Louisville Cardinals women’s basketball had a rough start for their game against the Clemson Tigers, but it wasn’t on the basketball court. Some mechanical difficulties with air transportation found the Cards flying down to South Carolina this morning for a 7:00 p.m. tip-off with the Tigers. With Clemson coming off an impressive win at Notre Dame the question was whether or not the Tigers had the momentum. But Dana Evans and the Cardinals quashed that idea quickly on their way to a 75-50 romp at Littlejohn Coliseum.
If the Clemson scouting report pegged the Cardinals as an interior shooting team, there would be two appropriate reactions. Firstly, it was an accurate scouting report; the Cards were shooting just 34% from beyond the arc prior to Thursday’s game and averaging between 5-6 made threes per game. Secondly, it was a bad night to play zone as the Cards found it within themselves to exceed expectations with 12 made three pointers on the night.
Elizabeth Balogun lit the match for Louisville with the Cards first seven points to help her team to a 10-0 run before Clemson’s Kendall Spray was finally able to answer back with a three pointer. While Balogun was the spark, it was Dana Evans that supplied the fuel. Eight first quarter points was just the beginning, with an explosive second quarter performance taking Evans most of the way towards a career performance.
Perfect shooting in Q2 amounted to 16 points included four of four from three point range. Clemson’s adjustment plus some mercy on Jeff Walz’s part mitigated Dana’s impact throughout the rest of the game but a third quarter three pointer netted her a career high seven three pointers while giving her 27 points, just one shy of her career high set against Oklahoma State in the Virgin Islands.
It was the perfect opportunity for Evans to find her shot after a dismal performance against Syracuse. As Clemson settled into the zone the Cardinals found it easy to penetrate to the wings and the key. All too often as the defense collapsed it left Dana open at the top for the quick three that she managed to connect on throughout most of the game. 14 assists total featured multi-assist games from Balogun, Robinson, and Jones in addition to Evans.
It’s that kind of team effort that Jeff Walz stressed after numerically unimpressive offensive production from the likes of Evans and Dunham in the game against Syracuse. Against Clemson it was evident in Kylee Shook’s 10 rebounds with just four points. In the case of Elizabeth Balogun her 15 points stand out, but after she cooled off later in the game she still managed to contribute five blocks.
It was a similar team effort on defense that limited the Tigers to 50 points and had Jeff Walz pumping his fist on the sidelines. All three of Clemson’s double-digit scorers were held below 10 points as the Tigers were limited to just 29% from the field. Kendall Spray, who had a career night in South Bend, was limited to just that single three pointer before the Cards shut her down. Leading scorers Thornton and Robinson meanwhile were limited to just 12 points and 10 rebounds combined. Walz loves to talk about keeping things interesting with high scoring affairs, but the Cardinals defense will be the key to take them deep into March.
Whatever blemishes do exist on the Cards victory can be mostly attributed to a lackadaisical third quarter as Jeff Walz allowed his younger and less experienced bench players to get some playing time as Louisville extended the lead to 34. Molly Lockhart, Mykasa Robinson, Norika Konno, and Lindsey Duvall all spent a significant amount of time in the game even if it was noticeably sloppy at times. The Cardinals lead did dwindle to 25 with the Tigers eventually edging Louisville in rebounds by a small margin. A 10-1 run to start the fourth quarter was enough for Walz and most of the starters were sent in to stabilize things and finish out the game.
Clemson’s performance against Notre Dame was impressive, but they’ll have to find some way to improve their ball handling if they hope to establish a level of consistency that can replicate last season’s success. Amanda Butler deserved last year’s coach of the year honor but it remains to be seen how she’ll handle an adverse year at Clemson.
As for the Cards, a win at home against Duke on Sunday will get them to 3-0 in ACC play and position them quite nicely for the schedule ahead. If Jeff Walz’s squad can continue to play unselfishly (as they have been) it’s going to be a very interesting season for Cardinals fans and Louisville WBB alike.