GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP)Louisville coach Jeff Walz asked his team to dig a little deeper on the defensive end.
The Cardinals did just that.
Hailey Van Lith had 15 points, and unranked Louisville used a stifling defensive performance to knock off No. 10 Notre Dame 64-38 on Saturday to advance to the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament championship game.
Louisville limited the Fighting Irish to 31.4% shooting and forced 22 turnovers, using a full-court press to create chaos while closing off entry passes in half-court sets.
It’s the first time Notre Dame, the top seed coming into the tournament, has been held to under 50 points all season.
“What an unbelievable effort on the defensive end,” Walz said. “Our effort defensively was fantastic and if we want to continue to have success Sunday and into the NCAA Tournament that is what we have to do.”
The Cardinals (23-10) will be seeking their first title since 2018 on Sunday when they face No. 8 Virginia Tech, which beat No. 13 Duke 58-37 in the other semifinal game at the Greensboro Coliseum.
Olivia Cochran had 12 points and eight rebounds and Mykasa Robinson and Chrislyn Carr each had 10 points for Louisville.
Maddy Westbeld had nine points to lead Notre Dame (25-5), which played without point point guard Olivia Miles, who was injured in last week’s win over Louisville and has not played since. The Irish already had lost starter Dara Mabrey to a season-ending injury earlier this year.
Louisville avenged two previous losses to Notre Dame, including one where Miles hitting a last-second game-winner.
But this one was all Louisville from the start, with the Cardinals leading by 14 at halftime and never looking back.
“I knew how we were going to play,” Van Lith said. “The team is just locked in. I knew how we were going to play and it was a matter of whether Notre Dame was going to play that same way.”
Notre Dame clearly missed Miles’ ball-handling and vision.
The Irish had their hands full with Louisville’s full-court press and struggled to get off quality shots out of their offensive sets, missing 16 of their first 19 shots while turning the ball over 13 times in the first half.
Sonia Citron, who had 28 points in Notre Dame’s quarterfinal win over three-time defending champion North Carolina State, didn’t score until the middle of the third quarter with the Irish down by 20. She finished with eight points.
Before that driving layup, Notre Dame had more turnovers than points.
Carr’s 3-pointer with about two minutes remaining in the third quarter put the Cardinals up by 27, and it was clear Notre Dame’s seven-game winning streak was coming to an end.
“They definitely came ready to play for 40 minutes, especially defensively,” Westbeld said. “They put all of their best defenders on Sonia. They were very strategic about how they came out and played us.”
Louisville: The Cardinals will get an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament with a win Sunday but will make it as an at-large team even if they lose. But they can certainly improve their seeding with another big win.
Notre Dame: The big question moving forward for the Irish will be if Miles can return for the NCAA Tournament and whether that may impact the team’s seeding. Niele Ivey, the ACC coach of the year, said Miles is day to day moving forward. “That requires everybody to step up,” Ivey said. “We need everybody to step up and do a little more. We have shown we can do it. We just have to do it a little more.” She said she hoped Miles’ injury didn’t affect her team’s seeding and that the committee needs to look at its body of work over the entire season.
Louisville: Faces Virginia Tech in the finals of the ACC Tournament on Sunday.
Notre Dame: Awaits NCAA Tournament seed.
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