Louisville women stake claim to No. 1

The Louisville women should be No. 1 for the first time ever on Monday.

But first they had to beat Florida State. Back in town, winner of six of the last eight games against the UofL women’s basketball team, hoping to rain more misery on the Cardinals. The program that handed the Cardinals two of their four losses last season. Knocking Jeff Walz’ team out of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

Dana Evans finding her teammates with eight assists while contributing 10 points (Pool photo by Jared Anderson).

The bad news Seminoles, playing for the first time since Dec. 31 because of Covid-19, all psyched up to upset Louisville, wanting badly to end second-ranked UofL’s 11-game win streak. Reaching into the adrenaline bucket, playing the game of their season, wanting more recognition at the expense of the Cardinals.

Unfortunately for FSU, the script was worn out and Louisville was not susceptible to upset. UofL dominating the visitors 84-56 in a game that may have historic ramifications. The Louisville women are expected to be No. 1 in the national polls on Monday, as a result of top-ranked Stanford’s five-point loss to Colorado on Sunday.

Dana Evans, with an inaudible gasp after learning that Stanford had fallen, then beaming. “That’s the first time Louisville has a chance to be the No. 1 team,” she said in a post-game interview. “It’s huge for me as a senior just leading this team. I love it whether it’s passing or scoring.”

The stubborn Seminoles actually held a 20-19 lead before the Cardinals let loose with three consecutive 3-point baskets — one from Elizabeth Balagun and two from Kianna Smith. FSU would never get any closer the rest of the way, with five Louisville players scoring in double figures — Kianna leading all scorers with 16 points, Hailey Van Lith with 15, Olivia Cochran with 14, Evans with 12, and Elizabeth Dixon with 10.

Van Lith hitting five of her first five field-goal attempts, including three 3-pointers, winding up with six of nine from the field. Kianna Smith making six of 11 field goal attempts, including four 3-pointers.

Evans, the team’s leading scorer, content with being the facilitator in Sunday’s win, dishing out a total of eight assists to her teammates. “Ï knew Hailey would be there, I knew Kianna would be there,”she said. “Whatever it takes to win. We have a special group.”

Florida State would have to agree.

* * *

If UofL is indeed No. 1, as it should be, it would be still another testament to Jeff Walz’ abilities as a head coach, taking Louisville from the never-beens and also-rans to No. 1 after 14 years at the helm.

“It’s a great honor,” he said. “Obviously it doesn’t do you anything come March. … It’s something that we’re proud of, because we have sustained something here for 14 years. That’s what I was hired 14 years ago to do. Tom Jurich told me he didn’t just want a team that every four or five years would have a great season. His goal and his vision was a program that was able to sustain itself and be a top-10, top-five program. …

“And we’re very fortunate that Vince [Tyra] has that same vision. Not every women’s program is supported like ours. … It’s been a lot of hard work and a lot of great players and great staff. And not only do we win some ballgames, but I think we win our community, we win in public. Our players are wonderful young women that represent our athletic department to the fullest.”

Now the long wait for the polls to be released.

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