LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Ninth-ranked Louisville wasn’t sharp by any means, just effective enough to give coach Jeff Walz a promising hint of his new-look roster.
Dana Evans had 19 points, Elizabeth Balogun and Elizabeth Dixon combined for 25 points and 17 rebounds in their debuts, and the Cardinals pulled away from Western Kentucky 75-56 Tuesday night in the opener for both teams.
Credit some of the newcomers for taking the initial lead.
Most of the attention was focused on Balogun and Dixon, Atlantic Coast Conference All-Freshman team selections at Georgia Tech before transferring last spring. They jump-started a Cardinals squad moving on from the departures of consensus All-America Asia Durr, fellow guard Arica Carter and forward Sam Fuehring.
Balogun, who was the ACC’s top rookie, had 15 points, including three 3-pointers in the first quarter as Louisville made its first seven shots. The 6-foot-5 Dixon added 13 rebounds, 10 rebounds and a block. The two combined to make 10 of 16 shots as teammates fed them often, contributing to 22 assists for Louisville.
“The first five minutes I was still nervous,” said Balogun, who made five of six attempts, all from behind the arc. “But my team was like, ‘You’re good, just play through it and embrace the moment’ and I did that.”
Evans took over from there with 15 second-half points, including three 3-pointers as Louisville finished 8 of 17 from long range. The junior guard was hard on herself because of four turnovers to three assists, but she offset that with 7-of-14 shooting.
Bionca Dunham added 10 points while Jazmine Jones had 10 assists, eight points and eight boards to help the Cardinals shoot 49% and stay ahead of their in-state rivals.
While Walz said his team must improve defensively, the chemistry provided a good starting point for rotations.
“At the end of the day, when you can come out with a win, I’m good with it,” the 12th-year coach said. “We had four players (score) in double figures. So, we’ve got players. They can score. Now, what we’ve got to do is be able to stop somebody.”
Sherry Porter had 15 points, Dee Givens scored all 13 in the second half and Whitney Creech added 10 for the Hilltoppers, who shot just 33% (19 of 57) from the field but were within 10 early in the fourth.
“Our keys were making sure we didn’t get smoked in the defensive transition,” WKU coach Greg Collins said, “and try and take care of our defensive boards, which have been a real Achilles’ heel for us in the past. I feel like overall, we did a decent job in those two areas. We just let Dixon get off on the offensive boards in the first half.”
Western Kentucky committed 17 turnovers, leading to 16 Louisville points. The Cardinals had 16 miscues resulting in 15 Hilltoppers points.
Walz announced Monday that freshmen Nyah Green and Ramani Parker will redshirt this season. The 6-1 Green was named to the All-ACC Newcomer Watch List while the 6-4 Parker was a four-star prospect ranked in the top 13 by several recruiting sites. “Both of these young women would play as freshmen,” Walz said, “but it’s a matter of how much and we agreed this is the best path for them.”
Western Kentucky: Shooting was a struggle all night for the Hilltoppers. Solid rebounding helped them stay within reach through three quarters before being edged 40-37 in that category, but they couldn’t keep up with the Cardinals in the final 10 minutes. The ‘Toppers also had just seven assists.
Louisville: The Cardinals never trailed but didn’t dominate as in past seasons as they unveiled a different lineup. The result was still the same as veterans Evans, Dunham and Jones meshed with “The Two Elizabeths” to spread the ball around and gain the rebounding edge on WKU.
Louisville has two more games this week but got a good start toward staying in the top 10 with a hard-fought non-conference win.
Western Kentucky visits Mercer on Friday.
Louisville faces another in-state school when it hosts Murray State on Friday.
For more AP college basketball coverage: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_Top25
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.