LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP)As the final minute ticked down, Louisville fans chanted “ACC! ACC!” to signify the program’s first outright conference regular-season title in nearly 20 years.
The celebration started a little early, thanks to the strong start by the No. 5 Cardinals.
Kylee Shook matched a season high with 18 points and added 10 rebounds as Louisville beat Boston College 68-48 to clinch the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title.
The Cardinals (26-3, 15-2), who also won a share of the last two ACC titles, claimed the program’s first outright regular-season crown since winning Conference USA in 2001. And they did that while short-handed, as starters Dana Evans and Elizabeth Balogun missed their second straight games due to ankle injuries.
Bionca Dunham, another starter, was limited to just 14 minutes due to a knee issue she’s battled all season.
“These kids have been unbelievable,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “It just shows the character and the fight that they have.”
Louisville made seven of its first nine shots and jumped out to an 18-6 lead. Boston College closed the first quarter on an 8-0 run, cutting its deficit to 20-17. The Cardinals then used an 18-3 run in the second quarter to put the game away.
Senior Jazmine Jones added 17, and redshirt senior Yacine Diop scored 13 in the win.
Shook, also a senior, said getting off to a strong start was key, especially without Evans and Balogun.
“Those are two significant players on our team,” she said. “These games coming forward, and this game, were very important. So, we knew, us being upperclassmen, we had to lead the way and just go out hard.”
In the closing seconds of the first half, the 6-foot-4 Shook got a steal in Boston College’s backcourt, dribbled down and hit a buzzer-beating jumper that gave Louisville a 46-24 lead, their largest of the half.
Walz said he could have played both Evans and Balogun, as they had been cleared, but the big second quarter run gave him the luxury of giving them the night off. They’ll still be game-time decisions for Sunday’s game against Virginia Tech.
The Eagles (17-11, 10-7), who had their five-game winning streak snapped, were led by Tyler Soule’s 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Boston College committed 23 turnovers that led to 29 points for the Cardinals. Fourteen of those came in the first half as Louisville outscored the Eagles 23-2 off turnovers before the break.
“I thought in the first half, we looked like we were on a different page, both offensively and defensively, and we just didn’t play as hard as we’ve been playing,” Eagles coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee said.
With No. 4 Stanford falling earlier this week, Louisville’s short-handed win could help them climb over the Pac 12 school in next week’s poll, but the Cardinals will also need to win Sunday for that chance.
Boston College had a chance to set a record for wins in February, but the Eagles will settle for tying the 1986-87, 1987-88 and 2003-04 teams with six victories in the month.
Boston College: The Eagles had earned their way onto the NCAA Tournament bubble thanks to seven wins in their last eight games entering Thursday. Unfortunately, the league’s third-worst defense allowed the Cardinals to shoot 60.6% in the first half and kept the Eagles from competing for what would have been a signature victory.
Louisville: In the two games the Cardinals have played without leading scorer Evans and Balogun, fourth on the team in scoring, they’ve scored 95 first-half points. While that’s been against two of the worst defenses in the ACC, it’s an indication this team may be starting to peak as postseason play draws near.
Boston College: Closes out the regular season at Syracuse on Sunday afternoon.
Louisville: Wraps up the regular season hosting Virginia Tech on Sunday afternoon.
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