LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP)Hailey Van Lith scored 28 points to lead No. 7 Louisville to an 87-68 victory over Cincinnati in Monday’s season opener for both teams.
The Cardinals broke the game open with a 15-0 first-quarter run and led 46-25 in the final minute of the first half.
Van Lith, a junior guard who scored at least 20 points in four of Louisville’s five NCAA Tournament games last season, made 12 of 20 shots, including 6 of 9 in the first half. She scored nine points in Louisville’s big early run. Her 3-pointer with 1:28 left in the opening period gave the Cardinals a 24-7 lead.
”I would say it’s impressive, but I think that’s just Hailey,” said Mykasa Robinson, a fifth-year senior guard who had six rebounds, five steals and five points off the bench. ”That’s what Hailey does. So, she’s going to keep doing that day in and day out.”
Morgan Jones, a 6-foot-2 Florida State transfer, scored 14 points and blocked three shots in her Louisville debut. She’s one of three transfers coach Jeff Walz added to the roster after the Cardinals lost three starters off last year’s Final Four squad.
Liz Dixon, a 6-5 forward, added 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting.
Sophomore Braylyn Milton led the Bearcats with a career-high 28 points on 9-of-12 shooting. Milton was perfect on five 3-point shots. Mya Jackson and A’riel Jackson added 12 points apiece.
The Cardinals shot 51.7% and outrebounded the Bearcats 39-27.
Cincinnati used a 17-4 spurt over a five-minute stretch in the second and third quarters to pull within eight points, but that was as close as it got in the second half. The Bearcats shot 43.4% and committed 24 turnovers but made 9 of 13 3-pointers.
Bearcats coach Michelle Clark-Heard, a former assistant under Walz at Louisville, said Louisville’s height and length were too much for her team to overcome. That’s why she went with a slightly different lineup to start the second half as her team made one last run to stay in the game.
”It was definitely difficult, and I think an adjustment for our post players,” she said. ”But I was proud of how we just continued to battle. That’s why I wanted to make sure we could stretch the floor out some with our guards and just go at it that way.”
Louisville has been in the top 10 for 95 consecutive weeks. Provided the Cardinals don’t slip up against either IUPUI on Thursday or at Belmont on Sunday, they’ll make it 96 next week.
LOUISVILLE SHOWS SIZE
One change from last year for Louisville was that Walz started Dixon alongside 6-3 Olivia Cochran. The two players mostly rotated last season.
Josie Williams, a 6-5 graduate transfer from Utah Valley, gives Louisville more options in the frontcourt. Williams, Dixon and Cochran combined for 22 points and 18 rebounds – including six points and four boards in less than 12 minutes from Williams.
”It’s great to have some depth, and that’s one thing Josie also brings to this team,” Walz said. ”Her ability to score around the basket was pretty impressive.”
Cincinnati: The Bearcats returned four players who started at least 12 games last season and nearly two-thirds of their points scored, but Cincinnati did not have the size or depth to stay with Louisville.
Louisville: The Cardinals unveiled their 2022 Final Four banner before the tip. If Walz and his team get back there this year, it will likely be due to the balanced scoring and size Louisville displayed on Monday.
Cincinnati has its home opener Thursday against Tennessee Tech.
Louisville hosts IUPUI on Thursday.
AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25