By Xavier Bleuel–
In their last game of the season in the KFC Yum! Center, the fifth-seeded Louisville Cardinals defeated the fourth-seeded Purdue Boilermakers on Tuesday night 76-63.
Led by the two Kentucky born starters, sophomore forward Sarah Hammond and junior guard Antonita Slaughter, the Cardinals (26-9) advance to the Sweet 16 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. This is the fourth Sweet 16 appearance in head coach Jeff Walz current six year tenure at Louisville and the second appearance in three years.
The next game isn’t on coach’s mind just yet. When asked about a potential match-up with top seed Baylor Bears, Walz replied “I’m not thinking about the next game, we are going to celebrate this one for tonight.” Then jokingly discussed the potential matchup with the Bears All-American Brittney Griner, “They have a post player you might have heard of, she’s pretty good.”
The Cardinals didn’t get off to a fast start like the game prior against Middle Tennessee State. Luckily, neither did the Boilermakers, missing their first nine attempts from the field. It was a slug-fest for most of the first half that saw both offenses struggling to match the intensity of the defensive side.
The 6’1 hometown hero opened up the game with three 3’s and finished the first half as the only player in double-digits with 14. Louisville ended the first half on a 20-7 run that saw their lead balloon to 15 heading into the break.
When asked about her success from the three-point line, she grinned from ear-to-ear saying “Man, the hole get’s a lot bigger once that first one goes in.” Adding, “It’s a huge confidence boost.”
The second half was a much more closely played contest, however the Boilermakers couldn’t get the lead to single digits.
“Every time we made a run, they answered. We just couldn’t get close. They did one heck of a job.” Said Purdue’s head coach Sharon Versyp.
A key to holding the Boilermakers offense in check was defending Purdue’s three point specialist, Courtney Moses.
Moses struggled to find an open look with sophomore guard Jude Schimmel and fellow sophomore guard Bria Smith taking turns guarding the sharp-shooter. The junior guard finished with only six shots attempted, scoring seven points.
Technically, Purdue was the home team as the higher seed. The Cardinals wore the away red uniforms. The hometown team, which hosted the NCAA Tournament on its home floor for the first time in school history, had the majority of the 9,236 rooting for them.
The best moment of the night came in the final minute, with senior and crowd-favorite Shelby Harper entering the game and closing out her last game at the Yum! Center with a floater in the paint over three defenders, with the crowd erupting.
“That was my favorite part of the night” added Walz. “We are never going to have a player like Shelby Harper here. To see how important she is to this team after coming here as a walk-on freshman is just special.”
The ever grateful Jeff Walz thanked all of the fans for their continued support as well as Tom and Terrilynn Jurich for the tremendous job they have done for U of L.
Photo: Austin Lassell/The Louisville Cardinal