Seventh-seeded LSU faces No. 3 seed Louisville
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Louisville knows that LSU will be a different team than the one it routed in November.
Not only do the seventh-seeded Tigers (21-12) enter Sunday's regional semifinal confident following their second-round upset of No. 2 seed West Virginia, they're unfazed by losing Jeanne Kenney and Raigyne Moncrief to injury in each of their NCAA tournament victories.
Louisville coach Jeff Walz quickly notes how LSU has overcome that adversity, an important fact he hopes his third-seeded Cardinals (32-4) remember because the Lady Tigers are hungry to prove they can play through their obstacles.
LSU also might want to settle a score against the Cardinals after getting pasted 88-67 by them in the preseason WNIT. Louisville has opened with two lopsided tournament wins, but Walz has warned his team not to be overconfident.
After all, the Cardinals were that same injury-depleted just last spring and still reached the NCAA championship game.
"You're giving players an opportunity to play that were not getting those minutes before and they're taking advantage of that," Walz said Saturday, "and that's what you have to expect."
LSU proved that in beating WVU 76-67 despite losing senior guard Kenney, its second-leading scorer, to a concussion early in the game. Star post players Theresa Plaisance and Shanece McKinney also had four fouls with 12 minutes left and trailed by seven with five minutes remaining before the Tigers closed with a 20-4 run to earn their second straight Sweet 16 berth.
Freshman guard Moncrief sustained a knee injury in the tournament opener against Georgia Tech but LSU rolled to a 20-point win. The Tigers carry just eight healthy players but are helped by sophomore guard Danielle Ballard being one of them: she has scored 46 points the past two games.
"We were joking that our numbers are low and they can pretty much do whatever they want," LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said. "What am I going to do, sub them out?
"They're in a good spot right now, and Ballard has really elevated her play as of late. But Ballard has been that player all along for us."
Louisville meanwhile wants to maintain the offensive flow that has yielded an average victory margin of 38 points through two tournament games. Lopsided wins have been common all year for the Cardinals, and they continue striving to put games out of reach.
Against LSU, they just have to build on what worked last time they met on Louisville's home floor.
"They're going to see a more aggressive team," Cardinals forward Asia Taylor said, "a better team, a smarter team and a more disciplined team this time around."
Here are five things to watch when LSU and Louisville meet for a second time:
TURNOVERS: LSU has won two tournament games despite averaging nearly 21 turnovers a game and enters with a -6.5 margin. That must change against a Louisville squad averaging just 14 in two contests with a +4.5 margin.
SCHIMMEL COMFORTABLE AT HOME: Louisville senior guard Shoni Schimmel can score just about anywhere but is slightly better at the KFC Yum! Center. She averages 17.4 points per home game compared to 16.9 per road contest.
STRENGTH IN NUMBERS: Caldwell's joke about letting her injury-depleted roster do what it wants is yielding positive offensive results in the tournament. Five players scored at least 11 points against Georgia Tech, while five scored at least 11 against the Mountaineers. The Tigers have also been fierce rebounders with margins of at least 15 in both games.
PROLIFIC OFFENSES: Sunday's game matches two teams ranked 5-6 in NCAA tournament scoring. LSU's 87-point average is just ahead of the Cardinals, who are scoring 85.5 points per contest.
SOBER FANS: At least, they will be compared to the last meeting. Back in November, Walz offered to buy the first 2,500 beers at $2 each and spent $5,000. NCAA rules prohibit alcohol sales at tournament sites, which could mean a kinder, gentler and perhaps smaller crowd. "I'm not buying drinks tomorrow, so we might not have as many (fans)," Walz joked.