LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Houston guard Jessieka Palmer and her struggling teammates got together before the Cougars' game with No. 3 Louisville and talked about how players like competing against some of the best.
Though the Cougars lost to the host Cardinals again Wednesday night, 81-62, it was a much more competitive game than the previous meeting in Houston, an embarrassing 93-52 defeat on Jan. 21.
"We talked before the game about how the best players want to play against the best," said Palmer. "We knew Louisville was No. 3 in the nation and we wanted to give it our all."
Houston (5-21, 1-14 American Athletic Conference), a loser in 14 of its last 15, hung with the Cardinals for a while, trailing 38-27 at halftime. A late 14-5 surge over the last 6-plus minutes of the first half gave the Cardinals (26-2, 14-1) all the momentum they needed.
Sophomore forward Marche Amerson's 3-point jumper from the left side got the Cougars to 24-22 with 7:45 in the first half. However, Sara Hammond — who led the Cardinals with 17 points, six rebounds and two steals — scored five points during the late first-half run.
Every time it seemed Houston would make a run, Louisville would respond. The Cougars pulled to 55-42 on a rebound basket by Tyler Gilbert, who had eight points off the bench and six rebounds. But the Cardinals had too much.
Louisville did what it has done many times this season, going on a run. The Cardinals outscored the Cougars 21-8 to extend the lead to 76-50 with 4:18 to play.
"We were forcing up too many 3s, just off the dribble," Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. "We were dribbling way too much in the first half. I told them we need to shoot the 3 inside-out. We did a really nice job of getting (the ball) in the post. We made some pull-up jump shots and in turn, we shot a much better percentage from the field."
Louisville's Shoni Schimmel, who eclipsed the 2,000 point mark with 15 points, scored four during the run. Freshman Emmonni Henderson had five of her 12 points during the spree.
"I thought we battled hard," Houston interim coach Wade Scott said. "We played a little short. You plug one hole and they (Louisville) open up two more. They spurted on us a couple of times. The last time we just didn't have enough to get over the mountain."
Amerson led Houston with 23 points while Palmer added 16. The Cougars had trouble with Louisville's pressure, totaling 20 turnovers. The Cardinals scored 22 points off those turnovers and outscored Houston 36-24 in the paint, along with 18 second chance points.
"Louisville is a great team," Palmer said. "They score in a variety of different ways. We got in foul trouble towards the end of the game and we weren't able to get the momentum back."
Houston, which dressed only 10 players for the game, had four players foul out — including starters Destini Texada and Te'onna Campbell.
"I wasn't pleased with that," Scott said. "We were a little short-handed but we were able to overcome that."
The Cardinals shot 42.9 percent from the field but were held to just 3-for-16 shooting on 3s. Louisville also outrebounded Houston 47-35.
Houston shot 25 percent (21 for 60) from the field, including 5 for 17 on 3s.