LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Danielle Ballard pumped in 24 points and added 10 rebounds en route to her third consecutive double-double of the NCAA Tournament, but the LSU women’s basketball team had its season come to a close during a 73-47 loss to third-seeded and No. 4 Louisville in Sunday’s NCAA Sweet 16 round as 11,097 fans at the KFC Yum! Center.
LSU (21-13) was playing in its second straight Sweet 16 under head coach Nikki Caldwell. The Lady Tigers had eight active players and were without two of their top four starters, Jeanne Kenney and Raigyne Moncrief, who were lost to injury over the team’s first two NCAA Tournament games.
For Ballard, the 24 points on 12-of-25 shooting enabled her to put together three consecutive 20-point performances for the first time in her career. She also became the first player since former All-American Sylvia Fowles to secure three straight double-doubles.
Making her first career start, Jasmine Rhodes tacked on eight points, eight rebounds and two steals over her 31 minutes of action. DaShawn Harden and Theresa Plaisance provided seven points apiece. Shanece McKinney equaled her career-high with 10 rebounds before she fouled out.
Louisville (33-4) was sparked by Shoni Schimmel’s 19 points and six assists. The Cardinals sank a season’s best 12 three-pointers led by Tia Gibbs’ five triples off the bench. Antonita Slaughter registered 10 points, and Louisville amassed all 28 of the game’s bench points. The Cardinals will square off with No. 4 seed Maryland, a 73-62 winner over top-seeded Tennessee, in Tuesday’s NCAA Elite 8.
“I'm extremely proud of this group,” Caldwell said. “They have an unbelievable spirit about them. They have shown not only to our fans and families but to the basketball community that they can achieve when people think that we can't, and they've shown that we can. Honestly, we played a very tough Louisville team that played extremely well. It just wasn't our night, but I can't say enough how proud I am with this group for the challenges and the adversity that they had to overcome.”
LSU controlled the tempo during the opening moments of the first half. Rhodes opened the scoring with a layup high off the glass before Ballard reeled off five consecutive buckets to give the Lady Tigers a 12-9 edge at the 12:31 mark.
Louisville fired back with 18 of the next 22 points over the next 5:32 capped by back-to-back triples from Schimmel and Gibbs to make it 27-16.
The Cardinals continued to push the tempo, and Schimmel tallied seven of the team’s final 12 points which allowed Louisville to take a 41-23 advantage into the locker room.
LSU raced out with six of the first seven points of the second half to get as close as 42-29 with 17:28 remaining. Ballard knocked down a pair of baskets sandwiched between a Rhodes jumper.
The Cardinals turned to Schimmel who pieced together a trey and two layups during an 80-second span which vaulted Louisville back ahead 49-31 with 15:47 to go. U of L would trail by no less than 16 points the rest of the way.
“This team did all that they could do considering,” Caldwell said. “Our bench, they came in, and they tried their best. I'm proud of them for that. We didn't execute as well as we wanted to, but it wasn't that they were fearful. I think, when you look at Louisville, they're a very experienced team. They have unbelievable guard play. They have depth. They did a nice job of pushing the tempo. Their transition game is one of the best in the country, and they get out quickly.”
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