11:05 PM ET
- Mechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.
SAN ANTONIO — The Louisville Cardinals had made it to the women’s NCAA tournament Sweet 16, but senior guard Dana Evans was concerned. Evans thought she wasn’t doing enough, and she had been going through a shooting slump (31.3% from the field on 25-of-80 shooting) in her previous five games.
But after tying her career high with 29 points Sunday in No. 2 seed Louisville’s 60-42 victory over Oregon that advanced the Cardinals to the Elite Eight, Evans could smile.
“I didn’t focus on my shot. I focused on defense and getting my teammates going. That just opened everything up for me,” said Evans, who went 11-of-21 from the field and 4-of-6 from the free throw line. “Getting something easy around the basket instead of settling for 3s kind of helped me get going.”
The first quarter was rough for both teams — Louisville led 10-8, and Evans didn’t score — but things began to click for her and the Cardinals after that.
The 5-foot-6 Evans has been the ACC’s player of the year the past two seasons and is expected to be a first-round pick in the WNBA draft April 15. But Evans was disappointed the Cardinals fell in the ACC tournament title game to NC State, and she worried about how they had started in their early-round NCAA tournament games, falling behind in the first quarter of both.
“She puts so much pressure on herself … she’s always trying to prove to people that she’s good,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “I tried to tell her before we came into this tournament, ‘You’ve got nothing else to prove. You’re two-time ACC player of the year, two-time All-American.’ I mean, I put her up there as player of the year in the country.”
Text messaging before Sunday’s game with another Louisville great, guard Asia Durr, also helped Evans. Durr, the No. 2 pick in the 2019 WNBA draft, led the Cardinals to the 2018 Women’s Final Four when Evans was a freshman, and Durr also was a two-time ACC player of the year.
Louisville jumps out early with Dana Evans sinking the jump shot.
“Asia, she’s just a great person all around. She wants to see everyone do well,” Evans said. “She knew I’ve been struggling, not really playing like myself. She sent me a nice text just telling me to relax; let the game come to me, not overthink it. I took her words, and it worked.
“Now that I feel like I’m back to my normal self, I feel like we’re gonna be just fine.”
Next up is No. 1 overall seed Stanford in the regional final on Tuesday, which Evans knows will be a big challenge. But she will try to play the same way she did Sunday, and keep Walz’s words in mind, too.
“I just said, ‘Enjoy it, this is your last go-around,'” Walz said of his advice to Evans. “It’s one of the things I tell all my players. Because it goes by so fast, and then we all learned last year how quick it can be taken away from us. I told Dana, ‘Enjoy this experience with your teammates, and the game will come to you.’ And it did, and she was really good tonight.”