Hailey Van Lith scored 21 points and Louisville advanced to the Sweet 16 after a 68-59 win over Gonzaga on Sunday night in the second round of the women’s NCAA Tournament.
Playing in front of a loud home crowd 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.
Van Lith, a Washington state native, would not be denied. The sophomore guard scored eight straight points in a 1:45 stretch of the third quarter that started a 15-3 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.
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.
Kayleigh 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 KFC Yum! Center. Dating back to last season, the Cardinals have won a record 18 straight.
But the road to what would 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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