December 5, 2020 

No. 5 Louisville top scoring record behind Van Lith, Smith

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Louisville routed No. 18 DePaul

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Louisville’s Hailey Van Lith drives past DePaul’s defense at Mohegan Sun Arena on Dec. 4, 2020. (courtesy of: Bob Blanchard / Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame)

No. 5 Louisville was supposed to face UConn at the Mohegan Sun Arena in the Jimmy V. Women’s Classic on Friday, but the pandemic had other ideas. So, the Cardinals settled on facing another former Big East foe instead.

And Jeff Walz’s side did not hold anything back.

The Cardinals thrashed No. 18 DePaul on national television, winning 116-75. The scoring total broke Louisville’s previous program record of 115 points, which they set against Maryland in 2017.

Freshman forward Olivia Cochran had 19 points and 11 rebounds for the Cardinals (3-0), while reigning ACC Player of the Year Dana Evans poured in 20 points, seven assists and three steals. Freshman Darrione Rogers led DePaul (1-2) with 25 points.

Van Lith’s hot start continues

But the real star of the night was Hailey Van Lith, who seems to get better with each passing game for the Cardinals.

Just days after she was named ACC Freshman of the Week, the highly-touted rookie topped her previous two performances this season, setting a new career-high in points with 21. That tied for the Louisville lead in scoring, and the product of Wenatchee, Washington also added four rebounds, an assist, a steal and a block. She didn’t play in the fourth quarter and accomplished all of that in just 25 minutes of action.

“It’s really been exciting to watch (Van Lith) just gel with the returners because I think she’s got a great relationship with all of them. I think they also respect her because of how she works,” Walz said. “She’s very unselfish. She’s a humble kid and wants what’s best for our team. And I’ve just really been impressed with her.”

Van Lith knocked down open three’s with ease, plunged into the paint to grab rebounds, and looked for her teammates often for nifty assists. Early in the third quarter, Van Lith swished a shot from behind the arc on an assist from Evans, and then she repaid the favor on the Cardinals next trip down the floor, laying the ball off to Evans on a fast break for a smooth lay-up.

DePaul pressed often, and it was Evans and Van Lith often breaking that press and exposing it for points time and time again.

On a different note, Van Lith hit another milestone Friday, picking up her first collegiate technical foul for vocalizing her displeasure with an official’s call in the third quarter. Wearing a mask could’ve been helpful in more ways than one in that moment.

Through three games this season, Van Lith is in the top two for the Cardinals in scoring and rebounding. Should she have another strong performance on Sunday vs. UT Martin, she’ll be in line for her second straight week of ACC honors.

“She’s one — that I know — she wants to be great. She wants to be special. And I’ve told her, I’m going to challenge her to be that,” Walz said of Van Lith. “Some players want to be a good college player. Others want to be professionals, and others want to have the opportunity to possibly be Olympians. And she wants to be special. She wants to be great… I just continue to challenge her every single day. I challenge her at practice and I challenge her during games. And she’s responding.”

Kianna Smith shines in Louisville debut

Coming into this season, everyone knew about Van Lith and Cochran. And they knew that Evans and Elizabeth Balogun were coming back, and that JUCO transfer Ahlana Smith was going to contribute to this Louisville team too.

But the one weapon that sort of flew under the radar a bit was Kianna Smith. The redshirt junior transferred to Louisville before the start of last season from Cal, but sat out due to NCAA transfer rules. For the Golden Bears, she averaged 9.2 points, 3.8 assists and 2.6 rebounds per-game in 62 starts across two seasons. While she was redshirting, Walz said Smith worked out everyday with Jazmine Jones, who was drafted by the New York Liberty.

“Kianna came in and worked on it from day one. And she she’s gotten stronger,” Walz said. “She’s really improved her all-around game.”

After a year off — and after not playing in Louisville’s first two games — Smith started her Cardinals’ career off with a bang. She scored 16 of her 21 points in the first half, and added six rebounds, six assists, two steals and a block in 22 minutes of play.

The 6-foot guard from Moreno Valley, California was Louisville’s best bench player in Friday’s Top 25 match-up. She’s one of many reliable scorers the Cardinals can rely on this season and she gives Louisville more than just depth in the backcourt.

“It was really exciting for me. It was a long wait last year and then these past two games I missed. So, it was exciting to finally come out and play with my teammates,” Smith said. “Dana found me wide-open… I got a lot of wide-open looks, and it was exciting just to be out there with my teammates.”

Defense stout for Cardinals

Perhaps more impressive than any individual performance was how well Louisville played on defense.

The Cardinals held the Blue Demons to 28.4% shooting from the floor, 14.8% from three-point land and also forced them into 19 turnovers. Additionally, Louisville dominated down low, winning the rebounding battle 55-40 and out-scoring the Blue Demons 74-36 in the paint. The Cardinals also blocked 11 shots.

“I thought we did a great job of making them put the ball on the ground,” Walz said. “If we could make them attempt more two’s than three’s, I liked our chances.”

Walz however, was not pleased with the 31 fouls his team committed, or the 37 free throw attempts they handed to the Blue Demons.

“Just bonehead fouls, as I call them. Just senseless,” Walz said. “At the defensive end of the floor, we’ll continue to work on keeping the ball in front us on direct line drives, and we’ve got to do a much better job of rebounding the basketball.”

While some of the Blue Demons’ offensive woes might’ve been self-inflicted with poor shot selections and messy turnovers, DePaul head coach Doug Bruno thought it was more about what Louisville did than what his team didn’t do.

“When you miss shots, the credit has to go to the team on the other side of the ball,” Bruno said. “When you’re playing this level of competition, you’re not going to get the same shots that you get in practice.”

And while the game goes down as an awful blowout for DePaul, Bruno doesn’t regret adding it to the schedule.

“As bad as the outcome is… we will be better from this,” Bruno said. “I think you learn more from that than the fool’s gold of the cupcake schedule.”

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