LOUISVILLE, Ky. — In the prequel to Sunday’s Sweet 16 encounter, Louisville used a 21-0 run to break out of a tight game with LSU and run away to an 88-67 victory here Nov. 14.
But if anyone thinks the Cardinals are going to enjoy a shot-for-shot remake of that win just because of the ease with which they dispatched the Lady Tigers last time, Louisville coach Jeff Walz has a reality slap for them.
“In 2006, we won the national championship” when Walz was an assistant at Maryland, he said. “In the 2007-08 season, we play an Ole Miss team in a Thanksgiving tournament, and we won by 30 (110-79). And then they’re our second-round game in the NCAA tournament, and we get beat (89-78).
“What happened in November has no bearing on what’s going to take place. They’re a completely different basketball team.”
On that point, there can be little doubt.
LSU, the No. 7 seed in the Louisville Regional, is in the Sweet 16 for the 14th time.
But getting here required the sacrifice of two of the Lady Tigers’ biggest stars, both out for the tournament. Freshman guard Raigyne Moncrief went down with a knee injury in LSU’s 98-78 first-round win over Georgia Tech. Senior guard Jeanne Kenney suffered a concussion in her team’s 76-67 upset of No. 2 seed West Virginia in the second round.
If the Lady Tigers are going to add another favorite to their list of victims, what will it cost LSU? At the least, perhaps their best effort of drama-filled 21-12 season that saw the Lady Tigers win at Louisville Regional No. 1 seed Tennessee and topple West Virginia but also lose six straight games and eight of 10 in February and March.
“A lot of ups and downs for this group,” LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said. “But they seem to have a lot of determination and perseverance in them.”
Caldwell didn’t say revenge, though. With a roster of only eight available players, there isn’t enough room on their shoulders for that much emotional baggage.
Whether they have enough talent and drive and possibly good fortune to reach the Elite Eight will be played out at 1:30 p.m. CDT Sunday, when LSU meets No. 3 seed Louisville (32-4) at the KFC Yum! Center. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.
The winner plays here Tuesday against the winner of Sunday’s first semifinal between Tennessee and Maryland.
Caldwell considered her three possibilities and decided to start freshman guard Jasmine Rhodes in Kenney’s place. She essentially came off the bench when Kenney left the West Virginia game with 7:38 remaining in the first half and was a key spark plug, giving the Lady Tigers 11 points in 20 minutes.
Rhodes may have been the spark plug, but Danielle Ballard has been the drive train in LSU’s trip to Louisville. The sophomore is averaging 23 points and 16 rebounds in the tournament.
“She’s a great basketball player,” said Louisville All-American guard Shoni Schimmel, a great player herself. “She’s shooting left-handed, right-handed floaters in the key. How do you stop that?
“We have to box her out because we know she goes to the glass — she ended up with 15 rebounds last game. For her to do that is impressive from the guard spot.”
Ballard will no doubt be a person of interest for a Louisville team allowing an NCAA tournament-low 47.5 points per game. She knows she will have to be on her game for the Lady Tigers to win again.
“We’re just going to do what Coach has planned for us,” Ballard said. “Just run plays. Do everything right and don’t force anything. Don’t try to do too much.”
That’s good advice for LSU’s senior post players, All-Southeastern Conference forward Theresa Plaisance and center Shanece McKinney.
They were benched with four fouls apiece during long stretches in the second half against West Virginia.
“I think if we can try to be sweet to the refs a little bit, maybe we can get a couple bumps” without fouls being called, McKinney said, laughing.
McKinney has 11 blocks in LSU’s two NCAA wins. Plaisance has averaged 14.5 points and 10 rebounds in NCAA play but was held to eight points in the win over West Virginia.