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Dana Evans Has Louisville Primed for Perfection
Film breakdown on how Evans had her fingerprints all over their victory over DePaul
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By the end of last season, Dana Evans had a list of accolades about as long as Bardstown Road in downtown Louisville. She became the first player in ACC history to go from Sixth Player of the Year to ACC Player of the Year. She was also named a WBCA All-American, along with making the AP and USBWA All-America Second Teams as well. She made the leap from year two to year three and became a national superstar. For Evans, the sky seemed to be the limit.
Fast forward to this season, the Cardinals’ locker room looks quite different. Gone are the All-ACC First Teamers Kylee Shook and Jazmine Jones, as both went off to the WNBA. Bionca Dunham and Yacine Diop graduated after successful tenures on campus. Now, as the only senior on the roster, Evans is the team’s elder stateswoman. Sure, Head Coach Jeff Walz had secured a phenomenal recruiting class to bolster the team, but it was clear before the season started that Louisville’s ceiling would depend on Evans’ performance as their unquestioned leader.
It’s safe to say that Evans was more than prepared for the added pressure, and it wasn’t any more apparent this season than her surgical performance in the Cardinals’ dominant victory on ESPN over #20-ranked DePaul. Initially, Louisville was set to face UConn in the Jimmy V Classic. However, a positive COVID-19 test threw a wrench into things and Walz had to find a new opponent quickly. Luckily for him and his team, the Blue Demons stepped up to the plate. The Blue Demons previously had a game against Villanova scheduled that same day, but it was later postponed. After some negotiating behind the scenes, the stage was set in “Bubbleville” for a matchup with decades of history—they played yearly back in Conference USA and the Big East, and were 16-16 head-to-head since 1982 heading into Friday’s tilt.
In a matchup between two powerhouses of their respective conferences, the Cardinals trounced the Blue Demons 116-75 behind five double-digit scorers, stifling defense, and an excellent gameplan from Walz. DePaul, perennially an elite offensive unit, came into the game leading the nation in scoring while shooting 44% from three-point land and averaging 23 assists per game. Against Louisville? Doug Bruno’s team only had 10 assists and shot an uncharacteristically poor 4-27 from behind the arc. To add some more context, the Blue Demons plummeted from second in the nation in points per possession to 37th in just one night.
Aside from a back-and-forth first quarter, Walz made sure Louisville was on a string defensively; controlled closeouts, showing help, active hands, and ferocious rebounding. From start to finish, it was absolutely clinical. Offensively, it was more of the same. The Cardinals aren’t usually a fast-paced team like DePaul (they ranked 266th in possessions per game last year), but they showed Friday that they can adjust to any play style. Louisville had 93 possessions and finished with 26 assists and 32 fast break points, both season highs.
Evans repeatedly broke DePaul’s vaunted full-court press and scored with ease once they had the numbers advantage. ''The pace of the game was something that we like. We like to get up and down the floor trying to play as fast as we can,'' Walz said later. ''That's how DePaul plays. They have a style of play and they are going to press the entire game. We did a really nice job looking for our teammates and making easy opportunities and made shots.'' The Cardinals’ 116 points marked the most points in program history, with their 41-point margin of victory setting another record as well.
So, how exactly did Evans dice up DePaul so easily? Furthermore, what could this performance mean for Louisville’s national championship hopes?
After averaging 18 points per game last season, and over 20 points per game so far this season, teams simply have to respect her scoring ability. As a result, this helps Evans create easy looks for her teammates. She entered the game with an absurd 50% assist rate, meaning that Evans assisted on half of her teammates’ field goals when she was on the court. The clips below illustrate how she does it.
Look at how she pushes the pace as soon as Olivia Cochran grabs the rebound: eyes up, reading the scrambling defense, getting deep in the paint before she fires a pinpoint dart right into Kianna Smith’s shooting pocket. Smith misses the three-pointer, but that first clip gives some idea of just how fast Evans and the rest of Walz’s squad were willing to play against the pace of DePaul.
In the next play, she niftily maneuvers around a press by DePaul’s Sonya Morris with a left-right crossover before racing up the court, drawing the defense of Dee Bekelja, and in turn freeing up Hailey Van Lith in the corner for a catch-and-shoot jumper. Bruno and the Blue Demons looked to make life difficult for Evans throughout the contest, but the senior was just too smooth as she broke their press almost every time.
The last two plays showcase Evans’ dribble penetration generating trouble-free buckets for Van Lith and Smith. DePaul’s defenders struggled all night as they simply couldn’t guard her at the point of attack. Once she made it past her matchup, the Blue Demons defense would collapse like a house of cards leading to effortless dimes for the Gary, Ind. native.
Evans finished with a calm seven assists on the night in what was a commanding performance. Even though she’s only hitting 32% from three-point range through four games, well below last year’s 43%, she is still a fantastic lead guard with preternatural court vision and a desire to get her teammates involved by any means possible. Oh, and she chipped in her 20 point average too on Friday, for those of you wondering. The game is just too simple for Dana Evans—someone turn up the difficulty sliders.
Evans and the Cardinals are now 4-0 on the season with ACC play beginning tonight at 7 p.m. ET on the road against the Duke Blue Devils and Head Coach Kara Lawson. Yes, as we saw on Thursday night the conference will definitely be tough with NC State and Syracuse lurking as ranked foes. However, judging from what we saw against DePaul, the Cardinals will be a formidable threat to run the table for the rest of the season due to their exceptional coaching, Evans’ leadership, and the significant contributions of their newcomers. We’ll talk more about Louisville’s new additions on Friday.