Louisville rolls past Liberty, 62-42
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP)—Angel McCaughtry’s loudest, fist-pumping howl of delight came after she forced a Liberty turnover along the sideline in the first half of Louisville’s opening game in the NCAA tournament.
The play offered insight into the defense-first mentality of third-seeded Louisville, which didn’t need a single player to score more than 12 points in a dominant 62-42 victory over the 14th-seeded Lady Flames on Sunday night.
“Our goal coming into the game was to turn them over 25 times,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz began. “Our goal was to get 25 points off those turnovers.”
The Cardinals did better than that. They forced 27 turnovers and converted those extra possessions into 29 points.
McCoughtry and Candyce Bingham each scored 12 points in a short night’s work, while Becky Burke was Louisville’s only other scorer in double figures with 11 points.
McCoughtry, the Big East defensive player of the year, also had four steals, as did Bingham as Louisville’s defense pressed aggressively throughout.
“We knew that they had never seen any pressure like us, so we decided to come out and pressure them,” Bingham said. “We did a very good job of that.”
Said Walz: “That’s kind of what we do. We’re not the greatest half-court offensive team. We know that, we accept that, we try to get better at it. … Fortunately for us, it’s not a half-court game. As long as we can score, we can press, and that’s really what’s made us go the entire season.”
The Cardinals (30-4) led by 31 midway through the second half, allowing them to keep their starters well-rested in advance of Tuesday’s second-round game against LSU, which is seeded sixth in the Raleigh Regional.
Megan Frazee, who averaged 20.3 points in leading 14th-seeded Liberty (24-9) to a Big South title, managed only eight points on 3-of-14 shooting to go with eight rebounds. Amber Mays added 11 points for the Lady Flames.
“We forced them into a lot of contested shots,” Walz said. “Megan never— I didn’t feel she got any wide-open looks, and that was our goal.”
Frazee wasn’t the only Liberty player to struggle from the field. The Lady Flames shot 34.1 percent (15-for-44).
“They did do a good job on defense and it’s one of those things where I would have liked more of my shots to fall, but they don’t always do that,” Frazee said. “Basketball is definitely a team sport, so other people get involved, but they definitely played good defense tonight. I don’t know how many turnovers our team had, but it was quite a few, so I definitely give them props for that.”
The Cardinals also outrebounded Liberty 37-30.
McCoughtry, who checked out in the middle of the second half, played only 25 minutes, as did starting guard Deseree Byrd, while Bingham played 26.
“I was really pleased with the fact that we could actually get Candyce and Angel and Des some rest tonight,” Walz said. “Normally they’re playing about 40 minutes every night, so for us to be able to give them 26, 25 and 25 really is a positive thing for us.”
Liberty was competitive during a defense-oriented opening 10 minutes, pulling to 13-10 on Kylee Beecher’s layup on a feed from Rachel McLeod with 9:28 remaining in the first half.
Louisville began to pull away when Burke’s layup with 6:45 left ignited a 13-0 run. Burke added a 3 during the spurt, and McCoughtry converted a graceful layup soaring across the lane before capping the run with a jumper that made it 29-12.
Louisville led 35-17 at halftime and the lead grew to 58-27 with a little under 10 minutes to go, but afterward Liberty coach Carey Green complimented his team, which had a winning streak as long as 18 games and has lost only twice since falling at Vanderbilt on Dec. 22.
“A lot of times coaches get caught up in wins and losses and miss the big picture,” Green said. “This team has been successful for most of the season. … Tonight we were beaten by a very good Louisville team, a team that has a tremendous amount of talent.”