Louisville, KY – The stage is set for two of the top women’s basketball programs in the nation as the 4-seed Louisville Cardinals take on the 5–seed Tennessee Lady Vols.
This matchup has the potential to be one of the greatest games of the NCAA Tournament. On one hand, you have the legendary Tennessee Lady Vols, who have been inconsistent at times this season but have turned the corner in the nick of time.
On the other, you have Louisville, a relatively new powerhouse looking for its first National Championship in women’s hoops. The Cardinals have been to the championship game twice in the past 10 years, but have yet to win the coveted title.
Louisville and Tennessee have played similar styles of basketball this season. From the high-powered offense to the aggressive defense and superb ball movement, both the Cardinals and the Lady Vols have been their best when they are scoring out in transition.
“I think from top to bottom they're an overall good team,” Tennessee center Mercedes Russell said. “They have guards that can penetrate and kick. They have a couple good shooters on that team and some pretty good rebounders. We've got the same on our team, so I think it will be a great matchup.”
Louisville forward Myisha Hines-Allen also spoke of the high-octane matchup.
“We're both aggressive teams. We like to get out in transition,” Hines-Allen said. “And the way you get out in transition is pressuring your defender. Both teams do that very well. So I think you're going to see a lot of trapping. On our part, you're going to see a lot of “mad dog” so we can get out in transition because that's how we like to run.”
Louisville and Tennessee last met in the NCAA Tournament on April 2, 2013. The 5-seed Cardinals defeated the No. 1 overall seeded and defending National Champions, Baylor Bears with the highly talented Brittney Griner in the Sweet Sixteen to advance to the Elite Eight and a chance at the Tennessee Lady Vols.
The Cardinals, appropriately dubbed the party crashers, crashed 2-seed Tennessee’s party in the Elite Eight. Louisville picked up an 86–78 victory to advance to the Final Four. Louisville would make it to the National Championship game to face UConn but came up short.
Last Time Out
Louisville defeated Chattanooga in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. The Cardinals’ execution was nearly perfect as Louisville set a NCAA Tournament record dishing out 28 assists while shooting 61% from the field.
The Cardinals dominated the paint, scoring 46 of its 62 points inside. Louisville also forced 15 turnovers and converted the turnovers into 22 points.
Louisville had four players score in double-figures: Asia Durr paced the Cardinals with 27 points on 10-of-16 shooting, including five triples. Myisha Hines-Allen tallied 16 points and 12 boards for her 16th double-double on the season. Jazmine Jones put up 14 points on 7-of-8 shooting, while Kylee Shook added 10 points and 4 rebounds.
Tennessee Lady Vols
Despite being inconsistent for much of the season, the Lady Vols came together to defeat the Dayton Flyers, 66–57.
Tennessee shot 42.3% from the field connecting on 22 field goals. The Volunteers only attempted 5 triples but did not connect. Tennessee dominated at the charity stripe, racking up 22 of its 66 points from the line.
The Lady Vols had three players notch double-figures: Diamond DeShields paced Tennessee tallying a game-high 24 points to go along with 5 boards, 5 assists, and 2 steals. Mercedes Russell and aSchaquilla Nunn both earned double-doubles. Russell racked up 14 points and 10 boards, while Nunn picked up 14 points and 15 boards.
Keys to the Game
The Lady Vols have faced 14 tournament teams in the 2016–2017 season, gathering a 9-5 record over teams in the field. This Tennessee team has been battle tested going 10–6 in, arguably, the toughest women’s basketball conference, the SEC. With wins over common opponents such as Notre Dame and South Carolina, Tennessee has the will and the fight to win.
Tennessee is led by DeShields, who is averaging 18.5 points per game and 6.8 rebounds per game. DeShields is shooting 44% from the field.
Louisville head coach Jeff Walz thinks DeShields is a huge threat to his Cardinals.
“Well, you know, DeShields, I'm hoping she thinks the game starts at 9:30,” Coach Walz said. “She's so explosive. She's got an unbelievable pull-up jump shot, extremely quick, pushes the ball in transition as fast as any player I've seen on film.”
Louisville will need a big game from the Big Three: Hines-Allen, Mariya Moore, and Durr. Hines-Allen is a threat in the paint as she can score on layups or mid-range jump shots. Hines-Allen is shooting 51% from the field and averaging 13.9 points per game and 9.2 rebounds per game.
Moore is leading the Cardinals in assists, dishing out 170 on the season. Moore recorded a triple-double earlier this season in a game against Syracuse. While Moore is streaky when it comes to racking up points, only averaging 5.8 per game in the postseason, Moore’s ability to get the ball in the hot-handed shooter is uncanny.
While Durr’s sharp shooting and three point efficiency are a huge threat to Tennessee. In post-season play, Durr is picking up 24.5 points per game. She has hit 113 triples on the season connecting on 41% of her three-pointers.
“Asia has been playing with a lot of confidence the last month and a half, and I'm really excited for her,” Coach Walz said. “She's really been efficient, which is important. She scored 26 or 27 in yesterday's game, but only took 16 shots. When you can do that, then you're really starting to get something accomplished out there.”
Louisville also has a significant advantage with its bench. The Cardinals bench notched 23 points in the matchup against Chattanooga and has been crucial all season to maintain when the starters get a break.
Tennessee Lady Vols
Louisville is averaging 74.9 points per game while allowing only 59.9 points. The Cardinals are shooting 45% from the field and 35% from beyond the arc while limiting opponents to 37% from the field and 30% from beyond the arc. Louisville’s defense has, at times this season, been an impenetrable wall.
Perhaps, Tennessee’s biggest challenge will be shutting down Durr. It’s a challenge in which the Lady Vols head coach Holly Warlick thinks will be difficult.
“She just has the complete package,” Coach Warlick said. “She's a terrific shooter, terrific three-point shooter, can get her shot off at any time, is a penetrator. I think the best thing Asia Durr does is she's a great passer. A great passer. So I think she's a complete package, and she's going to be a difficult to defend for us.”
Tennessee has a Big Three of its own with DeShields, Russell and Jaime Nared. The Lady Vols are the only Power 5 school that has three players averaging 15 or more points per game this season. DeShields leads the team in steals, picking off 1.4 steals per game. DeShields is an excellent shooter connecting on 43% from the field and 79% from the charity stripe.
Russell is adding 16.2 points per game and 9.5 rebounds per game. She’s shooting 57% from the field and 68% from the free throw line. Russell has notched a double-double 18 times on the season, the most ever by a Tennessee junior and second most in a season behind Candace Parker.
Nared rounds out the Big Three, averaging 15.2 points per game and 6.7 boards. Nared shoots 42% from the field and 87% from the line. The Big Three have combined to score 1,464 of Tennessee’s 2,282 points this season, accounting for 64.2% of the Lady Vols' scoring.
The 4-seed Louisville Cardinals and the 5-seed Tennessee Lady Vols tip off at 6:30 PM EST. The game will air on ESPN2.