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Rapid Reaction: Northwestern fades after hot start, outlasted by Louisville 62-53 in Round of 32

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A valiant fight against a top-10 team that just fell short.

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — A sweet start turned sour.

Trying to advance to its first Sweet Sixteen in program history, Northwestern women’s basketball (16-9, 11-7 Big Ten) fell to 2-seed Louisville (25-3, 16-3 ACC) in a 62-53 nail-biter.

The 7-seed Wildcats’ Blizzard defense stifled Louisville in the opening 20 minutes, but after jumping out to a large early lead, their offense slowed down as the Cardinals made adjustments to advance from the Round of 32.

After a 25-point outing against UCF on Monday, Lindsey Pulliam scored just four points on 1-of-11 shooting. Veronica Burton added 13, and Courtney Shaw added 10.

Kianna Smith and Dana Evans led the way for the Cardinals with 16 and 14 points, respectively, with 21 of them combined coming after halftime.

Northwestern came ready to play, while Louisville had trouble taking the lid off of the basket. Jordan Hamilton scored the Wildcats’ first seven points to give them a 7-0 lead. She finished with a game-high 17 points. Facing the press, Louisville turned it over twice as many minutes and had trouble getting the ball moving in the halfcourt.

NU did a good job of protecting the rim, denying the Cardinals open lanes to the basket and clearing defensive rebounds to move quickly. They turned defense into transition offense to lead 13-2, forcing Louisville head coach Jeff Walz to call timeout. The Wildcats blocked six shots in the quarter and held UofL to just 4-of-18 shooting. On the other hand, NU shot a perfect 4-for-4 from deep en route to a striking 25-10 lead after the first 10 minutes.

A Northwestern scoring drought of 6:39 allowed Louisville to climb back into it. NU head coach Joe McKeown called for time after a 9-0 Cardinal run midway through the second quarter made it 25-16.

But then it was Northwestern’s turn to answer, and it did so in a most Northwestern way: forcing turnovers. The ‘Cats turned Louisville over five times in a span of 3:39 and went on a 7-0 run to rebuff their lead to 32-16. UofL, which averages 12.1 turnovers per game, gave it away a whopping 11 times in the first half.

Despite just one point from its leading scorer Pulliam, who started 0-for-6, NU took a 32-20 advantage into halftime. Hamilton and Burton led with 12 and eight points, respectively. Louisville’s Dana Evans, the back-to-back ACC Player of the Year who averages 19.8 points per game, tallied seven points on 3-of-9 shooting. Her team had yet to win a game when trailing at the half.

Neither team could get much going offensively out of the break, but the Wildcats experienced foul trouble. Junior guard Sydney Wood picked up her third foul with 7:09 left in the third, and Louisville, a 79% free throw-shooting team, entered the bonus less than a minute later.

After a scoring drought of nearly three minutes, Courtney Shaw hit three layups to keep pace with the Cardinals, who began to find more of a scoring rhythm. NU kept a 40-28 advantage midway through the frame.

Then came the Cards. They took care of the ball, turning it over only five times in the second half. As NU went scoreless for the final 5:10 of the quarter, they scored at all three levels and mounted a 12-0 run to tie the game heading into the fourth.

UofL scored the first five points of the quarter and looked like it was pulling away, but Pulliam’s first bucket kept her team in it despite the ‘Cats missing several layups. The teams traded scores to make it 47-45 Louisville before Evans canned a huge triple to restore the Cardinals’ five-point cushion with 4:15 left.

Hailey Van Lith was a perfect 3-of-3 for 10 points to help key Louisville’s charge in the after the half.

Both teams went cold from the field, and UofL went without a field goal in the final 3:45. But it hit its final eight free throws to seal the win while NU shot just 4-of-9 from the charity stripe in the fourth.

The Wildcats’ season is over, while Louisville will face 6-seed Oregon on Sunday for a trip to the Elite Eight.