NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Hailey Van Lith scored 25 points, Payton Verhulst had a steal and the game-clinching free throws with 2.2 seconds left and No. 7 Louisville escaped Belmont with a 75-70 win on Sunday night.
The Cardinals scored the last four points of the game from the foul line after Belmont lost possession when Madison Bartley was called for an illegal screen with 7.6 seconds to play.
Van Lith made a pair of foul shots with 6.4 seconds to go and on the ensuing half-court inbounds play the Bruins got the ball to Bartley in the left corner. She drove the baseline, hoping to find Sydni Harvey in the right corner but she was cut off by Olivia Cochran, who got a hand on the pass, allowing Verhulst to dart in and intercept it.
“A game like this shows that we have to continue to compete, continue to grind, continue to push,” said Louisville coach Jeff Walz. “We are going to continue to play good teams, our league is tough and you cannot take a night off. You have to come in with a mentality that it is going to be a battle and that is why I scheduled this game here. We have a pretty darn good schedule that is going to challenge us and hopefully get us prepared for the ACC season.”
The final margin was the largest for the Cardinals (2-0) in a game that featured 17 ties and 20 lead changes. Belmont (1-1) had a six-point lead late in the second quarter.
“They are really talentend and have seasoned veteran players,” Belmont coach Bart Brooks said. “They made plays down the stretch to win the game. We did enough good things to put ourselves in position to win and we didn’t quite connect on a couple possessions down the stretch.”
Destiny Wells hit a jumper to put Belmont on top 68-67 with 2:17 to play. Mykasa Robinson scored off an inbounds play under the basket and Cochrane made a pair of free throws at 1:02 for a 71-68 lead. Wells made a layup with 44 seconds to go and the Bruins got the ball back after Van Lith missed a jumper from the left elbow with 26 seconds remaining.
Wells was on the left wing, attempting to drive to the top of the key when the illegal screen was called.
Cochran added 13 points and Chrislyn Carr had 11 for Louisville, which shot 41% but was 20 of 21 from the foul line, including making all 14 in the fourth quarter.
Wells scored 20 points for the Bruins (1-1) and Harvey and Tuti Jones had 15 each. Belmont was 15 of 18 from the line and shot 52%. While the Cards were making their free throws in the fourth quarter, Belmont was 7 of 12 from the field with three 3-pointers.
Carr hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to cap a 9-0 run that put the Cardinals on top 37-34 at halftime. Belmont had a 34-28 lead on Harvey's 3-pointer at the 2:46 mark. Robinson responded with a three-point player and Merissah Russell hit a 3-pointer to put Louisville back on top.
Louisville: The Cardinals survived a test from a frequent NCAA Tournament team, which is good with the Bad Boy Mowers Battle for Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas next weekend and a visit from No. 14 Ohio State at the end of the month.
Belmont: Though a disappointing loss, the Bruins played better than they did in having to fight back from a 14-point deficit to win their opener over Chattanooga 56-54. With 12 postseason teams from 2022 on the schedule and 11 teams that won 20 games, Belmont proved it is ready to go after its seventh NCAA berth since 2016.
Louisville will play Gonzaga on Saturday in the first of three games in the Bahamas.
Belmont stays in state, going to play Middle Tennessee on Wednesday to start a five-game road trip, with the following game at No. 4 Iowa on Sunday.
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