LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Dana Evans found her shooting touch, Oregon lost a couple of key players to injuries, and the University of Louisville women’s basketball team hustled its way to a third consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight with a 60-42 victory in San Antonio Tuesday night.
Evans didn’t score in the first quarter, then took the game over after that, finishing with a career-high 29 points, punctuated with a pair of long third-quarter threes after Oregon had cut its deficit to six.
But it was his team's defense and rebounding that Cardinals coach Jeff Walz wanted to praise after the victory.
"What an unbelievable effort tonight defensively and on the backboard," he said. "We're giving up probably five inches at the five spot, then we're probably giving up about seven inches at the four spot to start the game. I thought we came out and just competed, did a great job. Our guards did a great job of pressuring the basketball, which we had talked about for the past two days. Our ball pressure had to be elite, and it was. To force Oregon to try to start their offense further out, not let them get simple high-lows or side entries into the post. Our guards did a great job of that."
Evans' night was capped by a Mykasa Robinson steal and a highlight-reel behind the back pass to Evans for a layup that put the Cardinals up 20.
"I have great teammates," Evans said. "They are always supporting me no matter how bad I play or whatever is happening. They are always working and I know that I can rely on them."
Evans said an off-day text exchange with Asia Durr encouraged her to relax and have fun, to let the game come to her. Walz said it demonstrates the family nature of the Louisville program.
"We've been a program here that's been pretty darn good for the past 14 years," Walz said. "We have players that come through here that know this is a family. They stay in touch with each other. That starts with Angel McCoughtry. Angel is the first one to send me a text, the first one you'll see things up on social media congratulating us. It's pretty remarkable. Our alum have tremendous pride in what this program stands for."
Louisville began the game looking to establish tempo, and it did. After slow starts in its past two games, it led 10-8 after the first quarter on Sunday, then stretched the lead to 10 on eight straight points to open the second, with a spark from Elizabeth Balogun and Norika Konno off the bench.
"I completely changed up the pregame speech," Walz quipped. "It was more of a plea, like, Please play hard. Basically whatever I told you to do, just do the opposite because the past two of them were not good at all. I was really happy with how we came out and defended especially in that first quarter."
The Cards were helped a bit by some horrible luck for Oregon. Maddie Scherr, last year’s Kentucky Miss Basketball and Oregon’s only point guard, had to leave the game with an ankle injury in the first half. In the third quarter, Nyarra Sabally, whose 10 points and 6 rebounds in the third quarter helped Oregon cut into the Louisville lead, left the game with an injury and did not return.
Facing a size disadvantage, Louisville needed to use speed to its advantage. It forced 14 Oregon turnovers and outscored Oregon 21-2 off turnovers.
And in the end it was defense that allowed Louisville to preserve its lead. After Oregon cut its deficit to six, a defensive stop and a three-pointer by Evans extended the lead out to 9. A steal by Elizabeth Dixon allowed Evans a chance to drive and get to the free-throw line. She made the first but missed the second, but Robinson flashed through the lane, grabbed the offensive rebound and saved the possession, which ended in another Evans three to put Louisville up 13. And that was that.
"Our ball pressure has gotten a lot better, which is where it first has to start. It's got to start with ball pressure. Then just really proud, Olivia Cochran and Liz Dixon, you know, aren't going to get a ton of credit or a bunch of praise because everybody likes to look at what people do offensively.
The night in the end was about the return of Evans, who went 3 of 8 from 3-point range and shot 52% from the field after struggling offensively for most of the postseason. The Cards also got 10 points from Kianna Smith.
"One of the things I kept trying to explain to her and tell her was, you've got to let the game come to you," Walz said. "When you do that, you're going to be able to get shots in rhythm. When she gets shots in rhythm, she's able to knock those down. I thought our team did a great job. We set some great screens for her. It was really, really exciting for her."
Louisville now heads to the Elite Eight, will it will face top overall seed Stanford on Tuesday night at 9 p.m.
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