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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) – Louisville hasn’t had it easy as No. 1, but what’s important is that the Cardinals have answered the challenges.
Having the ball in Dana Evans’ hands has certainly helped.
Evans scored 20 points, including Louisville’s final 12 capped by two free throws with 6.5 seconds remaining, helping the top-ranked Cardinals survive Miami 79-76 on Tuesday.
Louisville (15-0, 8-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) led throughout in winning their third consecutive game as the No. 1 women’s team, but had to hold off a furious late rally by the Hurricanes. Evans took over for the final nine minutes, making all eight free throw attempts around a couple of baskets to give the Cardinals just enough space.
The senior All-American’s last four from the line were particularly huge, with the first two with 13.8 seconds left giving Louisville a 77-71 cushion that offset Kelsey Marshall’s 3-pointer five seconds later. Evans was fouled after inbounding the ball and made two more to make it 79-74, a safe margin to withstand Taylor Mason’s layup at the buzzer.
For Evans, the finish came two days after her three-point play in the final seconds rallied Louisville past Wake Forest 65-63. She finished with 25 points, which followed a 21-point effort that beat then-No. 23 Syracuse 67-54.
Evans logged 40 full minutes in those two contests before playing 37 against Miami and asserting herself over the critical final moments.
”Just do what you’ve got to do to win this game,” she said. ”That’s what I do. Whatever it takes, whether that’s getting to the free throw line because obviously my jump shot was off again tonight.”
Elizabeth Dixon scored a season-high 21 points off the bench while Elizabeth Balogun had 14 with four 3-pointers for Louisville.
Marshall scored 19 points and Naomi Mbandu 17 for the Hurricanes (7-6, 4-6), who fell to 0-8 against the No. 1 team. They outshot Louisville 47 percent to 46 percent but finished 2-3 on a five-game road stretch.
”We played tough and it was a heck of an environment,” Miami coach Katie Meier said. ”I could tell before the game that (the team) was really dialed in. I thought we were very focused for 40 minutes.”
As might be expected of teams ranked 2-3 respectively in ACC 3-point shooting, Louisville and Miami freely launched from behind the arc to combine for 18 of 48, including 11 by halftime. Several came during one entertaining second-quarter stretch, with the ‘Canes making consecutive 3s to get within 24-23 before answered on its next three possessions with two from Evans and Balogun stepping back for another to put Louisville up 33-27. Kianna Smith’s 3 gave the Cardinals a 44-36 halftime lead.
Louisville finished 10 of 30 from deep, while Miami was 8 of 18.
Free throws figured big as Louisville made 21 of 27 while Miami was 18 of 24. … ‘Canes center Sydnee Roby posted the game’s only block.
Miami: Fresh off rallying from 23 points down to win 72-68 at Pittsburgh, the Hurricanes looked like they might repeat the feat against Louisville in whacking a 16-point deficit down. They just kept sending Evans to the line, and that made the difference in another tight contest. Coach Katie Meier missed a chance to record her 300th victory at Miami.
Louisville: The Cardinals survived yet another challenge since becoming No. 1 thanks to Evans, who offset 5-of-15 shooting and 2 of 9 from long range to win the game at the line. Dixon provided a big boost as well with her best Louisville game since transferring from Georgia Tech, where she twice scored a career-best 22 two seasons ago. As good as her 6-of-7 shooting was, Dixon was happier with her nine rebounds.
”I wanted to make sure I was doing a better job rebounding,” Dixon said. ”I didn’t feel like I rebounded my best at Wake Forest, and that’s one of the things that makes me me. That’s one of the areas I really focused on this game.”
Miami hosts Georgia Tech on Thursday night to begin a four-game home stand.
Louisville hosts North Carolina on Thursday in the second of a three-game home stand.