NCAA Women’s Sweet 16 round continues

Hailey Van Lith had 23 points and six assists, Emily Engstler had 20 points and 10 rebounds, and No. 1 seed Louisville held off Tennessee 76-64 in the women’s NCAA Tournament on Saturday to reach the Elite Eight for the fourth consecutive time.

Kianna Smith also had 12 points for the Cardinals (28-4), who blew most of an early 15-point lead before pulling away late in the fourth quarter to set up a date with either No. 3 seed Michigan or 10th-seeded South Dakota for a spot in the Final Four.

The Cardinals have become one of the nation’s dominant women’s programs under coach Jeff Walz — much like the Lady Vols were for so many years under Pat Summitt — but are still chasing their first national championship.

Rae Burrell led fourth-seeded Tennessee (25-9) with 22 points, but she didn’t get a whole lot of help from her team, which had 18 turnovers. Jordan Walker contributed 10 points but had five of the turnovers.

The Cardinals asserted control midway through the first quarter, taking advantage off too many unforced errors by the Lady Vols. Kaiya Wynn’s turnover led to Van Lith’s easy transition layup, then Wynn missed a pair of foul shots and Burrell missed an open 3-pointer from the corner in the waning minutes that allowed Louisville to stretch its lead.

The trouble for Tennessee really began in the second quarter.

The Lady Vols turned the ball over on four of their first six possessions, often resulting in easy baskets at the other end, and the Cardinals seized on the momentum swing by slapping on a full-court press, too. Their lead ballooned to 27-13 before Lady Vols coach Kellie Harper called a timeout to rescue her team trapped in the backcourt.

The biggest reason Tennessee hung around, down 38-29 at the half, was decent defense of its own.

The Lady Vols finally got going on offense out of the break, with Burrell and Tess Darby as the catalysts. Darby was scoreless in the first half but hit three 3s in the third quarter, and Burrell also had nine points over that stretch, including a 3 that barely beat the buzzer to get the Lady Vols within 55-50 heading to the fourth.

The turnovers finally did them in, though.

Tennessee had closed within 55-53 on Burrell’s three-point play to begin the fourth quarter but coughed it up on three straight trips down floor. Engstler scored after the first turnover, Smith drained a 3-pointer after the second and Louisville quickly stretched the lead again, building a big enough cushion to coast into the regional finals.

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