunday’s solid performance should help the Cardinals move up at least a couple of spots when the new poll comes out Monday.

BIG PICTURE

Belmont: Despite being on the wrong side of the score, the Bruins showed the ability to hang with the Cardinals’ formidable frontcourt, scoring 28 points in the paint and connecting on 19-of-33 shots inside the arc. This should be a team to watch come March should it make it out of the OVC as expected.

Louisville: The Cardinals got a late scare reminiscent of some games last season, but the defense made key plays throughout and making Belmont miss 18 of its first 21 3-point shots made the advantage big enough to sustain.

UP NEXT

Belmont returns home to play Auburn on Wednesday.

Louisville gets a week off to prepare to host rival No. 16 Kentucky.

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