SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Hailey Van Lith and Louisville experienced some jitters in their NCAA Tournament opener.
They got over them in a hurry.
Van Lith scored 17 points, Dana Evans had 15 and the second-seeded Cardinals beat No. 15 seed Marist 74-43 on Monday night.
Despite being one of the top teams in the country, the Cardinals didn’t have much tournament experience. Only the All-American Evans and Mykasa Robinson had played in the NCAAs in a Louisville uniform before Monday.
It showed early on as the team missed eight of its first nine shots, including some layups. Marist took advantage and built a 21-12 lead early in the second quarter.
“I (knew) this was going to happen,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “We just missed layups and we missed open shots, hit the side of the backboard. It’s what takes place in the first round of the NCAAs when there are a lot of expectations. That’s one thing the kids learn to play with. You’re a two seed and you’re expected to win. We had players who hadn’t been in that position before and it showed.”
Then the Cardinals (24-3) finally settled down, going on a 17-3 run to close out the half as their full-court pressure started to bother the Red Foxes.
“We started to play well there in the middle of the second quarter on,” Walz said.
Louisville took its first lead of the game on Robinson’s three-point play that made it 26-23. Van Lith, a freshman guard, followed with her own basket and foul shot — letting out a scream in celebration as the ball went through the basket.
“We just turned it up on defense and got easy layups,” Van Lith said. “We saw it go in. We started playing as a team, we turned it up, had energy and made the game fun for us.”
The Cardinals led 29-24 at the half.
Marist (18-4) cut it to 31-28 early in the third before Louisville went on a 22-1 run. Ahlana Smith had seven straight points during that spurt all coming off Red Foxes turnovers. Marist didn’t have a field goal for the final 8:19 of the quarter.
The Red Foxes finally ended the drought 45 seconds into the fourth quarter, but trailed by 22 at that point.
Marist was making its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2014. The Red Foxes have had success as a lower-seeded team in the past, advancing to the Sweet 16 in 2007 before falling to Tennessee. They also won their first-round games in 2011 and 2012, beating Iowa State and Georgia.
Sarah Barcello scored eight points for the Red Foxes, who committed 22 turnovers.
“We lost to a great team today,” Marist coach Brian Giorgis said. “They are seeded second for a reason. … We gave them a run for the money in the first half and it started sliding away in the final few minutes of the first half.”
Louisville improved to 12-0 all-time in first-round games under Walz. He was credited with the win in 2019 despite missing the game while serving a one-game suspension from the NCAA for comments he made after a 2018 Final Four loss.