TAMPA, Fla. -- Shoni Schimmel stepped up gain when No. 5 Louisville needed her most.
The Cardinals were appreciative Sunday, but just wish it hadn't had to come to that against South Florida.
"It's a good thing, but what we're really trying to get a focus on is putting a 40-minute game together," coach Jeff Walz said after Schimmel scored 25 points, five in them in the final seven minutes to help Louisville (16-1, 4-0) hold off USF 62-54 to remain unbeaten in American Athletic Conference play.
Schimmel's three-point play finished an 11-1 run that enabled the Cardinals to take control for good after USF (8-8, 3-2) trimmed what had been a 17-point second-half deficit to 49-47. Sara Hammond began the spurt with a 3-point play and finished with 14.
"You know, if you want to compete with the best for the best, you can't just rise to the occasion," Walz added. "We're up 17, made a great run in the second half, and then it gets back to two. You can't do that. That's one thing we're really trying to work on."
Courtney Williams led USF with 19 points, but only had four in the second half. Alisia Jenkins had 12 points and 11 rebounds for USF, making all eight of her free throws while leading a 17-2 run that got the Bulls back into the game.
"What really hurt us was we kept putting them at the free-throw line," Walz said. "We're up 17, but I felt like they might have scored 8, 10 points at the free-throw line when we're up. I kept trying to tell our kids, there's no reason to foul. And we're fouling in the offensive end when we miss a shot. ... We did a nice job defending. But it's hard to defend the free-throw line. Those are things we have to learn from."
Despite going 23 of 71 from the field (32.4 percent), the Cardinals won for the ninth straight time since a 69-64 loss to Kentucky on Dec. 1. They also shot 32 percent in last week' 19-point conference victory over Cincinnati.
Schimmel was a key in both games.
The 5-foot-9 senior guard scored 11 straight points over a three-minute stretch this time, making a trio of 3-pointers and adding a layup off a steal, to turn a six-point lead into a 47-30 advantage.
"Schimmel asserted herself. She said it's a two-possession game, I'm the best player on the floor. ... That's what good players do," USF coach Jose Fernandez said. "Up to that point, we had defended her very well."
But just when it looked like Louisville might be on the verge of running away with it, USF launched a methodical comeback. Jenkins made two free throws to finish the 17-2 run that trimmed Louisville's lead to 49-47 with 7:06 remaining, but that was as close as the Bulls would get before Hammond and Schimmel took over down the stretch.
Williams kept USF close early with 15 first-half points on 7 of 10 shooting. But the 5-foot-8 guard went just 2 of 6 the rest of the way and was limited to two points after halftime until scoring in the closing seconds after Louisville had rebuilt its lead to double digits.
Walz said he is not concerned about his team's shooting woes.
"We're getting good looks. We have wide open looks to start the game. It's going to come around," Walz said. "What I'm excited for us about is, the fact we have struggled shooting the basketball, but we're still defending. Courtney Williams is a special player and she gets 15 in the first half and then we hold her to four in the second. Inga (Orekhova) makes one free throw, and that kid can score. I felt like we did a really nice job of defending."
Bria Smith scored 10 points for Louisville, which forced 19 turnovers defensively.
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