GREENSBORO, N.C. — Louisville guard Dana Evans is learning she doesn’t have to score 20 points a game anymore for her team to win.
And the two-time Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year said that’s a big relief.
Evans scored 13 points, Olivia Cochran added 10 points and 10 rebounds and four Louisville players finished in double digits in scoring as the fifth-ranked Cardinals advanced to the ACC Tournament championship game with a 72-59 win over Syracuse on Saturday behind a balanced attack.
Louisville (23-2), the tournament’s top seed, got 11 points from Kianna Smith on 5-of-7 shooting and 10 points off the bench from Norika Konno in the win. The Cardinals were 16 of 17 from the free throw line.
“It takes a lot of pressure off of me knowing that I have great teammates that will step up in big moments and make big shots like we have been in the past two games,” Evans said. “I don’t have to force anything.”
Evans came into the game averaging 20.5 points per contest. But she’s struggled with her shot at the Greensboro Coliseum this week. She had just eight points against Wake Forest on 3-of-15 shooting in the quarterfinals and didn’t score until the 4 1/2-minute mark of the first half against Syracuse. She was just 1 of 6 from the field in the first half before scoring nine points in the second half.
“They say it’s Dana and then a bunch of scrubs, but that’s where they’re wrong,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said of his team’s critics. “That’s where they don’t know enough about our team to be able to realize we’ve got a good team.”
Emily Engstler had 21 points and 10 rebounds to keep Syracuse (14-8) in the game in the second half.
“She had a monster game,” said Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman. “I thought down the stretch we just kind of ran out of gas.”
Syracuse: The Orange struggled a bit with Louisville’s full-court press in the first half, committing some silly turnovers in the backcourt — although the Cardinals had trouble converting those into points. Engstler was solid throughout and Syracuse could prove to be a difficult out in the NCAA Tournament with Cardoso’s size.
Louisville: Through the first six quarters of the tournament Evans was just 19% (4 of 21) from the field, but the Cardinals leader on the court started to show signs of being a dominant player with a strong second half. Syracuse threw everything it had at Louisville, including a 1-3-1 zone, but Louisville handled it well with good ball movement.
The Orange were focused early on getting the ball to 6-foot-7 freshman center Kamilla Cardoso, knowing she had a height advantage inside. The Cardinals countered with a full-court press, looking to speed up Syracuse and disrupt the Orange’s half-court sets, and they double-teamed Cardoso on entry passes. Cardoso, who had the game-winning shot against Florida State, finished with 10 points and seven rebounds.
“Our goal was trying to get her to catch the ball further out in the paint and then to really give emphasis, every time a shot was taken, to put a body on her and box her out,” Walz said.
The two teams combined to make their first 24 foul shots before Cardoso finally missed late in the third quarter. The teams combined to make 26 of 32 free throws.
Syracuse: The Orange should be in good shape to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, with its resume bolstered by a last-second win over Florida State in the quarterfinals on Friday. “Right now, yeah, we’re a little disappointed that we lost, but I think we’re excited to see how far we can get in the NCAA Tournament, too,” said Syracuse forward Amaya Finklea-Guity. “Kind of come with the same mindset of trying to win and trying to get as far as we can.”
Louisville: The Cardinals will play the winner of Saturday’s other semifinal between No. 3 North Carolina State and Georgia Tech for their second ACC title in the last four seasons on Sunday. They also won in 2018.