WICHITA, Kan. – Hailey Van Lith scored 22 points, Olivia Cochran made a series of crucial baskets in the final minutes, and Louisville held off Michigan 62-50 in a physical game Monday night to return to the Final Four for the fourth time in program history.
Chelsie Hall added 15 points and Emily Engstler balanced out a poor shooting night with 16 rebounds and some big plays on defense, helping the top-seeded Cardinals (29-4) advance to face South Carolina next weekend in Minneapolis.
The No. 3 seed Wolverines (25-7) were within 52-50 with less than 3 minutes to go when the Cardinals, using some nifty ball movement to get out of a half-court trap, found Cochran for an easy layup. Then at the other end, Michigan star Naz Hillmon was called for charging, and Cochran added another bucket to give Louisville some breathing room.
The Cardinals finished off their second win over the Wolverines this season from the foul line.
Hillmon finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds for the Wolverines, who held their first three tourney opponents under 50 points to reach their first regional final, but were unable to hold down the Cardinals for the full 40 minutes.
The start resembled the two teams’ matchup in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge – much to the Wolverines’ chagrin – as coach Kim Barnes Arico’s team missed its first eight shots and allowed a heavily pro-Louisville crowd to get energized.
Unlike that game in January, though, when the Cardinals unspooled a 25-2 run spanning the first two quarters and cruised to a lopsided 70-48 victory, the Maize and Blue decided to put up a fight with the Final Four at stake.
Maddie Nolen came off the bench to drop two 3-pointers. Hillmon went to work inside, getting easy buckets at the rim when she wasn’t getting the Cardinals in foul trouble. And talented freshman Laila Phelia, who perhaps best epitomizes the direction of a program on the rise, managed to shake her defender for a couple of easy baskets.
The problem for Michigan soon became turnovers – hardly surprising given the Cardinals had forced more than 20 a game in the tournament. So while the Wolverines were stingy in the half court defensively, Louisville capitalized on 11 turnovers with 14 points in transition, and that helped Jeff Walz’s crew take a 30-27 lead into the break.
The biggest reason Michigan was able to hang around despite 22 turnovers and atrocious 3-point shooting was a massive disparity at the foul line. The Wolverines were 15 of 20 on their free throws while the Cardinals shot just five total until they were sent there for four more in the final minutes.
Michigan has made big strides under Barnes Arico, reaching the Sweet 16 last season and getting within one win of its first Final Four this season. Young players such as Phelia show there is much more to come in Ann Arbor, too.
Louisville has never won a national championship despite becoming a perennial contender under Walz over the past 15 seasons. The Cardinals get another shot to finally cut down the nets.