Van Lith gets 21, Louisville in Sweet 16 after beating Zags
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Hailey Van Lith claims she’s not much of a dancer, but her moves Sunday kept Louisville around for at least another weekend.
The sophomore guard scored 21 points for Louisville in its 68-59 win over Gonzaga on Sunday. However, it was the emotional lift she provided to the top-seeded Cardinals that also helped them avoid the upset bug in the second round of the women’s NCAA Tournament.
“Haley loves the moment,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “She loves to be in that moment.”
The moment for the Washington State native came in the third quarter, where she scored 10 in a decisive 15-3 run that broke open the game midway through the period. After burying one of her three 3-pointers from the wing, she turned to the fans and threw three fingers over her head.
“I know I’m not much of a dancer, so I’m not sure I did a pirouette,” the 5-7 All-ACC player said. “But you know, I’m very passionate about basketball, and I really love to play. And this is the tournament that you live for, you know? I care about my teammates a lot, and so I want to win.”
Playing in front of a loud home crowd of 10,414 for the last time this season, the top-seeded Cardinals (27-4) jumped out to a 14-0 lead less than 4:30 into the game, thanks to a pressure defense that sped up the Bulldogs. The Zags (27-7) not only weathered the storm but also answered with a 12-0 run of their own.
Eventually, Gonzaga even took the lead three times in the second quarter. Louisville coach Jeff Walz said he knew that the Bulldogs would battle back, but his players trying to land knockout blows also helped.
However, the same pressure defense that knocked the Zags on their heels early eventually led to their season ending as well.
“We did lose a little gas” in the second half, said junior guard Kaylynne Truong.
After being held to just six points in the first half, Van Lith would not be denied in the second. She scored eight straight points in 1:45 stretch of the third quarter that started the run. She would cap that spurt with two more free throws to make it 51-33 with 3:00 left in the period.
Gonzaga (27-7) never got back within eight points the rest of the way.
Zags coach Lisa Fortier recalled seeing Van Lith at high school camps and recalled seeing glimpses of the energy and intensity she showed on the floor Sunday night.
“She played a really tough game,” the eighth-year coach said. “She’s so intense, and (for) some people, intensity takes them out of it… I haven’t watched her career closely enough to know this, but I think based on today, the intensity rose, and she rose to that occasion.”
Van Lith, who made 8 of 17 shots, was one of four Louisville players in double figures. Emily Engstler overcame a 3-for-13 shooting performance to post 12 points, 11 rebounds and five steals. Kianna Smith scored 10 of her 12 points in the first half, and Olivia Cochran added 11 on 5-of-8 shooting.
Truong led Gonzaga with 14 points, but the junior was just 1 of 5 in the second half. Melody Kempton added 13.
With the win, Louisville finished the season with a 16-0 record at the Yum Center. Dating back to last season, the Cardinals have won a record 18 straight.
But the road to what would be the program’s first national title will go through Wichita, Kansas, where Louisville will play the winner of Monday night’s second-round game of Belmont at Tennessee.
Gonzaga: The Zags survived the early barrage, but ultimately struggled to break the Cardinals’ defense on a consistent basis. Louisville held Gonzaga to 38% shooting, including 4 of 20 on 3-pointers, and forced them into 18 turnovers.
Louisville: Coach Jeff Walz said repeatedly through the season that this Cardinals team could make the Final Four or lose in the second round. Gonzaga gave Louisville a scare, but now it’s back to the Sweet 16 for the eighth time since 2013.
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