Win Over Ole Miss is Louisville's 5th Straight in Sweet Sixteen
In a season in which Louisville's offense has looked suspect at times, the Cards faced an immense challenge in the defensive-minded Ole Miss Rebels. Mississippi was likely underseeded, with five of their nine losses coming against ranked opponents. To prove it, they had shut down Gonzaga, one of the top three point shooting teams in the country, in the first round. Still not quite convincing people, Ole Miss then took down the Stanford Cardinal at home, holding the number one seed to just 49 points. That mark was Stanford's second fewest points scored this season and only the third time they had been held to fewer than 60 points. The other two were against USC, games which the Cardinal and Trojans split. In the first two games of the tournament, Mississippi held their opponents to just 3-24 shooting from beyond the arc.
Knowing all of this, Louisville came out determined to play their own game. There were hiccups, of course, but Louisville largely did what they wanted to do offensively, weathering multiple hot and cold streaks from both teams and putting four Cards in double figures. Despite stretches in which the Cards went without scoring for far more minutes than were comfortable, Louisville last lost the lead with 3:41 remaining in the first half. Myah Taylor hit a second straight three to cap a 14-3 run and give Ole Miss a 29-27 lead.
After scoring seven points in the first quarter (originally scored eight but a three-pointer was overturned), Hailey Van Lith had gone cold in the second. It would be a trend that would repeat itself a bit later, but, for a critical moment, Van Lith found her shot. Her second (third) three of the game put Louisville back in front by one. Myah Taylor missed a three on the third time of asking and Louisville was fouled on the rebound. Taking advantage, the Cards scored on the ensuing possession to move their lead back to a full basket. Both teams struggled a bit in the final two minutes, but Louisville came out ahead, scoring the only points of the stretch with an Olivia Cochran jumper to put the Cards up five. After holding a 20-15 lead at the end of the first quarter, the Cards kept a five point advantage at the end of the second: 34-29. There certainly wasn't any weirdness like Louisville stretching their lead to nine points before going on a 4+ minute scoring drought.
HVL was interviewed on her way off the floor at halftime and said it felt great to play in front of her family but that they still had work to do and they were going to come out better in the second half. The third quarter started very evenly. Both teams were able to find the bottom of the net, with Louisville's five-point advantage remaining steady for the first six minutes of the quarter. Over that time, Louisville never stretched that lead beyond five and Ole Miss never reduced it to fewer than three. Two-point shots and free throws ruled the day. When the media timeout finally came at 3:40, Louisville seemed to flip a switch. Unable to widen the gap for so long, the Cards suddenly found a way, closing down on defense and making the offense work. Louisville pushed their advantage to nine in the final minute of the quarter before Ole Miss scored for just the second time over the stretch to bring the lead back down to seven. Right on cue, Merissah Russell hit one of the critical threes she's been wont to do recently to give Louisville a double-digit lead, prompting me to message our Cardinal Couple group, "Don't look back."
Holding a 52-42 lead opening the fourth, Louisville, at first, looked like they would heed my advice. Both teams went fairly cold to open the quarter, meaning Louisville wasn't able to ride the momentum they had to close the third and put the game out of reach. They moved the lead to 12 twice, but never got any farther ahead. After scoring seven points in that first quarter, Van Lith's shot continued to evade her, as she had scored just four points in the next two periods. The basket seemed to be mocking her at times, with mid range jumpers rattling inside the rim before coming back out. When Ole Miss cut the lead to eight with 4:06 remaining, Van Lith finally found the bottom of the basket again, moving the lead back to ten. After an offensive rebound, one of eleven pulled down by the Rebels, they found Angel Baker at the top of the key. The defense was slow to step out, and Baker (whose shot is not at all pretty, by the way) nailed a three to bring the lead down to seven.
More important than the basket itself was that it allowed Ole Miss to set up their full court pressure. Louisville had managed it okay to this point, but as the Cards became passive, trying to run clock in a game that was much too close for that, the pressure started to creep in. Louisville continually inbounded the ball directly into the pressure and dribbled right into trap situations. It was a bit like they hadn't seen a full-court press before, and it got concerning rather quickly. It didn't really help that "Coach Yo" was allowed to be on the court, in many cases contributing to two- and three-man traps in the corner, but Louisville put themselves in the positions. Holding onto their seven point lead, it wasn't really the full-court press that broke through, rather the passivity yielding to Ole Miss's urgency. As soon as she got the ball across mid-court, HVL raised it above her head expecting to run clock. Taylor promptly swatted the ball up, out jumped Van Lith for the secondary tip, and sprinted down court for the fast break jumper. To her credit, Van Lith worked very hard to influence the shot, even providing a body bump to try to put Taylor off-balance. It would be easy to criticize that she didn't do more or get her hands up, but she was playing with three fouls and the two points would be more recoverable than losing HVL completely.
Hailey showed just how recoverable those two points were when she charged down the court and hit a jumper in the paint (very similar to the few that she had missed; shooters shoot) to push Louisville's lead back to 60-53. A foul sent Taylor to the line, where she missed the second. Liz Dixon secured the rebound, and, on the other end, Olivia Cochran powered through two defenders to make a layup and draw a foul on Tyia Singleton, ending her night. The free throw put Louisville up nine, which didn't last long. Ole Miss hit a jumper to move the lead back down to seven, but, just as Van Lith had before, Mykasa Robinson quickly got the points back. Growing tired of getting pinned down in half court traps and Louisville being out of rhythm, Kasa calmly worked the offense and navigated the defense deftly to get Louisville an open look. I'm just kidding. Kasa put her head down like a raging bull and sprinted through the pressing defenders on a bee-line for the basket. Her path was suddenly impeded by Angel Baker, so she stopped and put up the floater while crashing into the defender. The whistle blew and the ball fell through the hoop, while everyone watched the refs convene. Ultimately, they ruled a block and set Kasa to the line to try to convert Louisville's second straight three-point play. While it was a very close call that could have gone either way, replay proved the call correct. Baker was not in the circle, which seemed to be the point of issue for many on the floor, but an overhead view showed she was never set and slid/leaned into the contact as Kasa arrived.
As it stood, the free throw gave Louisville a 66-56 lead with 1:40 remaining in the game, and it began to feel a bit more like you could breathe. A pair of Rebel free throws were answered by another Robinson layup and a missed three set Ole Miss back to the line after a foul on the rebound. The free throws cut the lead to eight again, but time was heavily in favor of the Cards. Louisville was able to tick 17 seconds off before Ole Miss fouled to send Van Lith to the line. Having missed a free throw earlier in the game, HVL was determined to close this one out in front of her home fans. She calmly sunk the pair. Taylor scored quickly for Ole Miss and they wisely fouled immediately after the basket, but Van Lith, again, was clutch at the free throw line, moving Louisville's lead back to 72-62 with 33 seconds remaining.
Ole Miss called their last timeout to discuss their options and to advance the ball, they worked a quick layup to Maddie Scott under the basket, but Morgan Jones was on hand for a block. In the shuffle for the ball, Ole Miss came out with it, but it took another nine seconds to get a shot off. When the three-pointer was off the mark and Merissah Russell came down with the rebound with just 19 seconds remaining, Ole Miss tipped their caps and let the clock run out. Louisville held on to win their fifth straight Sweet Sixteen game, advancing to face Iowa in the Elite Eight on Sunday.
As I mentioned earlier, and as they mentioned repeatedly on the broadcast, Hailey Van Lith was playing in front of what was effectively a home crowd. Dozens of family members had turned out for the game and HVL delivered. The hot 3-4 start from the floor cooled significantly, as she finished with just 7-18 shooting, but she kept her head in the game to finish with 21 points, five rebounds, four assists, and a steal compared to just three turnovers. One of those turnovers was an offensive foul and another was when she had her pocket picked clean, so it was a very strong outing for Louisville's star. She was 5-6 from the line, making all four of her free throws down the stretch, and she did it all without a break, playing all 40 minutes.
Mykasa Robinson was Van Lith's running mate for all but two minutes on the floor. She shot 5-8 from the floor and, after missing a pair of free throws early, hit a big one to finish a three-point play late in the game. Kasa finished with 11 points, seven rebounds, five assists and just two turnovers and one foul. Her defensive impact doesn't stand out on the stat sheet, but at one point in the fourth quarter, Louisville had contested 74% of Ole Miss's field goal attempts in the half. Kasa's presence makes a difference there. Her other critical contribution came as the primary ball handler against a stifling full-court press. To play 38 minutes against that pressure and finish with just two turnovers was masterclass.
Joining those two in double figures Olivia Cochran and Morgan Jones. Cochran finished with ten points and six rebounds, adding a block, a steal, and an assist. She made 4-5 free throw attempts and turned the ball over just twice. Like Van Lith, one of those came on an offensive foul. Cochran kept her head in this one, playing through frustrations and keeping herself in the game both mentally and physically. She committed just three fouls, with one of those coming very late.
Morgan Jones had her best game since Louisville made the starting lineup change. Jones was a starter through January, scoring 13 in the loss to NC State and 15 in the loss at Wake Forest. Her average was buoyed by back-to-back 19 and 25 point performances against Virginia Tech and FSU. Unfortunately, the team was losing during that time. Since the lineup change, Jones has seen her minutes drop significantly, and her offense has suffered as a result. After breaking double-digits off the bench for the first time last week against Texas, she did it again with 11 last night. Jones was 4-8 from the floor, 3-3 from the line, and added seven rebounds, an assist, two blocks and two steals. She made a significant case for her role as a key player, and it will be interesting to see what Jeff Walz does moving forward.
In this game, Louisville played a short bench, with only three players subbing in for Louisville. With Nyla Harris playing just five minutes in her start, that position may be up for grabs. Jones had 25 minutes and Merissah Russell played 23. Russell and Dixon didn't score double digits, but both were danger-close with eight each. The three bench players totaled 27 points, outscoring Ole Miss's bench by 21. Though she struggled, Chrislyn Carr stayed engaged throughout the game. She finished with just one made basket for three points, but had an assist and just one turnover in her 21 minutes. CC was a threat on the floor and forced Ole Miss to account for her, even if the shot wasn't falling. Her presence forces the defense to open things up for Louisville's other offensive threats to punish. Plus, when she's hitting her shots, she's a force all on her own.
Ole Miss got 49 of their 62 points from three players, with Myah Taylor and Marquesha Davis dropping 19 apiece. Angel Baker added 11. Louisville did a good job forcing Maddie Scott to the bench early with foul trouble. Scott finished with just four points and five rebounds in 24 minutes and had to play passively to avoid fouling out. All six of Mississippi's bench points came from Snudda Collins. As was pointed out in the halftime show, Ole Miss was not a three-point shooting team. They shot below 30% from beyond the arc during the season, but they were content to attempt them against Louisville. Despite making a few in big spots, those big spot threes were the only ones they made. Keeping about on their average, the Rebels shot 4-15 from range, good for just 26.7%.
Louisville, on the other hand, took what the defense gave them. Making just one more three-pointer than Ole Miss, their advantage came in shooting three fewer. After allowing just 3-24 in the first two games, Ole Miss gave up 5-12 shooting from three to Louisville, part of what made the Cards outscore the Rebels' tournament defensive average by 22 points.
The FRED and CASE Reports
Things are getting tight, as every game is win or go home. The little things matter even more, so let's see how the Cards handled our major categories.
F-Free Throws: Robinson's 1-3 was really the low point of Louisville's effort from the line, as the Cards shot 13-17 overall. One miss each from HVL and Cochran and Jones 3-3 mark lifted the misses by Kasa. 76.5% is good for a lowercase 'f'.
R-Rebounding: This one is tough. Louisville won the rebounding battle 38-35. However, they had only nine offensive rebounds, giving up 11 to Ole Miss. Along with that, the Cards scored just one second chance point, a mark that they also lost to Ole Miss, who had 11. Both teams cleared about 72% of their rebounding opportunities on the defensive end, so it was very evenly matched. With Louisville having a size disadvantage at the guard spot and an advantage in the front-court, I am ultimately going to go with the big number winning out. Louisville gets a lowercase 'r', but just barely.
Louisville deserves heaping credit for their offensive performance against a very strong defensive team. The Cards committed just 12 turnovers, scattered throughout, and they scored 72 points on a team giving up 49.5 through two tournament games. They also kept their heads in the game, responding to scoring droughts and Ole Miss runs with poise. Louisville was outscored 9-5 in points off turnovers, 11-1 in second chance points, and 14-6 in fast break points. That said, they won the points in the paint battle and got far more bench production. Plus, they didn't lose any quarter scores, held the lead at the end of each period, and, most importantly, won the game. I grant a capital 'E'
because I'm the one writing and I can do what I want.
D-Defense: Ole Miss scored 68.6 points per game this season, impressive for shooting just 29% from three and 67% from the free throw line. In addition to outscoring Ole Miss's defensive average by 16, the Cards held the Rebels below their season scoring average and below the scoring average of Louisville's opponents. The teams matched in turnovers, but Louisville had fewer fouls, more blocks, and more steals. They also forced Ole Miss to play outside of their system, with the 4-15 three-point shooting contributing to an overall 37% field goal percentage. Capital 'D'.
C-Care: Louisville turned the ball over 12 times. That's not great, but it's the same number as Ole Miss, and it's less than 75% of Ole Miss's season average of 16.4%. I can't give half a letter for tying in turnovers, so it must be a lowercase 'c'.
A-Assists: While their assist-to-turnover ratio was positive, it wasn't quite 1.5. Louisville finished with 13 assists on 27 made shots. It seems overly harsh to not get any letter here as the defense definitely played a part in Louisville's offense, resulting in a number of dribble drives. I'm going to be generous (I'm tired and happy Louisville won, ok? It's my metric) and award a lowercase 'a'.
S-Steals: Much more cut and dry with this stat. Louisville had more than Ole Miss, which is good, but fewer than our expected 7.5, which is less good. Lowercase 'e'.
E-Efficiency: Ah yes, an unexpected capital letter here. Louisville just managed to sneak 45.8% shooting, which is above our 45% expectation for field goal percentage. When they went cold a few times, it looked suspect, but the Cards actually shot consistently throughout the game. They were 7-15 in the first and third quarters, 6-13 in the second, and 7-16 in the fourth. As I mentioned earlier, HVL had a few shots in the fourth that were all the way down before coming back out. Louisville also shot over 75% from the free throw line, so that's a capital 'E'.
Overall, that's scores of f-r-E-D
No missing letters is representative of a strong showing from the Cards. At this stage of the tournament, strong showings will be needed to keep playing. Louisville already has their assignment for the next game. While it's easier said than done, the defensive scout is to shut down Caitlin Clark. If the Cards are going to make it to the Final Four, they can't let Clark go for 30. She might go for 20, and there might be nothing you can do about that, but a well-rounded offensive performance can see Louisville advance as long as they make someone else try to beat them instead of Clark. Make sure you get your nap in: Louisville's Elite 8 matchup is set for 9PM Sunday night.
Cardinal Couple Pick 'Em Challenge Update
We've got a couple of discrepancies, but they should be sorted out once the sweet sixteen has been played in full. I'm hoping for myself to be out of contention, as I have Iowa knocking off Stanford Sunday on their way to the championship. I'll gladly be wrong with the Hawkeyes facing multiple Cardinals instead of just one. I also lost a final four team when LSU beat Utah. My Greenville 2 bracket was one to forget, with Utah being my only correctly selected regional team there.
As it stands the current order is below. Disputed scores are marked with an asterisk, and should be clarified later this weekend as I mentioned.
40-12: Jason, Karen J, Jared
39-13: Kenny S*, Katy, KStark Sr, Jeff, WahooCard, Daryl, Farris*
38-14: Arthur, Paulie, Joe Hill, Sonja*
37-15: David Watson, Thomas
36-16: Case, Vivian*
35-17: Blue Lou, Cindy, Curtis, Mike D
32-20: Bea, Chimps
30-22: Nick O*
Cardinal Couple Radio Hour Podcast
We should have a full house this week with plenty to discuss. Softball was postponed yesterday, but they played earlier in the week. Lacrosse is in action again today, and volleyball kicked off spring ball last night. More on both of those from Jeff tomorrow. Basketball will surely be the primary focus this morning, though, so be sure to tune in to this week's episode. As always, you can check out the live stream of the show by going to the Cardinal Couple YouTube page and clicking on the live video. Jeff usually creates that about an hour before the show, which officially starts at 11 AM Eastern. If the live time doesn't work for you, there are plenty of playback options, so be sure to check out whichever is best for you!
Cardinal Couple YouTube: Link
Anchor (podcast host): Link
Overcast (free account required): Link
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Until next time, Go Cards!