ATLANTA – Emily Engstler scored 14 points and hit a layup with three seconds remaining to lift No. 3 Louisville to its 12th straight victory, 50-48 over No. 16 Georgia Tech on Sunday.
In a matchup of the nation’s top scoring defense in Georgia Tech and the nation’s third-best in Louisville, the Yellow Jackets (10-3, 2-0 ACC) were trying to knock off a top-three team for the second time after beating UConn at home on Dec. 9, but Lotta-Maj Lahtinen’s heave from half-court fell short at the buzzer.
Louisville (12-1, 2-0) called timeout with 14.6 seconds remaining and the score tied at 48-all. Engstler gave the Cardinals just their third lead of the game. Georgia Tech led for 33 minutes, 33 seconds.
“I really thought it was going to be the first one to 50," Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “It was not a beautiful game for TV on offense, but defensively it was pretty impressive by both teams."
The game marked a season low in points for Louisville, which got 13 rebounds and seven points from Olivia Cochran. Digna Strautmane scored 13 points and Lorela Cubaj had 12 for Georgia Tech, which was down to seven players because health and safety protocols sidelined four active players on the roster. Four players logged more than 37 minutes.
“No excuses, we aren't making any excuses," Jackets coach Nell Fortner said. “We had our opportunity today, and it just slipped away from us there at the end."
Cubaj’s hook shot put the Jackets up 47-42 with 2:56 left in the game, but Hailey Van Lith, who missed eight of her first nine shots, came out of a Louisville timeout to hit a jumper over an outstretched Cubaj and force a 48-all tie with 35.4 seconds remaining.
Kianna Smith hit a straightaway 3 to open the fourth quarter and trim the lead to 32-30, and Van Lith hit a pair of free throws to tie it before Lahtinen and Strautmane knocked down consecutive 3s to make it 38-33.
Engstler hit a straightaway 3 to give Louisville its first lead at 23-20 early in the third, but Strautmane answered with a left-corner 3 that made it 23-all. A putback by Hermosa pushed the Georgia Tech lead to 26-23 before Cubaj was called for an offensive foul. Walz, upset that Cubaj wasn’t called for a flagrant, was whistled for a technical foul and used a challenge for a video review. The call was upheld.
Walz was likely upset, too, that his team had failed to score on six straight possessions and had four turnovers over that span as the Jackets went up 27-23 with 4:49 left in the third. Mykasa Robinson broke the spell with a layup that made it 27-25, but she committed a turnover and Cochran missed a jumper on the ensuing possessions.
“It was never a game where either team, I’m sure, thought they were out of the game," Walz said. “It was so hard to come by any type of baskets that it was just a grind. We lead for 1 minute, 17 seconds of the game. That’s it. We were just fortunate to lead at the right time."
The first half ended in a 20-all tie, with Louisville shooting just 28.6% from the field and 2 for 9 on 3s. It was a season low in first-half points for both teams. Georgia Tech shot just 30% in the first half.
Louisville: The close game could cause the Cardinals to miss a chance to move past No. 2 Stanford for the No. 1 spot in the poll after South Carolina lost at Missouri. They have remained in the Top 10 for 83 straight polls dating to the 2017 preseason poll. Louisville has been in the AP Top 25 for 112 straight weeks.
Georgia Tech: Lahtinen had seven of the team’s 14 turnovers in the first half. She and Cubaj were relegated to ball-handling duties most of the game. Cubaj, a center, leads Georgia Tech in assists this season and she pulled down 16 rebounds. Of the seven players available, five were regular starters.
Louisville: Hosts Pittsburgh on Thursday and visits Miami next Sunday.
Georgia Tech: Visits Duke on Thursday and hosts Virginia next Sunday.
More AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25