Winners of 17 in a row, the number one seed Stanford Cardinals (29-2, 19-2 Pac-12) were firing on all cylinders, registering double-digit victories through the first three games NCAA Tournament, including crushing Missouri State 89-62 in the Sweet 16. Stanford was averaging 78 points per game while limiting opponents to 53.1 points per game and 32.6 field goal percentage.
On the other hand, the second seed Louisville Cardinals (26-4, 14-2 ACC) reaching their third consecutive Elite 8 and sixth overall. Senior guard Dana Evans tied a career-high with 29 points in a 60-42 win over Oregon in the Sweet 16. A stifling Cardinals defense holding opponents to 46 points per game and 29.5 shooting through the tournament’s first three games.
Louisville came strong out of the gates in the first quarter, hitting 9 of 18 shots, including three triples that led to a 21-13 lead at the end of the quarter. Not cooling off at all in the second quarter, the Cardinals increased their shooting percentage to 53 percent. Burying three additional trifectas as Louisville widened the margin to 38-26 at halftime. Dana Evans and Kianna Smith combined to score 18 points, while Cardinal junior guard Lacie Hull provided 11 points.
Stanford Head Coach Tara VanDerveer, on the first-half performance of the team, “Honestly, I did not recognize the people in the jerseys in the first half, we weren’t taking care of the ball, and I told them you don’t worry about winning.”
“Compete and be aggressive, we were not aggressive enough, and I did go through a couple of statistics that got people’s attention, and we are better than that.”
The halftime speech sure did wake up the Cardinal team as they erupted for a 17-2 run to take their first lead since the first quarter’s eight-minute mark. Stanford shooting lights out at 52 percent from the field. Despite shooting a paltry 26 percent in the quarter Louisville managing to reclaim the lead 50-48 at the end of the quarter.
Held scoreless in the first half, Cardinal sophomore Ashten Prechtel heated up in the second. She dropped in 10 points, including a trifecta that put Stanford back on top 51-50 early in the fourth quarter. The Cardinals, with all the momentum on their side extending the advantage to 66-54 with less than five minutes remaining.
Dana Evans tried to keep Louisville in the game by canning a pair of treys to narrow the deficit to single digits. Stanford on fire from the field shooting 76 percent, burying a perfect 5 for 5 from behind the arc, and sinking 5 of 6 free throws as they cruised to the 78-63 victory. Lexie Hull paced the Cardinals with 21 points while Ashten Prechtel finished with 16 points, Kiana Williams added 14 points, and Haley Jones netted 10 points. Dana Evans paced the Cardinals with 24 points.
Stanford Head Coach Tara VanDerveer on the win, “I’m proud of our team for the battle, how hard we fought and how well we played to be able to go to the Final Four.” “Sometimes you have to go through adversity, and we have been going through adversity all year long, and our team really stepped up. I challenged our team at halftime; it really says a lot about hard people were playing and how much they wanted to do for each other.”
“Ashten (Prechtel) had a great second half, Lexi (Hull) the whole game, and Anna (Wilson) got her defense going in the second half. I thought Fran (Francesca Belibi) had some good contributions, Haley (Jones) got it going in the second half, and Kiana (Williams) did so.”
“I think what helped us we did make some shots, we improved our shot selection, moved the ball better, and we got stops defensively.” “We came out like if we were in a heavyweight fight, we were on the mat and were getting pummeled, and I think our team just decided that we were going to be pulling the punches instead of being the recipient.”