By Sam Draut–
The University of Louisville women’s basketball team opened up the first round of the NCAA tournament with a 74-49 win over Middle Tennessee State.
The fifth-seeded Cardinals forced 24 turnovers, while switching defenses throughout the game.
“When you can force a team of their caliber to 24 turnovers, you’re doing something right,” U of L head coach Jeff Walz said. “The stat of the game is getting 31 points off their 24 turnovers.”
Louisville spurted out to a 20-3 lead during the first seven minutes, primarily because of defensive pressure.
“We felt like Louisville would give our guards some problems because we’re so small and they have so much length, and we’re so young with a freshman and a sophomore,” MTSU head coach Rick Insell said.
The Blue Raiders eased back into the game and were able to cut the lead to seven, going into halftime down 34-27.
“Staying settled and executing, that’s one thing our coaches have been preaching to us, that’s how you win games and make comebacks,” MTSU senior guard Kortni Jones said.
Middle Tennessee State cut the lead to one with 16:48 left in the second half. The game remained a one to two possession game, but with 10 minutes left and the Cardinals up 42-40, U of L went on a 24-4 run to put the game out of reach.
Louisville was led by junior guard Shoni Schimmel, finishing with 20 points and four rebounds.
“I’ve been able to watch her grow into the player she is now, she’s an awesome guard, there’s not much she can’t do,” Jones said.
Sophomore guard Bria Smith registered a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds; she also had six assists and four steals.
“Our defense is what got us this win today, turning them over and being able to get easy buckets,” Smith said.
Senior forward Monique Reid finished with 15 points in just 23 minutes, while center Sheronne Vails added nine points and three rebounds.
Sophomore guard Jude Schimmel came off the bench and contributed with 11 points, five assists, five steals and four rebounds.
“Jude coming off the bench is great; she’s doing a great job,” sister Shoni Schimmel said. “She’s grown a lot since her freshman year and she’s stepping up.”
Still, Louisville’s defensive intensity remained the highlight of the game. Eighteen steals and 24 turnovers helped defuse the Blue Raider offense.
“We couldn’t get in sync with our offense,” Insell said. “It’s tough to pass through them and you can’t pass over them, and so, we made a few wrong decisions.”
“Defense and rebounding is the main thing that we’re working on right now because we know we need to do those two things to advance,” Shoni Schimmel said. While controlling the tempo defensively, the Cardinals were able to protect the ball too, with just eight turnovers.
“It’s one of our focuses, coach always tells us we need to protect the ball and make good passes,” Smith said.
Louisville now faces fourth-seeded Purdue on Tuesday night, March 26 at the KFC YUM! Center. The 25-8 Boilermakers have a dominant frontline that the Cardinals will look to control.
“Every night’s a challenge. I feel like if we play hard and play our game we will do well,” Reid said. “Our bigs are ready to battle with anybody.”
A win for the 25-8 Cardinals Tuesday night would send them to their fourth Sweet 16 in six years.
“I thought our players did a very nice job on handling difficult situations at times, but we really just continued to fight and play as a team, and we’re looking forward to the opportunity to play on Tuesday,” Walz said.
Photo by Jessica Knebel/The Louisville Cardinal