SAN ANTONIO — Dana Evans broke out of a shooting slump in a big way, carrying Louisville to the Elite Eight.
The senior All-America guard matched her career high with 29 points and the No. 2 seed Cardinals advanced to the regional final of the women’s NCAA Tournament for the third straight time with a 60-42 win over sixth-seeded Oregon on Sunday night.
“I knew it would end at the right time, when I needed it to,” Evans said. “My teammates didn’t need me to do what I did tonight (in) in the other games. Everybody has been stepping up. I think everything happens for a reason. My teammates were able to get their confidence and get going and now that I feel like that I’m back to my normal self, I feel like we’re going to be just fine.”
Evans had struggled late in the season and hadn’t played well in the first two games of the tournament. She hadn’t scored more than 15 points in any of the five ACC or NCAA Tournament games before Sunday.
She said former Louisville great Asia Durr had reached out to her over the last few days.
“She sent me a nice text just telling me to just relax, let the game come to me and don’t overthink it,” Evans said. “I took her words, and it worked.”
The Cardinals will face top seed Stanford on Tuesday night in the Alamo Region final.
Louisville (26-3) continued its stellar defensive play, holding Oregon (15-9) to 14 points in the first half, including six in the second quarter.
Evans provided the offense. After going scoreless in the first quarter, she started to heat up. Oregon had freshman Maddie Scherr guarding Evans in the opening period before she hurt her ankle and had to come out of the game. Evans responded by scoring 13 points in the second and ended the period with a nifty drive and dish right before the buzzer to give Louisville a 29-14 advantage at the break.
Oregon rallied in the second half, cutting its deficit to 10 after three quarters. The Ducks were down 41-33 with 50 seconds left in the third after two free throws by Nyara Sabally. But she went down with a left ankle injury 20 seconds later when she stepped on a teammate’s foot. Sabally had to be helped off the court. She didn’t return and finished with a team-leading 14 points.
The Ducks got within 43-37 early in the fourth quarter, but seven straight points by Evans – including two deep 3-pointers – started a 13-0 run that put the game away.
Evans capped her night with a fast-break layup off a spectacular behind-the-back pass from Mykasa Robinson, who stole the ball with a minute left.
“I knew she was about to do something, but didn’t know what it was going to be,” Evans said. “She doesn’t surprise me for what she does for us. Her basketball IQ is really high.”
Oregon was trying to get to its fourth straight Elite Eight and second consecutive Final Four. The Ducks had struggled heading into the NCAA Tournament, dropping five of six before getting to Texas.
“Coach (Jeff) Walz had them ready and they deserved it tonight,” Oregon coach Kelly Graves said. “They played harder tonight and got us on our heels early. We couldn’t quite recover. We made an effort to cut it to six, then they went on a run that we couldn’t recover from. That being said, I’m proud of my team and don’t think a month ago people thought we’d be here.”
The Cardinals hadn’t played well at the start of either of their NCAA games. They trailed by nine after one quarter in the first round against Marist and by 15 against Northwestern.
Louisville didn’t light it up early this time, either, but managed a 10-8 lead after the opening quarter. The teams combined to shoot 9 for 35 in the first 10 minutes.
“I completely changed up the pregame speech. It was more of a plead, `Please play hard,”‘ Walz said. “Whatever I told you to do, just do the opposite because the last two weren’t good at all. So happy how we came out and defended, especially in the first quarter.”
The Ducks missed all nine 3-point attempts in the first half and finished the game 2 for 18.
Graves will travel to Indianapolis in support of his son, Will, who is a walk-on for the Gonzaga men’s team. The unbeaten Bulldogs will play in an Elite Eight game on Tuesday against either Southern California or Oregon.
“We didn’t win a national championship, but maybe they will,” Graves said.