January 22, 2021 

Takeaways from No. 1 Louisville’s win over No. 23 Syracuse

Dana Evans led the Cards to their 13th win

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Louisville was ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll for the first time in program history earlier this week. Their first test was Thursday night, facing a tough 23rd-ranked Syracuse team at home.

And the Cardinals passed with flying colors.

Jeff Walz’s side improved to 13-0 with a 67-54 victory over the Orange.

Louisville shot 46.4% from the floor and 44.4% from three-point range. Defensively, the Cardinals held Syracuse’s All-ACC backcourt of Kiara Lewis and Tiana Mangakahia to a combined 16 points on 6-of-17 shooting. Mangakahia did have a game-high 11 assists though.

The Cardinals hit an important milestone by just playing Thursday. They have now met the minimum number of games played (13) required to qualify for the NCAA tournament. In a season with much uncertainty, it’s one less thing Louisville has to worry about.

Here are three takeaways from Louisville’s win over Syracuse…

Louisville’s Dana Evans drives past Syracuse’s Kamilla Cardoso on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville. (Photo courtesy of Maggie Boulton and Jared Anderson, via the ACC)

We should start talking about Dana Evans as a National Player of the Year candidate. Evans — the reigning ACC Player of the Year — had a rough start to Thursday night’s contest, missing on her first six shot attempts. Her first bucket came right around with three minutes left in the second quarter, and she received tough defense all night from Mangakahia, Lewis, and Syracuse’s 1-3-1 defense.

But when Evans flipped the switch, she owned the court. She scored seven points in the final three minutes of the second quarter, then poured in 14 points in the second half to lead all scorers with 21 points, and did so without making a single trip to the free-throw line. Evans also led the Cardinals in assists with seven and had four rebounds.

Evans’ attempts from behind the arc didn’t fall as often as she wanted them to. She was 3-of-8 from that range for an admirable nine points. With Syracuse being the tallest team Louisville has faced this season, Evans didn’t charge into the paint either. She converted just one lay-up all night. The rest of her points came from short to mid-range jumpers. Evans moved around the court with an eye at the basket, looking for the best shots. Eventually, she found them.

“We just needed to continue to move the ball around, finding each other and getting each other open shots,” Evans said. “But I think what took place in the second half that didn’t take place in the first half would be just getting paint touches, getting into the paint.”

Through 13 games, Evans leads the ACC in scoring with 19.5 points-per-game and she’s eighth in field goal percentage in the conference with a 48.3% mark; undoubtedly an impressive figure for a 5-foot-6 guard. Evans is also third in the ACC in assists per game with 4.6, trailing only Mangakahia and Pitt’s Dayshanette Harris.

According to Her Hoop Stats, Evans is sixth in the nation in offensive win shares this season with 3.4.

Yes, Hailey Van Lith and Olivia Cochran are awesome, and Kianna Smith and Elizabeth Balogun are very good contributors, but this Louisville team still belongs to Dana Evans. The Cardinals will go as far as she takes them, which might be to the national championship. She’s that damn good.

Speaking of Van Lith, she was incredible too. The rookie sensation — and frontrunner for the ACC Freshman of the Year award — scored all 18 of her points from behind the arc, going 6-of-11 from that range.

But more than her shooting, she was also fearless and crafty when attacking the glass, finishing with a team-high eight boards. Van Lith is 5-foot-7, by the way, but she rebounds like a power forward.

“I just knew the scout going into it,” Van Lith said. “My teammates did a great job of making the right read and I was able to knock them down tonight… Good things happen when we share the ball. That’s the key for us.”

Van Lith also finished with a block, a steal, and an assist, while playing tough defense on Syracuse’s pair of All-ACC guards. Louisville’s traps and the defending prowess of Van Lith and Evans was key to holding the Orange to just 2-of-13 shooting from three-point land.

A McDonald’s All-American in high school, Van Lith isn’t just living up to the hype as a top recruit. Right now, in this season, she’s a key piece to Louisville’s championship aspirations. Beyond this year, after Evans is gone, she’ll be the nucleus of the program.

For Syracuse, one of the bright spots was the play of Kamilla Cardoso. Against the No. 1 team in the country, the freshman didn’t back down. The raw 6-foot-7 center had 13 points, 11 rebounds, and two blocks in 33 minutes of play. It was her third double-double of the season, and she’s averaging 14.7 points and 9.4 boards per-game while shooting 60.6% from the floor, a mark that leads all of the ACC.

Her mistakes showed up in the turnover column, where she had seven unfortunate cough-ups, but she still showed off her massive potential with the way she scored and attacked the glass.

The best is yet to come for the Brazilian with braids. ESPN analyst LaChina Robinson — who knows a thing or two about post-play in the ACC — predicted that Cardoso will be the conference’s Player of the Year by her junior season. Indeed, while this season might be the last for Tiana Mangakahia and her dynamic passing, the future is bright for Syracuse with Cardoso.

Next up: Louisville is at Wake Forest on Sunday. Syracuse travels to Clemson. The Tigers fell to Florida State on Thursday (95-88), while the Demon Deacons lost to Georgia Tech (73-44).

Written by Mitchell Northam

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