Louisville ends Lady Tigers' NCAA run

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — As she came out for pregame introductions, Louisville forward Asia Taylor ripped her arms through the air as if making an imaginary home run swing while her teammates pretended to search for the ball in the distance.

Moments later, Taylor and the Cardinals were delivering some very real blows to the LSU Lady Tigers.

Louisville slugged, indeed.

A depleted and outmanned LSU team that reached the Sweet 16 with a pair of wins back home in Baton Rouge stayed with Louisville for half a half.

But the Lady Tigers’ all too predictable fate soon came to pass.

Louisville rained 12 3-pointers down on LSU and smothered the Lady Tigers with the NCAA tournament’s top scoring defense, pulling away for a 73-47 victory before 11,097 mostly Cardinal red clad fans at the KFC Yum! Center.

LSU, the No. 7 seed in the Louisville regional, finished 21-13 in its second straight Sweet 16 appearance. No. 3-seeded Louisville (33-4) advanced to Tuesday’s regional final against No. 4 Maryland, which earlier took out Southeastern Conference tournament champion and top-seeded Tennessee 73-62.

The 26-point margin of defeat was the Lady Tigers worst ever in the NCAA tournament, eclipsing a 92-67 loss in a 1984 regional semifinal at Louisiana Tech.

An unfortunate ending for the small but plucky band from LSU, but hardly surprising.

The Lady Tigers came to Louisville with only eight available players. Senior guard Jeanne Kenney was lost for the tournament with a concussion in the second round against West Virginia.

Freshman guard Raigyne Moncrief was done for the duration with a first-round knee injury against Georgia Tech. And sophomore center Derreyal Youngblood was suspended by coach Nikki Caldwell for breaking unspecified team rules before NCAA play began.

It made LSU’s odds of reversing the result of an 88-67 loss here against Louisville in November even more daunting, but Caldwell couldn’t fault the effort.

“This team did all that they could considering” the circumstances, she said. “And our bench, they came in, and they tried their best. I’m proud of them for that. We didn’t execute as well as we wanted to, but it wasn’t because they were fearful.”

In Moncrief and Kenney’s absence, LSU once again turned to freelancing sophomore guard Danielle Ballard to drive the offense.

Ballard, who averaged 23 points and 16 rebounds in her first two tournament games, was as stellar as before. She scored a game-high 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for her third double-double in as many NCAA games.

“I was very impressed with Danielle Ballard,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “We knew coming into the game how well she had been playing. She was extremely hard to defend.”

Defending the rest of the Lady Tigers turned out to be extremely easy.

While Ballard was 12 of 25 from the field, LSU’s seven other players combined to go a frightening 4 of 42:

• Theresa Plaisance, 1-for-13

• DaShawn Harden, 1-for 11

• Jasmine Rhodes, 2-for-9

• Shanece McKinney, Rina Hill and Anne Petersen, a combined 0-for-9. Sheila Boykin didn’t attempt a shot.

“I really didn’t think they would let Danielle do as much as she did,” said McKinney, who fouled out of her final LSU game with 2:26 left. “But they seemed to kind of let her do a lot and focused on other people for the kick outs or contesting our shots.”

Rhodes scored LSU’s first basket then Ballard ran off 10 straight points, giving the Lady Tigers their biggest lead at 12-9 with 12:27 left in the first half.

Louisville took the lead for good 13-12 on a pair of free throws by All-American guard Shoni Schimmel at the 11:41 mark. It was the early rumblings of a 32-11 scoring tsunami by the Cardinals that had them up 41-23 at halftime, the outcome virtually decided.

“We never really got into our rhythm running plays,” Ballard said. “We couldn’t hear each other really on the court.”

Schimmel, who teamed with Plaisance on last summer’s gold medal-winning U.S. squad in the World University Games, led her team with 19 points. Tia Gibbs added 15 points and Antonita Slaughter 10, while Taylor had seven points and 10 rebounds.

“Tonight just wasn’t our night,” Caldwell said. “But I can’t say enough how proud I am of this group for the challenges and adversity they had to overcome.”