LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Dana Evans scored 27 points, including five late, to lead No. 1 Louisville to a 71-65 victory over Notre Dame on Sunday.
The Cardinals (18-1, 11-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) won their second straight, and their lone senior was a major reason why. A national player of the year candidate, Evans scored 16 of her points in the first half to help Louisville take a 42-34 lead at the break.
It’s the sixth time in Louisville’s last seven games that she’s scored at least 20. Louisville Jeff Walz thinks his guard who leads the ACC in scoring has more than made a case to win the conference Player of the Year award for the second consecutive year.
“I know we’ve got (five regular season) games left, but I don’t anticipate her to change anything that she’s doing, but.she’s our one that’s got these big game experiences, these clutch shots when there’s pressure on them,” he said.
That was especially true Sunday when Louisville needed big shots from her.
Louisville grew the lead to 11 less than 90 seconds into the second half. However, the Fighting Irish (8-8, 6-6) cut that to 52-50 with 3:16 remaining in the third quarter thanks to three consecutive layups by Olivia Miles.
Notre Dame had a couple of chances to tie or take the lead on ensuing possessions, but Louisville eventually responded with a 9-0 run to answer that challenge. Still, the Irish remained in the game.
Despite Louisville holding Notre Dame to just 39 percent shooting, Walz said his team had way too many defensive breakdowns in the second half that led to easy buckets.
A 3-pointer by Dara Mabrey would cut the Louisville lead to 66-65 with 1:41 left. Evans, though, responded with a 3 of her own with 57 seconds remaining. She then iced the game with a pair of free throws with 13 seconds left.
The last-minute 3-pointer made Evans the 11th Louisville player to eclipse the 1,500-point career scoring mark.
“I just knew I needed to make a play, whether that was to score the ball or get somebody an open shot,” Evans said. “Coach called a double screen, and then the first screen I came off, they didn’t pick me up. So, I just took the shot.”
Kianna Smith added 16 and a career-high five steals. Elizabeth Balogun finished with 12 points.
Miles was one of four players to score 10 points as the Irish had a balanced scoring attack. The seven Notre Dame players who scored all had at least eight points.
Irish coach Niele Ivey said she was inspired by the way her team played against one of the top teams in the country, but the Cardinals made the big plays when they needed them.
“Dana Evans was phenomenal,” she said. “She’s definitely the best guard in the ACC, and I think she proved tonight (with) 27 points that she’s one of the best guards in the country.”
The Cardinals home loss to N.C. State Monday will likely mean they fall from the top spot when Monday’s poll comes out. However, Louisville should remain in the top five as they have all season.
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish hung in there with the Cardinals throughout the game. However, while they held Louisville to 40 percent shooting, they could not make the stops when they needed to and lost their third straight contest.
Louisville: The Cardinals saw the return of Balogun and Olivia Cochran, both of whom missed Thursday’s game at Boston College. Cochran suffered a slight injury in practice before the contest, while Balogun was training with the Nigerian national team for the upcoming Olympics. Both came off the bench Sunday, and Cochran finished with 11 rebounds.
Notre Dame plays at N.C. State on Feb. 15.
Louisville hosts Georgia Tech on Thursday night.