LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — As the only senior Louisville’s squad, Dana Evans has embraced the role of the team’s leader. On Sunday, that meant providing the offense on a day when her teammates were struggling.
The preseason All-American scored 26 points to lead the No. 5 Cardinals to an 85-67 victory over UT Martin.
After shooting 60.5% and scoring a record amount of points in Friday’s 116-75 win over No. 20 DePaul, the Cardinals (4-0) struggled early on Sunday. They made just five of their first 21 shots. However, they used an 18-3 run over the final 6:58 of the first half to take a 40-27 halftime lead and break away from a solid Skyhawks squad playing their first game of the season.
Evans, last season’s Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year, scored 10 of her points during that spurt.
“If shots aren’t falling for us, I gotta find a way to get to the basket, get some easy ones going or whether that’s jumping a passing lane getting an easy bucket, but just doing something to get this team going,” Evans said. “Because I like always say we’re young, we’re talented, but I still have to be that leader.”
The senior guard made 9-of-18 shots, including 4-of-9 3-pointers to lead Louisville, which shot 42% from the floor. She sat after three quarters and finished just two points shy of tying her career high set last year against Oklahoma State.
Louisville coach Jeff Walz said he didn’t rest Evans because of the tight turnaround between games. Rather, he was just trying to get some playing time for his younger players in a game where Louisville never trailed by less than 10 points after halftime.
“The unselfishness that this team shows is what we’re going to continue to need for us to continue to be successful and hopefully have a chance to make a good run here during the ACC,” he said.
Freshman Hailey Van Lith and junior Kianna Smith scored 10 each for the Cardinals.
Chelsey Perry, last year’s Ohio Valley Conference player of the year, scored 26 for the Skyhawks, who shot 41.2 percent and committed 19 turnovers. Dasia Young added 12.
Skyhawks coach Kevin McMillan said his team came into the season opener without any scrimmages and scarce time with 10 players able to practice. Still, he said he saw “glimpses” of what his team, the reigning OVC champion, could become as the season progresses and added his team played as well as could be expected given the circumstances.
“At times we played well defensively, made shots and moved the ball,” he said. “At others, it definitely looked like this was our first game of the season. We turned the ball over way too much, gave up too many easy baskets – especially in the second quarter – and you cannot do those types of things to good teams.”
After scoring 12 points in Friday’s win over DePaul, junior forward Liz Dixon posted another strong game for the Cardinals off the bench Sunday. The Georgia Tech transfer in her second year with the Cardinals scored seven points, grabbed seven rebounds and posted a team best plus-20 rating in 17 minutes. That complemented a seven-point, 10-rebound performance by starting forward Olivia Cochran.
With the graduations of Bianca Dunham and Kylee Dunham off last year’s team, Walz said he knew the play from Cochran and Dixon would be key to the team’s success. After averaging 11 points and 6.4 rebounds a game and earning ACC All-Freshman honors, Dixon struggled at times last year behind the Cardinals veteran post players, averaging just 4.4 points and 3.6 boards.
“I’m just really, really excited for her the way she’s played these last two games, because it’s going to be big for us,” Walz said.
Thanks to North Carolina State’s upset of top-ranked South Carolina on Thursday, there will likely be a new No. 1 team when the next poll is revealed on Monday. Louisville, with a 30.8-point average margin of victory, could make a compelling case for that position.
UT Martin: The Skyhawks, preseason favorites to defend their OVC championship, didn’t take the Cardinals to double overtime like they did last year at home, but they still gave Louisville fits at times, especially early. It’s unlikely the Skyhawks will face a tougher opponent until March as the Cardinals outrebounded them 43-35 and outscored them 40-24 in the paint.
Louisville: Playing less than 48 hours after their rout of DePaul, the Cardinals were probably due for a bit of a letdown. While they struggled offensively early, the Cardinals defense helped spark the decisive run. Depth helped too as the Cards bench outscored UT Martin’s 36-5.
UT Martin travels to Birmingham on Tuesday to play Samford.
Louisville opens conference play Wednesday, travelling to Duke.