Louisville finished a grueling start to its season on an emphatic note.
Asia Durr scored 26 points and the No. 5 Cardinals dominated early with defense, beating No. 10 Oregon 74-61 Sunday in the preseason women’s NIT final.
This was the fifth game in a span of 10 days for Louisville. In that span, the Cardinals (5-0) knocked off three top 25 teams — including two top 10 squads — as well as another team that made the NCAA Tournament last season.
Cardinals coach Jeff Walz was worried that the stretch would drain his team more mentally than physically and keep them from a perfect start.
“Five-and-(zero) shows the character of these young women,” he said.
Durr had 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting in the first quarter, but then she drew her second foul in the first minute of the second. She sat for 8:54, and yet the Cardinals built their lead to as much as 42-24.
The Ducks (3-1), who beat No. 19 Texas A&M on the road in a Thursday semifinal, looked more than a little weary from five days of cross-country travel, but coach Kelly Graves said his team wouldn’t use that as an excuse.
“They beat us tonight,” he said. “There’s no other way to put it. They were better right from the get-go.”
Louisville forced 14 turnovers and got 13 points from their reserves in taking a 16-point lead at halftime.
Oregon drew within 64-53 midway through the fourth quarter, but never got closer.
Myisha Hines-Allen, the tournament MVP, added 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Cardinals.
Oregon, which shot just 44.4 percent, was led by Ruthy Hebard’s 14 points.
Oregon: The Ducks came in averaging 94.7 points a game, but they were held to just 27 in the first half. Sabrina Ionescu, who posted triple-doubles in her previous two games, was held to just eight points, all of which came in the final period.
The Cardinals focused on taking away the ball screen opportunities from the sophomore guard, who finished making just 3 of 12 shots.
“We knew we were going to have our hands full,” Durr said. “So, we just tried to stay on top of the game plan, which I think we did tonight.”
Louisville: A big factor in the Cardinals’ success was the play of their reserves. Freshman Dana Evans scored six points and dished out a team-best four assists. Sophomore guard Sydney Zambrotta replaced Durr in the second quarter, scoring five and playing solid defense.
Walz said he’s impressed by the unselfish nature of his team, especially when it comes to scoring. Case in point, Jazmine Jones scored just eight points, but they came within a five-minute span of the third quarter and allowed Louisville to keep its lead in double digits. That spurt was as crucial as Durr’s to start the game, he said, and his players understood that.
“They know who the hot person is, which is not always done … When somebody’s hot, give them the ball,” he said.
With No. 3 Baylor falling to No. 8 UCLA on Saturday, the Cardinals will likely vault into the top four and possibly even leapfrog No. 4 South Carolina. Oregon may suffer from a modest drop, although the road win against the Aggies and the fact the Ducks outscored the Cardinals 34-31 in the second half might be enough for voters to keep the Ducks in the top 10.
The Cardinals won’t return to action until after Thanksgiving when they host Murray State on Friday afternoon.