GREENSBORO, N.C. – Fifth-ranked Louisville didn’t get the same offensive punch from two-time Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year Dana Evans to start the league tournament.
The Cardinals showed they have the depth to overcome that in the postseason.
Freshman Hailey Van Lith scored a season-high 24 points and helped Louisville pull away in the fourth quarter to beat Wake Forest 65-53 in Friday’s quarterfinals, winning despite Evans’ shooting struggles.
Evans – selected again as the ACC’s top player earlier this week – struggled to eight points on 3-for-15 shooting to mark the first time she had failed to hit double figures all year. But the Cardinals (22-2) got boosts from Van Lith, as well as reserves Ramani Parker and Ahlana Smith at key moments in a welcome sign for coach Jeff Walz.
“I told them before we came down here, I said, `A lot of people are going to get the chance to play’ because you can’t just play six or seven 40 minutes, three days in a row,” Walz said. “It’s impossible. And then I said, `I don’t care if I give you 30 seconds, two minutes, four minutes – you’ve got to make a positive impact.”
It started with Van Lith, who made 9 of 15 shots and hit 6 of 10 3-pointers. That included two during the decisive 13-0 run that finally broke the tournament’s top seed loose from a tie game, a burst that began with Evans on the bench.
“Obviously we want to have Dana out there,” Van Lith said, adding: “But if it’s a different situation, we can extend leads and we can step on teams.”
Louisville had barely avoided a huge upset against the Demon Deacons while carrying a No. 1 ranking in January, surviving on a late three-point play from Evans and a final-play missed 3-pointer by the Demon Deacons for the win.
They had trouble again with ninth-seeded Wake Forest (12-12), which entered the tournament as a bubble team and seeking a marquee win.
Ivana Raca had 13 points to lead Wake Forest, which shot 31% and made 3 of 18 3-pointers a day after knocking down 10 3s in a win against North Carolina.
“There’s such a small (margin for error) against the top 10 teams in the country,” Demon Deacons coach Jen Hoover said.
“To become one of those, you’ve got to beat one of them. I think we came in and we knew our game plan, we paid attention to it. And we just couldn’t knock down some of those shots we needed to fall.”
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons are hoping to make just their second NCAA Tournament and first since 1988. They helped their chances with Thursday’s win against the Tar Heels, but they couldn’t add what would have been a marquee win. That dropped the Demon Deacons to 0-8 all-time in the series and 0-64 against top-5 opponents.
“I think there’s no doubt that we should be in the tournament,” point guard Gina Conti said.
Louisville: The Cardinals entered the tournament with the top seed for the third time in four seasons, edging out third-ranked North Carolina State for the regular-season title by a small win-percentage margin. This game was tied at 44 entering the fourth quarter, but the Cardinals responded by shooting 60% in the final 10 minutes while holding the Demon Deacons to 3-for-14 shooting.
Van Lith, a 5-foot-7 guard, made more 3s than in her previous seven games. She had missed 16 of 20 shots overall in her past two games. … Parker, a 6-foot-4 redshirt freshman averaging 3.1 points, scored six points on 3-for-3 shooting for Louisville – including the score to start the 13-0 run. … Smith hit a 3-pointer during the run for her only basket. … Wake Forest freshman Jewel Spear had 12 points a day after going for a season-high 29 with seven 3s against UNC. … Wake Forest made 18 of 23 free throws compared to Louisville going 0 for 2.
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons must wait to find out whether they’ve done enough to earn an NCAA bid.
Louisville: The Cardinals advanced to Saturday’s semifinals to face Syracuse, which beat Florida State on a putback at the buzzer.