Associated Press –
ALBANY, N.Y. — Louisville coach Jeff Walz breathed a big sigh of relief. His top-seeded Cardinals clamped down on defense again and now they’re headed to the Elite Eight.
“We knew coming into this it was going to be hard-fought game,” Walz said after his Cardinals defeated No. 4 seed Oregon State 61-44 in the Albany Regional semifinals on Friday night. “We did a really, really good job of preparation and our players were confident in what we had gone over. That’s half the battle. It gives you a good sense of calm.”
Sam Fuehring and Asia Durr each had 17 points for the Cardinals, who held the Beavers to 2-of-22 shooting from beyond the arc, 0 for 5 in the decisive third quarter. They shot 38 percent from 3 during the season but had struggled in the tournament, shooting just 30 percent in the first two games.
“I loved our effort tonight,” Oregon State coach Scott Rueck said. “I thought we played an excellent game, with the exception of shooting the ball. The ball just didn’t fall and that’s basketball.
“They did a nice job taking the rim away, forced us into perimeter shots. That’s something that we’re very comfortable with. For whatever reason they just didn’t go.”
Louisville (32-3) will meet UConn (34-2) on Sunday for a berth in the Final Four. The Huskies defeated UCLA 69-61 in the first game. The Cardinals beat UConn 78-69 in late January.
Oregon State (26-8), 0-3 against Louisville, sputtered in the third quarter to fall behind by 16 and couldn’t recover in the rematch of a regional final last year that Louisville won by 33. The Beavers shot 30.4 percent (17 of 56), just above their season low.
“We made them take tough shots. It was the whole team,” Durr said. “During this time of year that’s what it comes down to.”
Durr ranks third all-time in program history in points in the NCAA Tournament, just two points shy of tying Angel McCoughtry for second.
Fuehring, who was 13 of 14 for 29 points in the first two games of the tournament, finished 7 of 12 and pulled down a team-high nine rebounds.
Mikayla Pivec, who entered the game averaging 19.5 points in the tournament for Oregon State, finished with 17 points, the only player in double figures for the Beavers, who matched their season low in points.
Oregon State only trailed 30-23 at halftime despite shooting 2 of 13 from long range and allowing six 3s at the other end. But the Beavers missed their first six shots of the decisive third quarter and committed two quick turnovers, scoring just one point in seven minutes as the Cardinals began to slowly pull away. Consecutive baskets by Durr and a steal and layup by Dana Evans boosted the lead to 44-28 after three.
Oregon State had 30 turnovers in its two tournament victories and a negative turnover margin, but the Beavers committed just 12, allowing nine points from the mistakes. The Beavers survived two tight games in the opening rounds on their home court, Gill Coliseum. The Beavers topped Boise State 80-75 in overtime, then held off Gonzaga 76-70. The Beavers knocked down 45 free throws in those victories, then traveled 2,449 miles to New York state’s capital to face the Cardinals. On this night they were 8 of 13 from the line.
Louisville allowed only 84 points and 32.7 percent shooting in winning its first two tournament games, a reflection of the defensive prowess that led the Atlantic Coast Conference in scoring defense (59.4) In its tournament victories over Robert Morris and Michigan, the Cardinals scored 47 points off 37 forced turnovers.
Oregon State guard Katie McWilliams played in the Sweet 16 for the fourth straight time. It was her 138th game for the Beavers, one behind Marie Gulch’s school record. McWilliams did not score in her last college game.
Oregon State: In his nine seasons Rueck has established his alma mater as a perennial power. The Beavers, ranked No. 11 in the final AP poll, are one of eight teams in the nation to make the Sweet 16 in each of the last four seasons, along with UConn, South Carolina, Notre Dame, Baylor, Stanford, UCLA and Mississippi State. The Beavers played without sweet-shooting junior guard Kat Tudor, who was lost for the season in January to a left knee injury. Before she was hurt, Tudor was 40 of 86 from beyond the arc, an impressive 46.5 percent. She was on the bench cheering Friday night.
Louisville: The Cardinals continue to shine under Walz, whose pipeline of talent is impressive. In the last two years the Cardinals are a combined 68-6, four of the losses coming against teams in the top five of the AP poll. With Durr leading the way in her final season, the Cardinals are poised to make the Final Four and have that victory over the Huskies in late January to boost their confidence.
Follow 1029/750 The Game on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram