Louisville's NCAA Tournament run ends in Elite 8 against Caitlin Clark and Iowa Hawkeyes
SEATTLE — Before the 2022-23 women’s basketball season started, Louisville head coach Jeff Walz knew it would take some time for his team to gel. He gave the Cardinals grace to figure it out. Despite the team losing more games than it had in 11 years, he never wavered.
The Cardinals proved their coach right by hitting a postseason stride and making the Elite Eight for the fifth consecutive time in as many NCAA Tournament appearances. But U of L ran into Naismith Trophy finalist Caitlin Clark and an Iowa team that made 16 of 35 3-pointers on Sunday, falling in the Seattle Regional 4 final 97-83 at Climate Pledge Arena.
“It took us a while to get a feel for who was who, who could do what, what are the roles going to be,” Walz said Saturday, “and once we figured that out, which we have over the past month and a half, everybody's bought in. It's a special group to watch.”
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U of L won six of its final eight regular-season games after Walz settled on a starting lineup of Hailey Van Lith, Olivia Cochran, Norika Konno, Mykasa Robinson and Nyla Harris. The Cards then beat the Fighting Irish by 26 in the ACC Tournament semifinals before falling to Virginia Tech in the championship game.
The NCAA Tournament provided No. 5-seed U of L (26-12) a chance to make another deep run, one year after it made the Final Four, and the team took advantage, getting to the second weekend.
But that run ended against the second-seed Hawkeyes (30-6), who are in their first Final Four in 30 years.
"We're a family. We do everything for each other," said guard Robinson after her final game with the Cardinals. "Even though we didn't get the outcome we wanted tonight, we've had a hell of a season. People can say we didn't, but we know what it is here at Louisville. I'm just super proud of this team."
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Walz added: "They're not just great basketball players. They're wonderful young women. I told them that I couldn't be prouder of what they've done because of the impact they've even had on my own kids. I've got a 9-year-old and a 7-year-old, girls, that just admire my entire team."
In a game that was billed as a showdown between Clark and Van Lith, the Hawkeye dominated for most of the showdown. Clark — the Seattle 4 Region's Most Outstanding Player — became the first person to record a 40-point triple-double in NCAA Tournament history, men's or women's, with 41 points (11 of 19 shooting), 10 rebounds and 12 assists, contributing to 88% of Iowa’s first-half scoring.
Van Lith got the game started by scoring six of Louisville’s first eight points to take an 8-0 lead. The junior recorded her eighth 20-point performance in an NCAA Tournament game, trying to will her team to back-to-back Final Four appearances with 27 points (8 of 19 shooting).
The Washington native headlines a rising senior class returning for the 2023-24 season that also includes Cochran, who notched a career-high 20 points with 14 rebounds against Iowa, and Merissah Russell (four points, five rebounds). After a solid freshman campaign, Harris should return and retain her starting spot. Forward Alexia Mobley, who redshirted in 2021-22 after reclassifying and arriving a year early out of Reynoldsburg (Virginia) High School, could provide depth to U of L’s front court next season. She missed the start of this season with a foot injury and only played in seven games, debuting Dec. 18 against Pittsburgh.
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Still, U of L will have plenty of spots to fill. Six seniors — Robinson, Konno, Liz Dixon, Josie Williams, Chrislyn Carr and Morgan Jones — will graduate after using up all of their eligibility. And three players announced plans to transfer during the season — sophomore Payton Verhulst, now at Oklahoma, and freshmen Zyanna Walker and Jalyn Brown.
The Cardinals currently don’t have any signees from the Class of 2023 after losing verbal commit Sole Williams to Texas A&M in the fall. Every player in espnW’s top 100 ranking is already committed to another university.
That leaves the transfer portal, which opened March 13. So far, the Cardinals have added Eylia Love, a sophomore guard from Georgia Tech who came to Louisville in January and has two remaining years of eligibility. She averaged 10.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.5 assists for the Yellow Jackets in 2021-22.
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The Cardinals have had luck with transfers over the past couple of years with players like Emily Engstler, the No. 4 pick in the 2022 WNBA Draft, Chelsie Hall and two of this year’s top three scorers in Carr (11 points per game, team-leading 42.5% from 3) and Jones (8.9 ppg).
Reach Louisville football, women's basketball and baseball beat writer Alexis Cubit at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter at @Alexis_Cubit.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: March Madness 2023: Louisville women's basketball, Hailey Van Lith fall