LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP)For three minutes late in the game, Jazmine Jones sat at the end of Louisville’s bench with team trainers feverishly working to relieve a cramp in her quad. She got back out on the court just in time to save the No. 7 Cardinals on Sunday.
The senior scored 24 points to lead Louisville to a 62-58 victory over of Syracuse in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener for both schools. Her free throws with 1:19 left, 22 seconds after she returned from the cramp, gave the Cardinals (12-1) the lead for good as the teams traded the lead in the fourth quarter.
The Orange (6-6) trailed by as many as 11 in the second half, but they took a 58-57 advantage with 2:37 left on Amaya Finklea-Guity’s basket.
Louisville forced a held ball and a turnover in the final minute to help secure the victory in its first home game since Nov. 24.
“We didn’t give them one clean look in the last minute of the game, when they had to get one,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “And that’s a tribute to these kids, saying ‘We’re not going to let them have it.’”
Jones served as the only offensive threat for the Cardinals in the first half as she scored 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting before halftime. Her teammates, meanwhile, made just 5-of-29 during that span.
She finished just one off her career high as she shot 8-of-12 from the floor. Jones credited associate head coach Stephanie Norman for the scouting report that indicated mid-range jumpers would be available against Syracuse as seven of her baskets came at the elbow or near the free-throw line.
“She was telling us all through practice, the pull-up is going to be there… just get there, it’s money,” Jones said. “Because she knows everybody on this team can hit a pull-up jumper.”
Elizabeth Balogun added 13 for the Cardinals. She got a key putback after missing two free throws with :31 left to make it a three-point lead.
“Louisville’s a very good basketball team, they’re top 10 in the country for a reason,” Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman said. “We made mistakes, and they make you pay.”
The Orange led by as many six in the first quarter and 20-19 after a period. Kiki Lewis led Syracuse with 14 points. Teisha Hyman added 12, nine of which came in the final quarter.
Despite their .500 record, Syracuse, which beat a ranked Michigan State squad nine days ago, is one of the more battle-tested teams in the country. As such, the narrow win should not effect Louisville’s spot in the top 10 for Monday’s poll.
Louisville marked the third of four straight contests for Syracuse against ranked competition. Already, the Orange has faced six foes ranked in the Associated Press poll, including then top-ranked Oregon and a Stanford when it was ranked third.
Louisville and the upcoming game against Florida State were going to happen because of the ACC schedule, but Hillsman said he added the other ranked opponents to help his team prepare for the rigors of conference play.
“I scheduled this schedule on purpose because I didn’t want our team to get a false sense of reality,” he said. “It’s no fun when you see these scores 107-34. I don’t think its good for our game. I don’t think it’s good to watch.”
Syracuse: Despite some early success, the Orange still struggled on offense. However, they were able to hang with the Cardinals thanks to their pressure defense that kept the Cards from finding any rhythm on offense.
Louisville: The Cardinals played their first game in 10 days and showed some signs of rust as they shot just 34.9%. Some rust showed on defense as well as missed assignments allowed the Orange, which came into Sunday making just 29.2% of their 3-pointers, to make 3-of-6 in the first quarter. It also allowed the Orange to make some key buckets in their fourth quarter comeback.
Syracuse will host No. 8 Florida State on Thursday night, the first home game for the Orange since Dec. 8.
Louisville travels to Clemson on Thursday night.