Ole Miss’ tournament run ends with Sweet 16 loss to Louisville

Published 12:38 am Saturday, March 25, 2023

SEATTLE (AP) — Hailey Van Lith put on a show in her home state to get Louisville back to a familiar place — the Elite Eight.

Van Lith scored 21 points to help the fifth-seeded Cardinals beat No. 8 seed Ole Miss 72-62 on Friday night and advance to the final of the Seattle 4 Region.

“It was amazing to have friends and family in the whole state out cheering for us,” Van Lith said. “I’m a very focused player, there were no distractions before the game. After the game, I kissed all the babies and hugged all the people. After business was done, I celebrated.”

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The Cardinals (26-11) will face second-seed Iowa on Sunday for a trip to the Final Four. The Hawkeyes beat Colorado 87-77 earlier Friday.

It’s the fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament that Louisville has gotten this far, one of the few teams to accomplish the feat.

“It’s hard to continue to get to where we are and win,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “You have to enjoy it. It’s too short not to enjoy these types of moments.”

Expectations were high for the Cardinals under Walz to start the season as the team was ranked seventh in The Associated Press’ preseason Top 25 poll. With many new players, the Cardinals lost four out of six games in late November and early December.

Walz wasn’t concerned. The team started to get more comfortable on the court and made a run to the finals of the ACC Tournament, where they lost to Virginia Tech.

“We’ve been playing well for the last month and a half,” Walz said. “We’ll continue to roll and continue to play. We’re going to enjoy this tonight. I’m going to enjoy this. I’m going to the bar. Life’s too short.”

On Friday, the Cardinals were met with a stiff challenge from upstart Ole Miss.

The Rebels (25-9) hadn’t advanced this far since 2007, when the team made its fifth Elite Eight in program history. They were looking to become only the second No. 8 seed to reach a regional final, joining Southwest Missouri State, which did it in 1992.

“The Sweet 16 is the new standard,” Ole Miss coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin said.

Ole Miss’ defense had been great in the first two games of the tournament, keeping both Gonzaga and No. 1 seed Stanford under 50 points in each game.

Louisville reached that mark by the end of the third quarter on Merissah Russell’s 3-pointer. That gave the Cardinals a 52-42 lead — their biggest of the game to that point. That 3 came shortly after Jones’ three-point play extended a 46-40 lead to nine.

Louisville got off to a slow start against Ole Miss, but then Van Lith got them going and they led 20-15 after one quarter. After a slow start to the second quarter that saw them give up the lead, the Cardinals still managed to hold a 34-29 advantage at the half.

They couldn’t separate themselves from the Rebels until the end of the third quarter.

Ole Miss cut its deficit to 58-53 with 2:32 left before Van Lith hit a shot in the lane to stem the Rebels’ run. After Myah Taylor made the first of two free throws, Olivia Cochran had a three-point play with 2:17 left to make it 63-54 and pretty much seal the victory.

Marquesha Davis and Taylor each scored 19 points to lead Ole Miss.

“I didn’t feel like we had control of the game at any point. That’s different for my team,” McPhee-McCuin said. “The lights got bright. There were a lot of times I didn’t know who I was coaching. When do we give up 20 points in a quarter? That’s uncharacteristic.”