The Louisville Cardinals were a top-ranked team all season long. As the year progressed, they proved time and time again why they belonged there. They won nine matchups against Top 25 teams and had the second-best record in the ACC, right behind NC State. Poised with an experienced group and one of the most versatile lineups in basketball, Louisville has made it to the Final Four for the fourth time in school history. A couple more wins, and the Cards will be the champions for the first time ever.
What’s made Louisville’s NCAA Tournament run so special has been their ability to win comfortably round after round. Its smallest margin of victory was in the second round against Gonzaga, where it still managed to win by nine points. Every other game was a double-digit victory. Even as the quality of competition improved, the path to victory stayed the same for the Cardinals. They’d hold teams to under 40 percent shooting from the field and their balanced attack on offense would feature several different players scoring in double digits.
The Cardinals might have a balanced attack, but one player leads that attack: Hailey Van Lith. The sophomore guard has been nothing short of sensational. She’s leading the team with 21.5 points per game in the tournament and was named the most outstanding player of the Wichita Region. The Cardinals need spectacular guard play if they want to beat the opponents left in the NCAA Tournament, and, with Van Lith on their side, they’ll have a good chance.
However, Van-Lilith is not alone. All tournament long different players have stepped up in different scenarios. Chelsie Hall scored 15 points on 60 percent shooting against Michigan, Emily Engstler had a double-double versus Tennessee and Kianna Smith had 15 points against Albany. Playing the Cardinals becomes exhausting because they have such a wide array of offensive weapons. You have to try and contain several players who can score at ease and then you have to try to attack their staunch defense, which has held all tournament opponents to under 41 percent shooting from the field. So far, no one has been able to challenge this team during the dance and win. South Carolina will take its shot on Friday at 7 p.m. ET (ESPN).
This Final Four matchup will undoubtedly be Louisville’s biggest challenge. The Gamecocks have been frontrunners all year long and appear to be peaking at the right time. They have a stacked team, veteran leadership and the coach of the year in Dawn Staley on their side. In this battle of the No. 1 seeds, the Gamecocks will be favored and should be favored. They’ve been the premier team this year and they are the team to beat in Minneapolis this weekend.
If the Cardinals get past the Gamecocks, they’ll play the winner of UConn vs. Stanford for the NCAA title on Sunday. It would be their third appearance in the title game and they’d be looking for their first win. But first thing’s first, let’s see what happens against the Gamecocks on Friday. It’s set up to be a fierce, competitive matchup.