Arkansas to open against Louisville in Maui Invitational

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
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LAHAINA, Hawaii — Arkansas will face Louisville in the opening round of a loaded 2022 Maui Invitational bracket.

The eight-team bracket announced for the November event will include six teams that went to the 2022 NCAA Tournament, including three that reached the Sweet 16.

Arizona faces Cincinnati in the opening round after reaching the Sweet 16 in coach Tommy Lloyd’s first season. Texas Tech, another Sweet 16 team last season, plays Creighton and San Diego State faces Ohio State in the tournament’s return to the Lahaina Civic Center on Nov. 21-23.

The 2020 tournament was held in Asheville, North Carolina, and last year’s was played in Las Vegas.

Arkansas has reached the Elite Eight the past two seasons under coach Eric Musselman.

Louisville beats Michigan 62-50 to return to Final Four

William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports
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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.

BIG PICTURE

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.

Early loss at Louisville on Michigan’s mind ahead of Elite 8

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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WICHITA, Kan. — Michigan’s first loss of the season was a doozy.

The Wolverines were blown out 70-48 at Louisville on Dec. 2, their second-largest margin of defeat.

Nearly four months later, Michigan has a chance to avenge that loss on a grand stage. The third-seeded Wolverines (25-6) face the top-seeded Cardinals (28-4) in the women’s Elite Eight on Monday night with a trip to the Final Four at stake.

Michigan’s players say much has changed since that rough night when the Wolverines committed 24 turnovers and shot 37% from the field.

“It was early on in our season and we were still figuring some things out,” Michigan guard Danielle Rauch said. “Playing at Louisville is a really difficult thing to do. So we definitely were shocked in that situation. But I think we’ve grown a lot since then and gone through a lot of different things throughout this season to prepare us to play them again.”

Michigan’s Naz Hillmon was held to 12 points – nine points under her current average. The first-team All-American said it was the first time she saw such intense defensive pressure.

“We really figured out, you know, if people are doubling and tripling me, how to put people in their best spots to be a contributor to our team and focusing on slowing down the game for us sometimes,” Hillmon said.

Louisville has moved on, but knows Monday won’t be easy.

“I would say we just can’t take that game into account,” Louisville guard Hailey Van Lith said. “We can look at it for things that went well for us, but it’s March. Everyone is going to put their best foot forward, everyone is going to fight.”

The Cardinals also have something to prove, having reached the Final Four three times and the national title game twice but never the championship.

“As a senior, obviously, getting to go to a Final Four would be everything,” Louisville guard Kianna Smith said. “I would say our goal is to win it all. We don’t want to sell ourselves short. We want to do something that Louisville has never done before and that’s win a national championship, but we’re not looking too far ahead. We’re taking it one game at a time and enjoying all the little moments together.”

HILLMON’S RUN

Hillmon is a dynamic interior presence who averages 21.2 points per game on 59% shooting for the season. In three NCAA Tournament games, despite getting extra defensive attention, those numbers have spiked to 22.7 points on 69% shooting.

“We talk about All-Americans and Players of the Year, and Naz Hillmon is still playing, and she is playing her best basketball right now and she’s doing things that are absolutely off the charts,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “I just think she doesn’t want it to end, and she knows at any second it can. … Almost the bigger the game, the more important the game, the more she is able to turn it up. It’s really a special thing.”

ENGSTLER’S INSTINCTS

Emily Engstler is a key part of Louisville coach Jeff Walz’s disruptive defense. Engstler led the ACC with 2.59 steals per game and made the league’s all-defense team.

“I think she is a difference maker,” Barnes Arico said. “You have a 6-2 (listed at 6-1) athlete that she is and can move so well, can block shots so well, can play and probably defend any position one through five. I think he (Walz) gives her the freedom to roam around and to be able to double, to be able to be a pest, to be able to just go run at somebody.”

Engstler also averages 12.0 points and 9.2 rebounds per contest.

FABULOUS FRESHMAN

Michigan guard Laila Phelia scored the go-ahead layup in the final minute against South Dakota on Saturday – an answer to requests by Barnes Arico and teammates that she become more aggressive.

“So once I knew the clock was running down, at that point, I knew I needed to attack the basket,” Phelia said of the shot that put Michigan ahead by two. “And I felt like my teammates gave me a lot of confidence right before I did end up going in, and they told me, now is not the time to hesitate.”

MASKED WOMAN

Louisville forward Olivia Cochran was hit in her left eye in the game against Tennessee on Saturday. A day later, she sat at the podium sporting a black eye that was swollen and mostly closed. She said she will wear a mask against Michigan.

“I’m doing fine,” Cochran said. “The game was pretty physical, but that’s just the sport.”

Cochran averages 8.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game while shooting 51% from the field.

VAN LITH LAUNCHING

Van Lith has been exceptional lately. She’s averaging 21.3 points per game during the NCAA Tournament in three games – up seven points from her overall season scoring average. She had 23 points and six assists against Tennessee.

Harden helps Miami women stun No. 4 Louisville in ACCs

William Howard-USA TODAY Sports
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GREENSBORO, N.C. — Miami was down big late against fourth-ranked Louisville, looking wobbly, tired and on its way out of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament.

Then Destiny Harden took over.

Sparking one of the most improbable and stunning comebacks in the tournament’s history, Harden scored the game’s last 15 points and hit a turnaround jumper at the horn to stun No. 4 Louisville 61-59 in Friday night’s ACC Tournament quarterfinals.

The second-seeded Cardinals led 59-44 with 5:44 left, only to see the seventh-seeded Hurricanes stage a frantic rally that abruptly turned what looked set to be a Louisville win into a wild reversal.

Harden did it almost single-handedly, matching her career high with 27 points on 11-for-15 shooting with 10 rebounds for Miami.

“The performance by Destiny Harden is one for the ages,” coach Katie Meier said, herself still trying to process what had just happened. “It’s one for the ages.”

There was little sign that the Hurricanes (19-11) even had a shot to rally, to the point that even Meier thought her team looked “dead in the water” against a team that had ranked among the nation’s elite all season.

Then everything changed, thanks primarily to a redshirt senior who stayed on the attack and proved unafraid to take the big shots – and even more unwilling to miss.

“I just think it’s March basketball,” Harden said, “And you’ve got to do everything you’ve got to do to win.”

Harden had hit just one second-half shot before going 6 for 6 in the final 4:02. The first huge shot was a game-tying 3-pointer from the left wing with 31 seconds left.

Then, after the Cardinals committed a shot-clock violation, Miami got the ball back with 1.7 seconds left. Kelsey Marshall sent a one-bounce pass to Harden on the right side, with Harden catching and elevating over Hailey Van Lith for a corner shot from a step or two in front of the arc.

“The 3 definitely felt good,” Harden said. “The last shot… it felt good, but I prayed for it to go in.”

The ball caught all net as the horn sounded, with Van Lith immediately raising both hands to her cheeks in disbelief. That’s when orange-clad Hurricanes players began sprinting onto the court and right by Van Lith to run in convoy with Harden across halfcourt and to the far baseline before heading toward the locker-room tunnel.

The scene also included the team mobbing Meier as she did a postgame TV interview as they returned to the court, with players motioning to the crowd and throwing up “The U” hand signs to revel in the improbable moment.

Chelsie Hall scored 13 points to lead the Cardinals (25-4), who missed their last five shots and had five turnovers to watch the lead vanish amid Harden’s onslaught. But all-ACC performers Van Lith (2 for 10) and Emily Engstler combined for 10 of the Cardinals’ 21 turnovers, which tied the team’s season high.

“I wouldn’t say being down on ourselves is a bad thing because we have to be down,” said Louisville’s Kianna Smith, who had 10 points. “Like, that was awful. There’s no question about it.”

BIG PICTURE

Miami: The Hurricanes had won five of six to close the regular season and likely put themselves on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. They beat 10th-seeded Duke in Thursday’s second round, then followed with an even bigger win.

“Safe to say we’re off the bubble?” Meier said to start her postgame news conference.

Louisville: The Cardinals entered the tournament with a top-2 seed for the fifth straight season and with three straight wins, including last weekend’s blowout win at Notre Dame that saw the Cardinals lead 41-3. Yet for the second time this year – the other being No. 3 North Carolina State’s wild second-half comeback to win the lone regular-season meeting – Louisville proved unable to protect a big lead.

“We took some real poor shots, didn’t defend, didn’t guard,” coach Jeff Walz said. “Everything that we needed to do to allow them to come back in the game, we did.”

SEMIFINALS NOTABLES

Miami is in the ACC semifinals for the fourth time since joining the league for the 2004-05 season, most recently with consecutive trips in 2016 and 2017.

As for Louisville, this is the first time that the Cardinals have failed to reach the semifinals since joining the league for the 2014-15 season.

BLOWN LEADS

Miami trailed 52-38 entering the fourth quarter before outscoring Louisville 23-7 the rest of the way. According to ESPN Stats & Info, that matches the largest deficit entering the fourth overcome by any league team this season.

The other was N.C. State’s win against Louisville on Jan. 20 after trailing by a nearly identical score (51-37).

UP NEXT

Miami: The Hurricanes advanced to Saturday’s semifinals to face No. 20 Notre Dame, which beat No. 25 Georgia Tech on Friday night.

Louisville: The Cardinals will have to wait and see where they are seeded in the NCAA Tournament.

No. 4 Louisville women trounce No. 14 Irish in testy matchup

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Neither coach Jeff Walz nor starting guard Hailey Van Lith expected an easy time Sunday when No. 4 Louisville visited No. 14 Notre Dame for their second Atlantic Coast Conference meeting in two weeks.

They certainly didn’t expect to rout the Irish 86-64 on their home court in a game that had some testy moments late in the first half.

“It’s by far our best first half since I’ve been here against a Top 25 team,” Walz said.

“They’re a really good basketball team. I’m going to be shocked if they don’t host the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament,” he said.

The Cardinals led 31-3 after the first quarter, then scored the first 10 points of the second period.

Louisville was up 48-6 when Notre Dame made consecutive baskets, the second by Olivia Miles at 2:49 before halftime after her steal. Miles and Mykasa Robinson then got in a shoving match after exchanging words.

Notre Dame’s Dara Mabrey and Van Lith also were whistled for intentional fouls after a lengthy video review and some heated consultation with Walz and Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey.

“It was just competitive basketball – we both had to protect our players,” Van Lith said. “It was just a heat-of-the-moment thing.”

Said Ivey: “There was a foul and some pushing back and forth.”

“Apparently, Dara must have touched her and pushed her. I obviously don’t condone that. It was probably more of a frustration situation,” she said.

Van Lith and Kianna Smith each scored 20 points. Emily Engstler added 17 and Chelsie Hall had 13 for Louisville.

The Cardinals (25-3, 16-2 ACC) led 41-3 early in the second quarter. They beat the Irish (21-7, 13-5) for the sixth straight time in the conference regular-season closer for both teams.

In their meeting Feb. 13 in Louisville, the Cardinals won 73-47.

Louisville was hoping to tie for the regular-season title if No. 3 North Carolina lost later in the day to No. 23 Virginia Tech. Regardless of that outcome, Louisville will be the No. 2 seed in the ACC postseason tourney and has a double bye to Friday’s quarterfinals.

“It was not the outcome we wanted,” said Ivey, whose team had clinched a double bye to Friday’s quarterfinals.

“Louisville shot lights out. We thought we were ready. They came out amazing. We really didn’t come out until the end of the third quarter,” she said.

Miles finished with 13 points to lead Notre Dame, Maya Dodson and Mabrey scored 12 each and Sonia Citron 10.

As the Cardinals jumped to their quick lead, Ivey tried to stop the Louisville momentum with timeouts and substitutions, but nothing worked.

Louisville made its first seven shots in the opening 4:38 in taking an 18-1 lead. Notre Dame hit just one of 13 shots as former four-time Irish All-American Skylar Diggins-Smith watched from the sidelines.

BIG PICTURE

Louisville: The Cardinals were on their game from the start, particularly from beyond the 3-point line. They hit their first seven 3-pointers during the first quarter and didn’t miss from long distance until early in the second quarter. They finished shooting 58.5% (38 of 65) from the field, including 57.1% on 8-of-14 3-pointers. Louisville also won the battle of the boards 40-22 with Engstler, a grad transfer from Syracuse, adding 10 rebounds to complete her 10th double-double of the season.

Notre Dame: The Irish were hoping to put behind them the bad vibes remaining from the Cardinals’ 73-47 victory two Sundays ago in Louisville. But their bad start from the field — at one point the Irish had one basket in 18 attempts (5.6%). Louisville’s fast start made it a long afternoon at the Purcell Pavilion where Notre Dame was 13-0 prior to the rout. The Irish outscored Louisville 49-32 in the second half and finished shooting 41.5% (22 of 53).

UP NEXT

Louisville: Cardinals have earned double bye as No. 2 seed for ACC Tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina, and play quarterfinal game Friday at 6 p.m.

Notre Dame: Fighting Irish have earned double bye in ACC Tournament and play quarterfinal game Friday at either 11 a.m. or 8 p.m.

South Carolina tops women’s AP Top 25; Mulkey, LSU in top 10

SCOTT CLAUSE/USA TODAY Network / USA TODAY NETWORK
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Kim Mulkey has LSU back in the top 10 for the first time in 13 years as the Tigers moved up three places to No. 8 in the Associated Press women’s basketball poll on Monday.

Mulkey, who won three national titles in 21 seasons as Baylor’s coach, has guided LSU to 23 victories in her first season in Baton Rouge. The Tigers are second in the Southeastern Conference behind South Carolina, the unanimous No. 1 team in this week’s poll.

LSU last was in the top 10 on Dec. 14, 2009 and hasn’t won this many games since finishing the 2011-12 season with 23 victories. The Tigers beat then-No. 17 Florida on Sunday in front of 13,620 fans, the fourth-largest women’s basketball crowd in school history.

The Gamecocks continued their run atop the poll after beating then-No. 12 Tennessee on Sunday to clinch at least a share of the SEC title.

South Carolina was followed by No. 2 Stanford and No. 3 North Carolina State. North Carolina jumped six places in the poll to No. 18 with its victory over Louisville, which dropped a spot to No. 4.

Baylor moved up to fifth. Michigan was sixth and UConn was No. 7. Iowa State was one spot behind LSU, and Indiana rounded out the top 10. The Hoosiers fell five spots after losing twice.

RISING IRISH

Notre Dame moved up five spots to No. 14 – its best ranking since the final poll of its national title-winning 2018-2019 season. The Irish have games left against Clemson and Louisville. Notre Dame also caught a break as its game at Virginia on Tuesday was ruled a forfeit win for the Irish by the Atlantic Coast Conference. The game was originally scheduled for Jan. 25 but postponed because of COVID-19 issues. It’s the second forfeit for Virginia in the last two weeks.

NOT QUITE ENOUGH

Kansas (19-5) remained just outside the Top 25. The Jayhawks have a difficult remaining schedule with Big 12 games against No. 8 Iowa State, No. 5 Baylor, No. 11 Texas and No. 20 Oklahoma. Kansas hasn’t been ranked since 2013.

GAME OF THE WEEK

No. 6 Michigan at No. 21 Iowa, Sunday. The last time the teams met, Caitlin Clark scored 46 points in a losing effort for the Hawkeyes. Michigan would clinch its first Big Ten regular-season crown if it can beat rival Michigan State on Thursday and get past Iowa again.