LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville’s mix of solid passing and outside shooting culminated in a successful debut as the top-ranked team.
Dana Evans scored 21 points, Hailey Van Lith added 18 on six 3-pointers, and the Cardinals Louisville used several small second-half runs to pull away from No. 23 Syracuse for a 67-54 victory Thursday night.
Playing their first game as the nation’s No. 1 women’s team, the Cardinals (13-0, 6-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) countered the taller Orange (7-2, 4-2) by working the ball around the perimeter for opportunities. The patient approach built a slight edge before their 8-0 run over 1:39 in the third, highlighted by consecutive 3-pointers from Van Lith and Evans, provided a 47-38 lead.
Kianna Smith added five points to make it 52-44 entering the fourth, and Louisville followed with a 7-0 run for a 15-point cushion. Syracuse got within nine before Van Lith made another 3 and Evans added five more points to seal the late-night victory just three days after the program earned its first-ever No. 1 ranking.
“The first one is always the toughest,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “We played a really good Syracuse team that was playing exceptionally well. We held them to 54 (points) and I’m proud of the defensive effort our kids gave.”
Van Lith was 6 of 11 from behind the arc while Evans made 3 of 8 and 9 of 20 overall. Olivia Cochran added 11 points, while Van Lith and Elizabeth Dixon each grabbed eight rebounds for the Cardinals. Louisville converted 12 of 27 from long range and 26 of 56 overall (46%), with 18 assists.
Those stats were no small feat against the Orange, whose roster features eight players 6 feet and over including 6-foot-7 center Kamilla Cardoso.
“We just needed to continue to move the ball around, finding each other and getting each other open shots,” Evans said. “But I think what took place in the second half that didn’t take place in the first half would be just getting paint touches, getting into the paint.”
Emily Engstler had 16 points and Cardoso 13 for Syracuse, which had won its previous three games. The Orange shot just 27% in the fourth quarter and finished 39% overall.
“We didn’t transition well out of half-court traps,” said Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman, whose team was 2 of 13 from long range.
Louisville has another challenge on Sunday but made an impressive debut that could keep them at No. 1. Syracuse needs to win at Clemson to stay in the rankings.
Syracuse: The Orange owned the paint as expected, offsetting rough 1-for-8 start from beyond the arc. But they struggled to cut off Louisville’s passing lanes and left the Cardinals open for 3s that made the difference in a low-scoring contest.
Louisville: Facing their tallest opponent this season, the Cardinals wisely didn’t push their luck inside. They played too cautious at times with a lot of dribbling, passing and a reliance on 3-pointers. But the strategy paid off as they made their chances, helped in big part by staying even with the Orange on the boards (35-all).
Syracuse visits Clemson on Sunday.
Louisville visits Wake Forest on Sunday.