No. 5 Louisville holds off Central Florida, 75-56

GARY B. GRAVES (AP Sports Writer)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- As Louisville draws closer toward matching the best start in program history, coach Jeff Walz quickly warns that his team is a long way from being as good as their record might suggest.

Credit the Cardinals for at least showing resilience, which they needed often against Central Florida.

Shoni Schimmel scored 27 points and Sara Hammond added 22 as No. 5 Louisville beat the Knights 75-56 Wednesday night for its 10th straight victory.

Bria Smith added 10 points as the Cardinals (17-1, 5-0 American Athletic Conference) matched their best 18-game start since the 2008-09 team that began 19-1 and went on to reach the NCAA championship game. This victory took work throughout as Louisville overcame a slow start to build a 23-point lead early in the second half, a cushion that came in handy after the determined Knights (8-8, 1-4) rallied to within 66-55 with 2 1/2 minutes remaining.

Though the Cardinals survived UCF, Walz said there's plenty of room for improvement.

''We're just not at the point where they'll challenge each other,'' he said. ''They're great young ladies. They really like each other. It's probably the best team chemistry I've been a part of in a long time.

''But at the same time, we don't have that person on the floor that's challenging each other, (saying) 'It's unacceptable to not box out. We need you to box out'. ... And that's what we're really trying to find right now.''

Schimmel was just 8 of 22 from the field and 5 of 14 from 3-point range, but made several baskets including one from long range with 40 seconds left to seal the game. The senior guard overtook Jazz Covington for third place on the Cardinals' career scoring list.

Sara Djassi scored a career-high 28 points for the Knights, who shot 35 percent (19 of 55) but still were within reach late before losing their fourth in a row and seventh of eight.

''That was the big thing coming in,'' UCF coach Joi Williams said of her team's approach. ''We know Louisville is an outstanding team. We talked about competing for the whole game. We felt like our last time out we didn't compete very well. We talked about competing every possession and playing hard.''

Louisville shot slightly better at 25 of 60 (42 percent), but a series of missed shots in the second half allowed UCF to get back in the game. But the Knights couldn't get closer than 11 and only got a Djassi free throw over the final 2:43.

The Cardinals outrebounded the Knights 46-34 and outscored them 32-20 in the paint to keep their hot streak alive.

Uneven as it looked in stretches, Louisville did enough good things at other times to extend its roll since losing to then-No. 7 Kentucky on Dec. 1.

Schimmel helped set the tone by continuing her recent offensive tear. Entering the game with a scoring average of nearly 22 points over her past five contests, she added her third straight 20-point effort.

''I didn't really feel it, I just felt like I was open, so I would shoot the ball,'' Schimmel said. ''I was a little too aggressive at some parts, but you know, it's something to learn from.''

Hammond contributed 9-of-13 shooting, while Asia Taylor grabbed nine rebounds as Louisville remained unbeaten in league play and has won by an average victory margin of 15 points. Monny Niamke brought energy and quickness on both ends in 10 minutes, making several backdoor passes for baskets and mixing it up with taller players on defense.

UCF played its second contest without leading scorer Briahanna Jackson, who left the team on Friday for personal reasons and took averages of 17.8 points and 3.14 steals with her. Djassi eagerly picked up the slack against Louisville, scoring 12 of UCF's first 16 points to provide the last of several small leads before the Cardinals closed the half on a 27-10 run for a 42-26 advantage at the break.

The Cardinals eventually stretched their lead to 57-34 midway through the second half before the Knights got within 59-46 thanks to a 12-2 run.

''I wish we could've won the game, but I'm so proud of my team,'' said Djassi, who made 9 of 20 from the field. ''We came back, and we fought until the end.''