The Vols have been denied their first trip to the Elite Eight since 2016

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Hailey Van Lith and Emily Engstler knew Louisville had allowed far too many leads to slip away in the fourth quarter this season, including the disheartening loss to Miami in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals.

Van Lith and Engstler refused to let that happen again in the NCAA Tournament.

Van Lith had 23 points with six assists and was solid at the foul strip on the stretch, while Emily Engstler had 20 points and 10 rebounds to help the top-seeded Cardinals hold off a frantic comeback from the Tennessee for a 76-64 victory on Saturday that sent coach Jeff Walz’s group back into the Elite Eight for the fourth straight time.

Kianna Smith also had 12 points for the Cardinals (28-4), whose 15-point lead was reduced to two in the fourth quarter before pulling out to set up a date with third seed Michigan on Monday. .

“We just kept reminding ourselves that as long as we get saves and rebounds, we’ll be up no matter what,” Van Lith said afterwards, “it doesn’t matter if we score or not. We were able to execute that. All of our players rallied and got rebounds and made good plays on defense and we were able to pull out.

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

“It’s been a really long journey,” said Engstler, a transfer from Syracuse, “and I just think sometimes you get a feeling. I feel really good on this team and I think we’re going to get there.

Rae Burrell led Tennessee’s No. 4 seed (25-9) with 22 points, but she didn’t get much help from the rest of her team, which had 18 turnovers and was 5 of 21 in the game. beyond the arch. Jordan Walker had 10 points but also had five turnovers.

“Louisville is tough. They are so tough on both ends of the court,” said Lady Vols coach Kellie Harper. “We needed to play with a little less errors at both ends of the pitch. But we have no renunciation within us. We cut it to two, we gave ourselves a chance in the fourth quarter. Love them for it.

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

Tennessee’s troubles really started in the second quarter.

The Lady Vols turned the ball over on four of their first six possessions, often resulting in easy field goals on the other end, and the Cardinals capitalized on the momentum by hitting an all-court press as well. The lead climbed to 27-13 before Harper called a timeout to save his team stuck in the backcourt.

The main reason Tennessee trailed, down 38-29 at halftime, was their own decent defense.

The Lady Vols finally started attacking after the break, with Burrell and Tess Darby as catalysts. Darby was scoreless in the first half but hit three 3s in the third quarter, and Burrell also had nine points during that streak, including a 3 that barely beat the buzzer to bring the Lady Vols to 55-50 towards the fourth.

Turnovers eventually got them in, though.

Tennessee had closed at 55-53 on Burrell’s three-point play to start the fourth quarter, but spat it out on three consecutive ground trips. Engstler scored after the first turnover, Smith drained a 3-pointer after the second, and Louisville quickly stretched the lead again, building a cushion big enough to advance to the Regional Finals.

“We’re going to have a heavyweight fight,” Walz said. “It’s going to be a fun day on Monday. It’s good to keep playing. »

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: Fell to 0-3 against Louisville in the NCAA Tournament, including a loss five years ago in the Sweet 16. And while the Lady Vols are making progress under Harper in their return to prominence, they still haven’t reached the Elite Eight since 2016 and their last Final Four appearance was in 2008.

Louisville: Reached the 70-point mark with 2:18 left and that was a bad sign for the Lady Vols, who were 24-2 when holding opponents under that total. The Cardinals struggled on the pitch most of the time – Van Lith was just 7 of 21 from the field and 0 of 5 from beyond the arc.

TECHNICAL PROBLEM

The video card hanging in the center inside INTRUST Bank Arena went dark around the same time the match started, preventing fans and coaches from seeing replays. He finally came back midway through the first quarter.